In honour of Fernando Alonso’s 40th birthday, we’ve taken a look back at the key moments which have defined his career so far – from the brilliant to the controversial.
There can be no doubting that the Spaniard is one of motorsport’s modern greats and, for all his success on track, he has also rarely been far away from the headlines off of it.
He has two World Championships, but for extremely fine margins (a combined total of eight points behind the title winners across 2007, 2010 and 2012), and slightly better machinery underneath him, he could have five titles to his name by now.
After two years away from F1, Alonso looks back to his best with Alpine. Despite his praise for the younger generation of drivers, the man from Asturias is still very much hellbent on returning to the top of the sport once again.
With 22 pole positions and 32 victories to choose from, here are some of the main snapshots of Alonso’s long and illustrious career to date:
Becoming F1’s youngest race winner – Hungarian Grand Prix 2003
Alonso had been breaking records in his young career and, at the time, he was F1’s youngest ever pole-sitter and podium winner, and he ticked off another one by becoming F1’s youngest ever race winner by taking the chequered flag at the 2003 Hungarian Grand Prix.
That record has since been blitzed by Max Verstappen, but the context of Alonso’s victory around the Hungaroring should not be underestimated.
The Renault driver led from lights to flag in Budapest and, not only did he finish 17 seconds ahead of anyone else on the day, he managed to lap the Ferrari of Michael Schumacher for good measure.
It was a first win that would set the tone for years to come.
Crossing swords with Schumi at Imola – San Marino Grand Prix 2005
Anyone who watched the 2005 San Marino Grand Prix in real time will remember just how much of an absorbing race it was, and Alonso produced perhaps one of Formula 1’s best defensive drives in the process.
A rare mistake from the great Schumacher left him starting all the way down in P13 at Imola but, in typical fashion, he charged his way through the field to get himself right onto Alonso’s tail.
The Spaniard’s Renault was hampered by being down on power for most of the race and, after Schumacher came out from his last stop behind his title rival, it was a test of nerve that Alonso had not yet faced in F1.
Schumacher was all over the back of the young pretender throughout the final stint, but Alonso remained unmoved as he kept himself in all the right places on track – and was able to cross the line just 0.215s ahead of the Ferrari legend.
A changing of the guard at 130R – Japanese Grand Prix 2005
To go around the outside of a seven-time World Champion at one of the fastest corners of the F1 calendar is not only one of the bravest things Alonso has ever done, but it was also a seminal moment as the baton appeared to pass on from one generation to the other.
The 2005 Japanese Grand Prix could primarily be remembered for Kimi Raikkonen’s surge through the field to take victory, but this 180mph move from Alonso on his way to World Championship glory was not only courageous, but symbolic for Formula 1’s future.
Formula 1 crowns its youngest World Champion – Brazilian Grand Prix 2005
Alonso held a commanding lead over Raikkonen in the Drivers’ Championship in 2005, but the test of every driver is how they are able to get over the line.
The Renault driver knew he only needed to stay within striking distance of the Finn to win his first World Championship, with two races to spare.
Starting on pole, Alonso produced a controlled drive to make sure he secured a finish on the podium and take the accolade of becoming Formula 1’s youngest ever World Champion, in jubilant scenes at Interlagos.
Wet-weather mastery at the Nurburgring – European Grand Prix 2007
The Nurburgring was drenched with rain ahead of the 2007 European Grand Prix, and several cars spun off early on as the conditions proved too much for many on the grid.
While it was a race famous for seeing the Spyker of Markus Winkelhock leadi the race restart behind the Safety Car, in what turned out to be his only F1 race start, the eventual battle for the win intensified between Alonso and Felipe Massa.
The wet/dry conditions saw the pair duel throughout as Alonso kept pace with the faster Ferrari. Rain began to fall again inside the last 10 laps, and Alonso managed to pounce around the outside of the Brazilian, bumping against each other in the process, but the gutsy Spaniard found his way through.
Alonso and Massa were seen having a heated argument in the cool-down room after the race as the two disputed each other’s conduct, but it was a fantastic drive from the double World Champion.
Tears of joy after an iconic drive in Valencia – European Grand Prix 2012
Perhaps Alonso’s greatest race of all.
Starting P11 around a narrow Valencia circuit which didn’t have much history of overtaking, few would have expected the home hero to be anywhere near the podium come the end of the race – not least the top step.
But the overtaking on show from the Spaniard was sublime throughout, picking his way through the field to the point where he was up to P4 after the first round of pit stops.
He had his fair share of luck along the way, as a poor stop for Lewis Hamilton put Alonso into the podium places, before Sebastian Vettel retired with mechanical issues, but an outstanding pass around the outside of Romain Grosjean was the pick of the bunch in a sterling drive – leading to emotional scenes after the race in front of his home crowd, standing alongside Schumacher in his final F1 podium.
A stunning final race win (for now) – Spanish Grand Prix 2013
The 2013 Spanish Grand Prix was another prime example of how the Spaniard could turn a lower starting position into a P1 finish at the end of the race.
Starting fifth, he bravely overtook both Hamilton and Raikkonen around the outside of Barcelona’s sweeping Turn 3 on the first lap – and the relentless pace from Alonso didn’t stop there.
In a break from the strategy of the other teams, Alonso and Ferrari took a four-stop strategy over the preferred three in the race, meaning he had to extract as much as possible from his car to overhaul his rivals – taking his 32nd and final victory to date.
“GP2 engine…” – Japanese Grand Prix 2015
Calling 2015 a year to forget for Alonso and McLaren would be putting it politely – and an underperforming Honda power unit did not help matters after the Spaniard rejoined the team from Ferrari.
After a season spent towards the back of the field, Alonso’s frustration finally came to the surface when the Toro Rosso of Jean-Eric Vergne was able to comfortably pass on the start/finish straight at Suzuka.
The immortal radio message arrived shortly afterwards, as the Spaniard exclaimed over the airwaves: “GP2 engine… aaargh!”
That probably won’t have gone down well with Honda’s delegation in the McLaren garage at the manufacturer’s home race, but that message has lived on in the minds of Formula 1 fans.
*That* deckchair – Brazilian Grand Prix 2015
A moment that sparked a thousand memes among the Formula 1 social media community, and something which could have been seen as Alonso washing his hands of a torrid 2015 season.
After his McLaren failed him in qualifying for the Brazilian Grand Prix, Alonso decided against the long walk back to the pit lane to debrief with his team.
Instead, he decided to bask in the rays of a sunny Interlagos while the remainder of qualifying took place.
Cue the viral image of the double World Champion with his eyes closed as he took in the sunshine, along with the hashtag #PlacesAlonsoWouldRatherBe trending all over the world on social media.
This may not have been an iconic moment based on one of his finest drives, but it’s something Formula 1 fans are unlikely to forget any time soon.
Conquering classes beyond Formula 1 – Le Mans and IndyCar
The birthday boy has made no secret of the fact that he aims to become only the second driver in history to complete motorsport’s Triple Crown, by winning the Monaco Grand Prix, Indianapolis 500 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Having already ticked Monaco off the list, the then-McLaren driver took a weekend away from the Principality in 2017 to take his talents Stateside, to try and win the Indy 500.
He took to the change of car extremely quickly, and managed to qualify P5 in his first attempt at the Brickyard. He backed up that form in the race, too, as he was towards the head of the field throughout – leading for 27 laps – before a heartbreaking engine failure stopped him from taking what would have been an astounding victory.
While that leg of the Triple Crown still eludes him, 2021 winner Helio Castroneves took the trophy aged 46 – so time is still on Alonso’s side to complete the set and join Graham Hill in collecting all three of these famous trophies.
Indy is his only target now, though, as Alonso has become a two-time winner of the Le Mans 24 Hours by winning in 2018 and 2019 alongside fellow former F1 drivers, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima, in the all-conquering Toyota LMP1 car.
Recovering to produce Baku brilliance – Azerbaijan Grand Prix 2018
Qualifying P12 in another uncompetitive McLaren could have led to another afternoon of pain for Alonso in Azerbaijan – even more so when a first-lap collision left him with both right-hand tyres punctured.
However, he was somehow able to crawl all the way back to the pit lane on two wheels and, when his damaged car was fitted with fresh rubber, he was able to keep himself going.
Despite having significant floor damage and a loss of downforce, the McLaren driver was able to catch and pass cars in front throughout the race and, after a Safety Car late on, he somehow found himself back in points contention.
An incredible P7 result saw Alonso tell reporters after the race that it was “the best race I have done in a long time, or the best race of my life.”
Finishing well down the points probably never felt so good.
Everyone at PlanetF1 wishes you a very happy 40th birthday, Fernando!