2017 F1 driver of the year: #5 – Fernando Alonso
As we break into the top five drivers as voted for by RealSport readers, it’s McLaren’s Fernando Alonso in fifth place.
Why we watched him in 2017
In 2017 we tuned in to watch Fernando Alonso for the same reason we have for many years before: simply that he is one of the best drivers on the grid. A double world champion, the Spaniard is always one to watch even when he doesn’t have the car to win races, as has unfortunately been the situation over the past few seasons.
Never the absolute fastest driver on the grid, Alonso makes up for this with exceptional racecraft and car management, and is well revered throughout the grid for dragging otherwise uncompetitive cars to podiums or even race wins.
Sadly this hasn’t been the case recently, with Honda failing to provide a half decent engine in the first two years of the revived partnership with McLaren. An extra layer of scrutiny therefore was on Alonso and the McLaren team as 2017 testing got underway and fans held their breath to see if 2017 would finally be the year.
We all know now that this wasn’t to be the case, but the drama at McLaren-Honda certainly kept us interested, and we were eventually rewarded with entertaining drives from Alonso in Hungary and Mexico, to name a few.
Another consequence of this drama, and an increasing factor in why we love watching Alonso, are his frequent outbursts on the team radio. Often critical of Honda and the quality of their engine, these incidents weren’t as prevalent as in previous years perhaps, but they certainly kept on coming.
World Drivers’ Championship performance
After the disappointment of winter testing it was obvious that Alonso and McLaren were in for another difficult year in 2017, and the team got off to an awful start. Four retirements in his first five races were Alonso’s rewards for his efforts in the earlier part of the season before he skipped the Monaco Grand Prix to take part in the Indy 500, where once again he was forced to retire due to a Honda engine failure.
Points eventually began to come in with a ninth place in Azerbaijan, and after two more retirements the Spaniard would claim his season-best result of sixth in Hungary. From here four more retirements in six races hampered his campaign even further, by which point his rookie teammate Stoffel Vandoorne had overtaken him in the standings after two seventh places in Singapore and Malaysia.
With only three races to go, and with him losing the only battle that was relevant to him in 2017, things were looking bad for Alonso as F1 rocked up in Mexico. However, a battling drive at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez yielded a tenth place for Fernando, and he kicked on from there with two strong performances in Brazil (ninth) and Abu Dhabi (eighth) to sneak back ahead of Vandoorne to finish 15th in the final standings.
As touched on above, Alonso’s best result of the year came with a sixth place in Hungary, and with this race also marking only the second time he appeared in the top ten shootout on Saturday, this could quite easily be considered his best weekend of the season, at least in Formula 1.
I would argue though that Alonso’s venture to Indianapolis for the 2017 Indy 500 was his best weekend of the year. It gave him a chance to get away from the horrendous situation he found himself in with McLaren, and gave him a chance at winning the second component of the ‘triple crown of motorsport’ (Monaco GP win, Indy 500 win and 24 Hours of Le Mans win) while still a current F1 driver.
It also raised his profile among American sports fans by providing him with an opportunity to show them, and those of us who tuned in just to see how he got on, what he could do outside of a Formula 1 cockpit.
His exploits certainly did his stateside reputation no harm, as he qualified an amazing fifth on the grid and even led the race briefly before he dropped back and later retired with an engine issue. Not the result he was hoping for, but I’m certain he enjoyed it more than Vandoorne and Jenson Button enjoyed the Monaco Grand Prix…
Just take your pick really! Alonso retired 11 times this season, so there are certainly many candidates for races he’d most like to forget, but I’m going to have to go with Russia, where he didn’t even take the start.
Fernando had qualified fifteenth after just scraping into Q2 on Saturday, but was helpless when his car failed on the formation lap and he ground to a halt just short of the pit lane entrance after his gearbox failed. This forced an aborted start and an extra formation lap as the stricken McLaren was recovered.
Inconvenient for the rest of the grid but a complete humiliation for Alonso, whose weekend ended even earlier than usual in Sochi.
Looking to 2018
We only got confirmation of Alonso being retained by McLaren for 2018 mid way through October, long after the team’s decision to ditch Honda and switch to Renault power had been announced in Singapore. This suggests that there might have been some convincing to do on the part of McLaren and Renault bosses to get Alonso believing that this new partnership can finally be the one that takes him and the team back to the front.
Everything now rests on the quality of Renault’s 2018 power unit. We have seen Renault power win this year in the back of the Red Bulls, but generally the Renault powered teams have found themselves down on power compared to Mercedes and Ferrari, and struck by worrying reliability concerns later in the season, all of which will no doubt be going through Alonso’s head over the winter months.
It also depends massively on how well McLaren integrate the Renault power unit into their 2018 chassis, but you have to think that if they can produce a comparable package to Red Bull, they could well be in the mix for podiums and wins in 2018.
We’ve heard all this before though, but after three years of broken promises with Honda a Renault-powered future is surely looking brighter for Alonso and McLaren.