With Formula 1 keeping most at the edge of their seats, our sportsbook has seen the names of many racers who chased their way into making their name known in this motor event which sees the names of the biggest race car drivers out there.
The first half of the 2000s in Formula One was all about one sight – Michael Schumacher encased in scarlet livery, cantering like the famous Ferrari stallion, title after title. Between 2000 and 2004, the seasons were all but over as soon as they had begun, and in the last of those consecutive title wins Schumacher completed a career-high of five ‘hat-tricks’ – attaining, in other words, the win, the pole and the fastest lap in five separate races.
It seemed as though there would be no end in sight to Ferrari’s monopoly over F1, but in 2005, the prohibition against tyre changes would drastically level the playing field. The Bridgestone tyres used by Ferrari proved inferior to their Michelin counterparts and did much to ensure that a new champion would be crowned, precipitating an excellent career.
A New Champion
The accolade of taking Schumacher’s title went to 24-year old Fernando Alonso, but it was more than the integrity of rubber that gave the Spaniard his first taste of true glory. It was the culmination of many years’ devotion and hard work, and the effort it took to prove that he belonged with the greatest.
Alonso impressed at many flashpoint events in his formative years, most notably winning three successive Spanish Junior National Championship titles. In 2000, ten years after his first race win, Alonso would become a test driver for Minardi, propelling him one step closer to making his F1 debut. That debut would come only the following year, and the Spaniard partook in every race for Minardi in 2001.
Although Alonso scored no points and suffered seven retirements in seventeen races, a top-ten finish at the German Grand Prix was a high point, while an 11th place finish at the difficult Suzuka Circuit was an early hint at his ability to stay the distance. That he managed to qualify for all seventeen of those races in succession was also impressive, but his time at minnows Minardi was all but up.
Renault Move Pays Dividends
Rather than persist with a team going nowhere, Alonso took the admirable decision to sacrifice a year of his career to join Renault as a test driver. Armed with better machinery in Renault livery, Alonso returned to the grid in 2003 and gained a respectable 55 points from sixteen races. He began the year in scintillating form, with three podiums in five, before his quest for a maiden win ended on 24 August 2003 with victory at the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Due much to Schumacher’s sheer dominance of the 2004 season, Alonso’s next win would not arrive until 20 March 2005 in Malaysia. It would, however, prove to be worth the wait, and Alonso followed that victory up with five across the following ten races. Not even a ‘DNS’ at the United States Grand Prix could deter Alonso, who ended 2005 with nine podiums out of the final ten available.
The following year, Alonso would defend his crown, bettering his 2005 points tally by one after starting the season with nine successive podiums which included six wins. He would concede the title to Kimi Räikkönen in 2007, though with one point, in a three-way fight that also included a debuting Lewis Hamilton.
Culture Change in 2010s and Decline
Far from promising Alonso further world titles, the years between 2008 and 2013 would prove frustrating, as McLaren-Mercedes, Brawn and Red Bull each enjoyed spells as the team of a champion.
That timespan includes the period after he joined a growing Ferrari outfit in 2010, but as had been the case ten years ago, another competitor was threatening to dominate for a half-decade -the ruthlessly-efficient German driver Sebastian Vettel. Three of his four successive titles coincided with Alonso’s stint at Ferrari, and not even three second-place championship finishes out of four during that time could stop Alonso falling out of favour.
In 2014, his fate was sealed by the resurgence of Lewis Hamilton, now racing with a Mercedes outfit that has proven unbeatable ever since the Brit won the title that year. Since then, Alonso has hovered around mid-table, before leaving F1 at the end of 2018 to focus on attaining the Triple Crown of motorsport – which he sadly failed to do at the Indy 500 in 2019 after falling short in qualification.
How Does Alonso Compare To Others?
The great rivals of his ‘peak’ years – namely Hamilton, Räikkönen, Massa and Vettel – provide interesting points of comparison. In terms of the longevity of his career success, Vettel and Hamilton clearly best him by a considerable distance. Only one year of the 2010s passed by without either driver winning the title, but the circumstances in which Alonso won the title, after years of Schumacher dominance, is seen as something of an extra claim to fame.
In terms of driving style, and how effective it proved, he did much to set the standards by which champions that succeeded him were – and still are – duty-bound to meet. Alonso’s ability to catch rivals out with pace at selective points drew comparisons to the great Ayrton Senna during his best years, with his sense of tyre economy also being amongst the best in the sport this century.
His cornering also boasted the excellent poise of the typical modern driver, but there was still room for some old-school aggression, as championed by the great interpersonal rivalries of predecessor drivers, such as Hunt v Lauda and Senna v Prost. The likes of Vettel and Hamilton were required to utilise such aggression relatively less regularly in the 2010s, especially with the latter often winning races under the Mercedes banner with near-insulting ease at times.
Although Alonso’s departure from F1 was marked by an undeserved decline, comparisons to his peers will always be favourable. His legacy is also one that proves a driver can afford to take a step back in order to further their career and go at their own pace in order to ultimately outpace others when it truly matters.
With new drivers emerging into the scene and marking their name in the Formula 1 history book, we can’t wait to see what this year’s Formula 1 Championship will bring. See who will dominate the podium this year by heading over to our sportsbook lobby.