Fernando Alonso Deserves Better After McLaren-Honda Failure at 2015 Brazilian GP

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistNovember 15, 2015

McLaren driver Fernando Alonso of Spain pauses at his garage during the third practice session for the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka Circuit in Suzuka, central Japan, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)
Shizuo Kambayashi/Associated Press

First it was the gloves, almost seamlessly slipped off and dropped delicately into the depths of the cockpit.

Then came the fiddly bits—the chin straps and the HANS-device tethers—the excitement palpable as his fingers flicked and rotated this way and that.

Off came the crash helmet, the veil, the mask; the flameproof balaclava doubling up as a makeshift flannel.

With the earplugs out and the umbilical chords gone, he was ready. Finally free.

Stepping onto the pedastal of his car's monocoque, he rose slowly, running his hands through his sweat-soaked hair and scrubbing his face—wiping away the last remains of the uncertainty, the tension and the anxiety.

As he stretched out his arms and clenched his fists, a primal scream pierced the backing track of applause and whistles, and there he stood before his colleagues and peers.

Champion of the world.

Back then, as a third-place finish in the 2005 Brazilian Grand Prix secured the first of two successive Formula One titles, there were only hopes and dreams in the mind of Fernando Alonso

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SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - SEPTEMBER 25:  Fernando Alonso of Spain and Renault celebrates winning the World Championship after finishing third in the Brazilian F1 Grand Prix at the Autodromo Interlagos on September 25, 2005 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Clive
Clive Rose/Getty Images

Spraying champagne from the Interlagos podium as ticker tape floated all around him, the discussion was not what Alonso had achieved but what he would—not could—go on to achieve.

The youngest-ever world champion at the age of just 24, he was bound to spend 10 years or more at the peak of F1, and even then it was acknowledged that when he eventually came to retire, he would rank alongside—or even above—the most successful drivers in the sport's history.

The podiums, the grand prix victories and the world championships, surely, would all come his way.

A decade on, however, and Alonso's career is in grave danger of becoming a sorry tale of unfulfilled potential.

McLaren Honda's Spanish driver Fernando Alonso looks on in the pits before the third practice session at the Spa-Francorchamps ciruit in Spa on August 22, 2015, ahead of the Belgian Formula One Grand Prix. AFP PHOTO / EMMANUEL DUNAND        (Photo credit
EMMANUEL DUNAND/Getty Images

After the near misses of his five-year tenure at Ferrari, where he twice came within a matter of points from winning a third title, his move to McLaren-Honda for 2015 was supposed to inject renewed momentum into a stalling career. But it has only seen it pale ever further into insignificance.

Retirements from races, potentially season-defining moments in title battles with Kimi Raikkonen, Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel in years gone by are now the inevitable results whenever Alonso sits behind the wheel on Sunday afternoons.

His car's lack of pace, previously only a minor obstacle to overcome while racing head-to-head against supposedly lesser racing drivers in superior machinery, now places a clear, defined limit on what he can expect and extract from a race weekend.

And points finishes—of which there have been only two this season—were once taken for granted. But they are now motivational tools, small gestures of thanks to his mechanics for, as he told Autosport's Glenn Freeman in July, "working day and night to keep improving the car."

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 25:  Fernando Alonso of McLaren and Spain breaks down during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 25, 2015 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Peter J Fox/Getty Images)
Peter J Fox/Getty Images

With a three-year contract in his pocket, according to BBC Sport's Andrew Benson, Alonso has displayed a remarkably restrained attitude toward McLaren in 2015, only occasionally criticising the team in public, per Sky Sports

But the pain of his fall from grace has increased in recent weeks to the extent where F1's most complete, formidable competitor is now little more than an extra making up the numbers, his frustration levels now dangerously "high," as he admitted to Autosport's Mitchell Adam.

After suffering a late technical problem while running fifth in the United States and retiring on the opening lap in Mexico—due to a problem first identified the previous evening, as he told McLaren's official website—Alonso has suffered two stoppages in the space of two days at the Brazilian GP, the latter preventing him from even setting a lap time in qualifying.

Rather than returning to the pits after bringing his car to a halt, Alonso took a seat in the infield section for the remainder of the session, pretending to sunbathe as his rivals continued to circulate the Interlagos track.

And upon his return to the pit-and-paddock area, he—for old times' sake, along with team-mate Jenson Button—posed for a photograph on the exact podium where Alonso marked one of the most satisfying moments of his life a decade ago, reducing a place of such special memories to the punchline of a joke made at his own expense.

With no guarantee that McLaren and Honda will make the necessary improvements for 2016, it is increasingly difficult to imagine Alonso ever being able to reproduce the powerful, raw, intense victory celebrations he conducted at Interlagos in '05.

In 2013, he told Sky Sports' Johnny Herbert how he would happily sacrifice an arm to win at least one more. Yet despite his obvious hunger for a third title, the sheer level of his performances throughout his time at the top means Alonso doesn't need to rely on numbers or statistics to justify and cement his position among F1's finest-ever drivers.

He does, though, deserve a chance. He does deserve better. And at the very least, he deserves to be back where he really belongs.