His original falling out with Ron Dennis at McLaren in 2007 came during the Monaco weekend as a result of Dennis saying to the media to go easy on Lewis Hamilton after his defeat by Alonso in the race because Ron had needed to ‘control’ Hamilton in the interests of the team. What Ron was referring to was him calling off any competition between his two drivers as soon as Alonso and Hamilton came out of Ste Devote in first and second places. Hamilton was fuelled longer and might have been able to have undercut past Alonso, but wasn’t allowed to use those extra laps to try. Which obviously hacked Hamilton off enormously. But Dennis’s comments about having controlled Hamilton positively enraged Alonso even more – as he took it to mean Ron had ‘allowed’ him to win a race in which he’d otherwise have been beaten. The disrespect Alonso felt from that comment is what broke down their relationship and led to the catastrophic chain of events later that season, culminating in McLaren being stripped of the constructors’ world championship and being fined $100 million. The after-effects of that are still reverberating today, for both McLaren and Alonso. They each were heavily damaged by it.
Now fast-forward to 2016 when a rib injury from a heavy crash in Melbourne caused Alonso to be declared medically unfit to take part in the next race, Bahrain. He was desperately trying to prove to the FIA in Bahrain that he was physically fine and after presenting himself to the race director and stewards proceeded to drop to the floor and perform multiple press-ups. Impressed though they were with the physical prowess and determination, they were more swayed by the x-rays and he was obliged to stand down. Johnny Herbert, in his role of Sky pundit, had questioned whether Alonso’s motivation and ability were at the level of his vintage years. This triggered that infamous Alonso rage when he feels he is not being fully respected. Spotting Herbert doing a piece to camera in the paddock, Alonso interrupted it to remonstrate with him, signing off with, “That’s why you were never a champion,” which seemed a cruel jibe to someone who may well have been a multiple champion were it not for the devastating feet injuries he received even before making F1. Johnny being Johnny, he took it in his stride, but it was another little tell-tale of the intensity of emotion any perceived lack of respect triggers in Alonso.
I interviewed him shortly afterwards and asked him about this outburst. “I felt a little bit a lack of professional respect,” he replied, “but also it was because he questioned my motivation. On the very weekend that I am trying to get the FIA allow me to race with cracked ribs and a pneumothorax! In 2014 with an uncompetitive car I made triple the points of Kimi Raikkonen, in 2015 I was pushing the car in Hungary to the pitlane. So say I’m slow, ugly whatever, but not that I’m not motivated. It makes no sense.”
So life is sweet for Alonso right now. Aston Martin has delivered him a car second only to Red Bull, he’s scored podiums in four of the first five races and is currently third in the world championship on 75 points. That Alpine is floundering on 14 points combined for both drivers probably just makes it sweeter for one of his disposition. If you doubt that he can be bothered to harvest any ill-feeling, you need only to listen to his radio message in practice after he was baulked by former team mate Esteban Ocon. “Yeah, it’s practice,” he said. “This is their big moment of the weekend.”
Actually, it wasn’t. The biggest moment of Alpine’s weekend came as Laurent Rossi gave an interview to French TV station Canal-Plus in which he ripped into the competence of his own team, referencing its disastrous Baku and Bahrain weekends. It would be fair to say no-one in the team knew it was coming and that it didn’t go down well. It’s suddenly a team in crisis. Fernando won two world titles with that team – and it provided him the opportunity to come back after his two-year sabbatical from F1. But they were different times, with different people at the helm. People who respected him.