Richland’s Road of Nostalgia: Fernando Alonso – From Minardi To The Top (Part 2)
After finding his feet in Formula 1 throughout his first three seasons in the sport, Fernando Alonso finally completed his rise to the top in 2005 as he became a regular race winner in a season which saw Michael Schumacher’s dominance at the top finally wane. The days of battling at back of the pack with Minardi were long forgotten, as the Spaniard continued to rise to the top of the motor sport echelon. In this second part of the feature, I delve into Fernando Alonso’s Championship-winning season and his season-long battle at the top with the McLaren of Kimi Raikkonen. Firstly, however, I recap the 2004 season…
2004: Renault – 4th in Drivers’ Championship – 59 points
Despite not winning a single race throughout 2004, Fernando Alonso still enjoyed another tremendously competitive season with the French outfit alongside Jarno Trulli. In a season utterly dominated by Ferrari and Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso managed to remain consistent and finished the season 4th overall behind the Ferrari duo and Jenson Button in the BAR.
At the season opening Australian Grand Prix, Fernando Alonso managed to finish an impressive 3rd behind the Ferrari duo of Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello. The Spaniard qualified 5th, but enjoyed a fantastic start that leapfrogged him ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya and into 3rd position. Fernando Alonso’s competitiveness continued throughout the next few races, which saw the Spaniard score consistent points finishes until the incident-filled Monaco Grand Prix.
Although Fernando Alonso qualified 3rd on the grid, behind a front-row consisting of team-mate Jarno Trulli and Jenson Button, the Spaniard suffered a high-speed incident in the tunnel whilst trying to overtake the Williams of Ralf Schumacher around the outside. Despite his first retirement of the season in spectacular fashion, Renault still reaped the rewards of a topsy-turvy race as Jarno Trulli stormed to his one and only victory of his career.
After a brief return to the points with 5th at the European Grand Prix, Fernando Alonso suffered a frustrating double-retirement at the Canadian and United States Grand Prix. At Montreal the left driveshaft failed on the car, whereas at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway a puncture thwarted any hope Alonso had of adding further points to his tally. However, Fernando Alonso managed to secure a sensational pole position at the French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours, Renault’s home race, yet he was unable to translate such a superlative effort into a race victory as Michael Schumacher took his ninth victory of the year. Alonso settled for 2nd position behind the German, only his second podium finish of the season.
Fernando Alonso stormed to two successive podium finishes as the season progressed, finishing 3rd at both the German and Hungarian Grands Prix. At the German Grand Prix, it was confirmed that Fernando Alonso’s team-mate for 2005 would be Giancarlo Fisichella, in a move which would see the Italian driver replace Jarno Trulli who would eventually join Toyota. Despite several further retirements towards the end of the season at the Belgian and Italian Grands Prix, Fernando Alonso ended the season with three successive points finishes, which enabled him to end the season 4th in the Championship standings behind Michael Schumacher, Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button.
2005: Renault – World Champion – 133 points
After starting his career with Minardi back in 2001, Fernando Alonso’s rise to the top came to fruition in 2005 as the Spaniard became the first Spanish World Champion in the history of Formula 1. Alonso also became the youngest World Champion of the sport’s history, a record which was previously held by Emerson Fittipaldi. Despite such success, Fernando Alonso suffered a tough start to the season at the Australian Grand Prix.
Due largely to a wet qualifying session for the season opener, Fernando Alonso only managed to qualify a distant 13th for the race. However, new team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella reaped the rewards of the topsy-turvy session to secure his second pole position. During the race, Alonso produced a masterful drive to rise through the order and finish 3rd behind eventual race winner Giancarlo Fisichella and Rubens Barrichello in the Ferrari.
Fernando Alonso stormed to a sensational pole position at the Malaysian Grand Prix next time out, alongside former team-mate and Toyota driver Jarno Trulli. Despite dominating proceedings and taking his first race victory of the season, the 56-lap race was made almost unendurable due to his drink bottle becoming blocked halfway through the race. This accounted for Alonso’s weak appearance on the podium, despite a tremendous victory of +24.327 seconds to Jarno Trulli.
The Spaniard continued to add to his tally of victories at the Bahrain Grand Prix with his second win in succession, after once again starting on pole. Reigning World Champion Michael Schumacher retired after only 12 laps with a hydraulic issue, therefore allowing Jarno Trulli to once again finish 2nd with Kimi Raikkonen 3rd.
At the San Marino Grand Prix Fernando Alonso secured his hat-trick, leading home a pressurizing Michael Schumacher in what was widely regarded as one of the most entertaining finishes to a Grand Prix in many years. Kimi Raikkonen could well have taken his first victory of the season at the race in Imola, after starting from pole. However, the Finn was struck down by a halfshaft issue which saw him retire on Lap 9.
After winning three races in succession, many were eagerly anticipating Fernando Alonso repeating such successes at his home race around Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya. However, the thousands of adoring local fans were disappointed when Alonso only managed 2nd on the grid and 3rd during the race, which was eventually won by the McLaren of Kimi Raikkonen.
Fernando Alonso was unable to take victory at the Monaco Grand Prix, a race where the Spaniard started 2nd alongside winner Kimi Raikkonen who fully confirmed his Championship intentions with his second consecutive race victory. Fernando Alonso lost out on a potential podium finish to the Williams duo of Nick Heidfeld and Mark Webber, eventually finishing 4th.
At the next race around the Nurburgring for the European Grand Prix, Fernando Alonso received a tremendous amount of luck to secure his fourth victory of the season. Nick Heidfeld secured pole for Williams, with Kimi Raikkonen 2nd. Fernando Alonso could only manage 6th, with victory looking slightly unlikely. However, new regulations for the 2005 season meant drivers were not permitted to change their tyres during pit-stops. This new rule was the downfall for Kimi Raikkonen, whose front-right tyre failed on the final lap.
This spectacular failure saw Raikkonen spin out of control and into the retaining gravel trap at Turn 1. The Finn just narrowly missed the rear of Jenson Button’s BAR, and allowed Fernando Alonso to reap the rewards and take his fourth victory of the season. This victory enabled the Spaniard to open up a 32-point lead in the Drivers’ Championship to Kimi Raikkonen, who was tied in 2nd with the Toyota of Jarno Trulli.
At the Canadian Grand Prix, Fernando Alonso suffered one of his only mistakes of the year when he made contact with the barrier on Lap 38. This incident saw the Spaniard sustain enough damage to his Renault to force him into retirement, whereas Championship rival Kimi Raikkonen took an imperative victory. The next race in America proved to be one of the most farcical events in the history of not only Formula 1, but sport in general when all 14 Michelin runners boycotted the event through safety issues regarding the French tyres.
With no clear solution found before the start of the race, only Michael Schumacher, Rubens Barrichello, Tiago Monteiro, Narain Karthikeyan, Christijan Albers and Patric Friesacher took to the grid. Fernando Alonso should’ve started the race from 6th, yet joined the other Michelin runners in peeling off into the pits after the formation lap. Naturally Michael Schumacher romped to a controversial victory ahead of Rubens Barrichello and Tiago Monteiro.
After the farcical proceedings of the United States Grand Prix, Fernando Alonso wowed Renault’s faithful at the French Grand Prix next time out with a stunning lights-to-flag victory. The Spaniard qualified on pole ahead of the Toyota of Jarno Trulli, and scampered into the distance once the lights went out to secure a demanding victory ahead of the McLaren of Kimi Raikkonen. Alonso lapped every driver except Kimi Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher, reasserting his authority over proceedings.
Despite qualifying on pole for the British Grand Prix, Fernando Alonso could only manage 2nd in the race after the McLaren of Juan Pablo Montoya stormed to his first victory of the season. The Spaniard returned to his winning ways at the German Grand Prix next time out, after starting from 3rd on the grid. Once again Alonso reaped the rewards of Kimi Raikkonen’s bad luck, after the Finn secured pole position yet retired on Lap 35 with a hydraulic issue.
Fernando Alonso endured a frustrating Hungarian Grand Prix, qualifying 6th and eventually finishing a lowly 11th after a first lap collision with the Toyota of Ralf Schumacher. To rub salt into the wounds of Alonso’s poor result, Championship rival Kimi Raikkonen took another important victory ahead of the Ferrari of Michael Schumacher and the Toyota of brother Ralf. The gap between the two at the top was now only 26 points, with Kimi Raikkonen remaining a threat to the Spaniard.
As the season drew to a sensational finale, the battle at the front stepped up a gear as Fernando Alonso remained consistent and McLaren began taking more victories. The inaugural Turkish Grand Prix was won by Kimi Raikkonen, whereas Fernando Alonso finished 2nd. Juan Pablo Montoya took his second victory of the season at Monza, where Alonso finished 2nd yet again and Raikkonen came home a distant 4th. The Belgian Grand Prix saw Raikkonen return to the top step of the rostrum, with Alonso 2nd at Button 3rd.
Despite McLaren winning three straight races, Fernando Alonso managed to remain in control at the top with three consistent 2nd place finishes to neutralize any advantage Kimi Raikkonen may have received with his two victories at Turkey and Belgium. Fernando Alonso was now exceedingly close to clinching his first Drivers’ Championship, with three overseas races at Brazil, Japan and China remaining.
At the next race around Sao Paulo’s Interlagos circuit, Fernando Alonso finally made Formula 1 history by becoming not only the first Spanish World Champion, but also the youngest World Champion in the history of the sport. This superlative feat was achieved when the Spaniard qualified on pole position for the race, and finished 3rd behind a McLaren 1-2 led by Juan Pablo Montoya. Fernando Alonso’s Championship triumph saw him become the first driver to win the World Championship other than Michael Schumacher since Mika Hakkinen in 1999.
With two races still remaining, Fernando Alonso showed superb maturity at the Japanese Grand Prix. After qualifying 17th in a wet session on Saturday, Alonso scythed his way through the field to finish a sensational 3rd. The final race of the season was utterly dominated by Renault, after Alonso headed a front-row lock-out for the French outfit. This feat was incidentally Michelin’s 100th pole position in the sport, and victory the following day saw Alonso secure the Constructors’ Championship for Renault.
After five seasons dominated by Michael Schumacher and Ferrari, Fernando Alonso’s Championship success was a breath of fresh air for the majority of the world of Formula 1. For the Spaniard, he had finally completed his rise to supremacy from the minnows of Minardi to the top of the World Championship with Renault. In 2006, a second Championship followed before he moved to McLaren.
Although Fernando Alonso has not yet won another World Championship since 2006, he is widely regarded as one of the most complete drivers on the grid. In 2012, Alonso nearly clinched his third Championship crown with Ferrari, despite the Scuderia starting the season with a highly uncompetitive car. The Spaniard still remains one of the most competitive drivers on the grid, and will surely continue to battle for Championship supremacy for many years to come.
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