This week our featured driver is the two times Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso. This is a timely visit as he celebrated his 36th birthday on July 29th.
Born in Oviedo, which is in the Asturias region of Spain in 1981, he was world champion with Renault at a grand age of 24 making him the youngest driver to win the title at the time. After winning the title again in 2006 he became the youngest driver to hit the double title.
Alonso’s father José Luis, an amateur kart racer, wanted to pass on his passion to his children. He built a kart, originally meant for eight-year-old Lorena, Fernando’s sister, but unlike her three-year-old brother, she showed no interest in the sport.
He was pretty much fully committed to motor racing when he was 14, which meant he dropped out of school. However, since winning his first world championship in 2005, Alonso became an ambassor of the University of Oxford, to promote the new field of study. Motorsport of Business for Social Science financing 12 students from all parts of the world.
He lived in Oxford with his former wife until they moved to Switzerland, near Lake Geneva, in 2006, although he moved back nearer to his family and friends later.
As a child, Alonso participated in karting competitions around Spain, supported by his father, who also doubled as his mechanic. His family lacked the financial resources needed to develop a career in motorsport, but his victories attracted sponsorship and the required funds. Alonso won four Spanish championships back-to-back in the junior category, between 1993 and 1996 and the Junior World Cup in 1996. He won the Spanish and Italian Inter-A titles in 1997 and in 1998 won the Spanish Inter-A title again as well as finishing second in the European Championship.
Former Minardi F1 driver Adrián Campos gave Alonso his first test in a race car in October 1998. After three days of testing at the Albacete circuit, Alonso had matched the lap times of Campos’ previous driver Marc Gené. Campos signed Alonso to race for him in the 1999 Spanish Euro Open MoviStar by Nissan series. In his second race, again at Albacete, Alonso won for the first time. He took the championship by one point from championship rival Manuel Giao by winning and setting fastest lap at the last race of the season. Alonso also tested for the Minardi Formula One team, lapping 1.5 seconds faster than the other drivers at the test.
The following season Alonso moved up to Formula 3000, which was often the final step for drivers before ascending to Formula One. Alonso joined Team Astromega and was the youngest driver in the series that year by eleven months. He did not score a point until the seventh race of the year, but in the final two rounds he took a second place and a victory, enough for him to end the season fourth overall behind Bruno Junqueira, Nicolas Minassian and Mark Webber.
That was that and he had already secured a place with Minardi in 2001. He was noticed very quickly by various larger teams and in September he was signed for Bennetton for 2002. After Renault took over the Bennetton team, he started with them as a test driver until Jenson Button was dropped and the seat was offered to Alonso. He remined with Renualt for 2004 and had some success ending the season on 59 points.
He had been driving some exceptional races and this continued into the next season where for example he started at the back of the field in Australia only to finish on the podium! His success continued as he won in Malaysia as well as Bahrain followed by San Marino. He won the championship that year at 24 and put a stop to Schumacher‘s multiple world championships. He continued his success with Renault by winning the 2006 world championship making him the youngest double world champion at the time.
He moved to McLaren in 2007 teaming up with Lewis Hamilton where he finished tied with Lewis on third in the driver’s championship as the championship was won by Kimi Raikkonen. This marriage was not to last and he left McLaren and moved back to Renualt in 2008 for two seasons and eventually moved to Ferrari where he remained until the end of 2014.
Although there has been wins and podiums since 2008, and his driving has been admired by many, he has not been able to regain his title as yet.
With the new rule for the 2014 season with regards to the drivers keeping their numbers during their careers, he chose his old karting number 14, as he considers this to be his luck number.
He rejoined McLaren in 2015 and so far things have not gone according to plan, to say the least! We wish him and McLaren Honda better luck for the rest of the 2017 season.
For the quiz buffs, he speaks Spanish English, French and Italian and supports Real Madrid as well as Real Oviedo.
Books and other merchandise on Alonso here.
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More featured drivers here.