It is… Fernando Alonso’s birthday! The two-times world champion from Spain turns 30 today.
There is no doubt that Alonso made F1 popular in his home country, which is far more interested in motorbikes. In 1999, he took part in the Euro Open by Nissan. He won the series by a single point, but it was enough. The next year he took part in International Formula 3000 – the series now superseded by GP2 – and came fourth behind Bruno Junqueira (IndyCar), Nicolas Minassian (Le Mans) and Mark Webber. Yes, really. He beat Justin Wilson (IndyCar), Sebastien Bourdais and a few other drivers.
His performance was good enough for Minardi, who signed him up in 2001. He didn’t score a single point for the team – partly because Minardi have never been brilliant – and finished 23rd. The next year he became a Renault test driver, and in 2003 became one of their first drivers alongside Italian Jarno Trulli. That year he took his first F1 win at the Hungarian Grand Prix, which was later in the year back then. He finished 6th.
In 2004, he didn’t win any races and took one pole position. He finished 4th. But Michael Schumacher was under threat. And in 2005, Schumacher didn’t stand a chance against the Renaults. In fact, Schumi only won one race that season and finished far behind second-placed McLaren driver Kimi Raikkonen. And he became the youngest-ever world champion.
In 2006, he did it again, but it was a much closer call between the Ferrari and Renault drivers. For now, Alonso is the youngest-ever double world champion, though Vettel looks set to beat that.
2007 was the McLaren year, when he partnered rookie Lewis Hamilton. If Lewis had behaved like any other rookie, things would have gone smoothly and Alonso would have won the championship. Instead, Kimi took top spot while Hamilton and Alonso finished on equal points second and third. The two drivers did not get on well at McLaren, so Alonso went back to Renault, in exchange for Finn Heikki Kovalainen.
It wasn’t such an easy year in 2008. He won two races but finished fifth in the year that a lot of different drivers won races. And in 2009 the diminishing Renault ream got him a single podium. He finished 9th. But Ferrari came knocking.
2010 was the return of Fernando Alonso. After a fantastic start saw him win in Bahrain, he struggled until it came to the German Grand Prix. With a little help from his team, he won, and by the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix he was leading the championship. The king of Spain came to see him on the grid, and victory was almost assured – if only there weren’t those pesky Red Bulls. Well, Vettel may have taken the championship, but it was Renault’s Vitaly Petrov who won many fans by holding off Alonso.
In 2011, Alonso has won one race – the Silverstone Grand Prix. But considering Vettel’s dominance, this is a great achievement. It was close at the German Grand Prix as well. He is currently fourth in the championship. The question is, can he win again? Can it even be this birthday weekend?