Goodbye Fernando, and Thank You for the F1 Memories
"There was something in the air that night, The stars were bright, Fernando, They were shining there for you and me, For Liberty (not Media), Fernando, Though we never thought that we could lose (despite you being signed to McLaren), There's no regret, If I had to do the same again, I would, my friend, Fernando, If I had to do the same again, I would, my friend, Fernando....
Now we're old and grey Fernando, Since many years you haven't seen a podium-recognising trophy in your hand, Can you hear the national anthems Fernando? Do you still recall the fateful night we failed to cross the finished line? I can see it in your eyes, How proud you were to fight for freedom in this land, Despite the underlying fact that the McLaren was never up to the job, Fernando……etc, etc…"
The Man. The Team Radio Messages
Drivl likes to make a song and a dance about Nando Alonso, because Drivl has long been a big fan of the ever-entertaining and hugely personable Spaniard, who bows out of Formula One after this weekend’s season-ending Abu Dhabi GP.
And now that the music has stopped playing and the curtain has finally come down on Alonso’s Formula 1 career, like a famous camp-mate freshly evicted from the ‘I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here’ jungle, we’re seizing this opportunity to take a look at Nando’s best bits.
Whichever way you look at it, it’s fair to say that Nando has been there, done that and continues to wear the t-shirt in this sport. Only not in most F1 fans’ living memory - and more prudently, whilst sat in a McLaren – unfortunately.
But you name it, and the man with the most impressive eyebrows this side of a Gallagher brother has achieved it in F1. Mostly courtesy of his typically hilarious team radio messages between himself and his race engineer in recent times.
I mean, who could forget his stinging retort to news he received over team radio informing him that Jolyon Palmer (remember him?) has retired during the 2017 Italian GP, after the (then) Renault driver had ignored a chicane and seized the advantage over Nando’s McLaren. When Alonso without hesitating simply replied, “Karma”.
Or for that matter when falling down the field during the 2015 Japanese GP in the Honda-powered McLaren let his emotions spill over on team radio, letting the listening world know exactly what he thought about his car. Which reading between the lines was ‘very embarassing’ and that he was struggling to see the difference between this engine and that of a GP2 car, as far as a very vocal Nando was concerned. Protestation which culminated in the Spanish equivalent of a French shoulder shrug. Which loosely translated sounded something like, “Bleurgh.”
Thrice as Nice
One of Drivl’s personal favourites of Nando’s team radio rebukes was when- before even completing his formation lap of the Sochi circuit – the antsy Spaniard suggested that his race engineer tried to perform a reset remotely. As he’d already attempted it “three times” to no avail. “I try already, so try yourself,” insisted a clearly peeved Alonso, as the MCL32 gave up the ghost on its way to the starting grid during the 2017 Russian GP.
And still fresh in our memory is when Nando out-Vetteled both Vettel and Verstappen in the stroppy teenager stakes during the early stages of the 2015 Canadian GP. When asked to preserve his fuel supplies, an agitated Alonso screamed “I don’t want, I don’t want!!” down the team radio. Trying to remain calm after his outburst, the temperamental Spaniard’s race engineer explained the importance, only to be met with Nando’s deadpan reply of; “Already I have big problems now, driving with this, looking like an amateur. So I race and then I concentrate on fuel.”
Lens Us a Hand, Nando
And then of course there were the first signs of Alonso’s potential career change, when at Interlagos in 2016 the long-suffering Spanish driver decided to take over TV cameraman duties, rather than complete the Brazilian GP that year. Or even complete free practice, tell the truth. After walking away from another ailing McLaren race car he took it upon himself to film other drivers negotiating the famous ‘Senna S’ bends, telling his followers that he was; “more use as a camera operator than a grand prix driver at the moment”.
Antsy and Deckchair
But for me, one episode alone will always remain my favourite Nando moment. Not so much a radio message, more an actual physical throwing in the towel, like above. And, coincidentally, as the very same South American circuit, some 12 months earlier. You must remember when Alonso hauled his frustrated self out of the once-more failing McLaren (this time during the qualifying session at the 2015 Brazilian GP), found himself a deckchair – of all things/props – and took time out to top up his tan/watch the world go by/enjoy 40 winks. A vision which inspired a whole slew of amusing internet-circulated memes thereafter.
Joking apart, none of these shenanigans detract from Alonso’s racing pedigree though. From bursting onto the scene at Minardi in the 2001 Australian GP – having previously bagging three successive karting championships from the age of 13 onwards, and ultimately being crowned the World Karting Champion in 1996 – Nando bagged the test driver gig at Renault in 2002; before being installed as one of their Formula One drivers just 12 months later. Destroying the field in the 2003 Hungarian GP (which also included lapping a certain Michael Schumacher in the process), Alonso went on to become the youngest ever pole-sitter.
And then in 2005 Alonso set another age-related record in F1, in recognition of him claiming the Driver’s World Championship at just 24 years and 2 months old, he was acknowledged as the sport’s youngest champion (as then). Before both Hamilton and Vettel bettered this feat, of course. However Nando wasn’t finished there, as the following year he scored back-to-back wins for Renault to become the youngest double world champion at that time.
These stats – coupled with the sheer brilliance of his driving and competitive edge he always brought to race weekends – ensured that Alonso was spoken of as the pre-eminent driver of his generation; especially during his golden years of his initial spell with Renault. He departed Renault for pastures anew with McLaren for the first time in 2007, yet this move happened to coincide with the emergence of McLaren’s other driver, someone going by the name of Lewis Hamilton.
To cut a long story short, Nando returned to Renault a year later, before seeking further fame with a headline move to Ferrari in 2010, where he pitched up his tent for 4 seasons. During this successful chapter he notched up wins at Germany, Italy, China, South Korea and his home Spanish GP amongst others; the latter marking the last time he stood on the top tier on the podium, back in 2013.
All of which glory makes it a shame that his second spell with McLaren didn’t go quite according to plan, and that Nando was never afforded the opportunity to go out at the top of his game. But WHAT a story, nevertheless. One which will go down in F1 history.
Along with the deckchair and the fact he looks like Dave Grohl......