Fernando Alonso will finally end his F1 career after 17 years and two world championships. The Spaniard will surely be missed for several brilliant performances and his grit. However, his career was not without controversy either. Most of the moments occurred early in his F1 career and some have really tarnished his reputation.
Early in his F1 career, Alonso had been repeatedly accused of brake-checking other drivers. From David Coulthard to Robert Doornbos Felipe Massa, he has brake-checked them all. While he got away with the incident with Coulthard, he was handed a time penalty of one second. For the incident with Massa, he was slapped with a 5-place grid penalty.
During his first stint with McLaren, it seemingly brought out the worst in him. Alonso and his rookie teammate Lewis Hamilton were at it hammer and tongs. Things came to a head in the qualifying session of the 2007 Hungarian F1 GP. Both McLarens pitted at the same time with Alonso ahead of Hamilton. However, when he was released, Alonso hesitated for a few seconds before Hamilton was serviced.
As a result, Hamilton lost valuable time and could not reach the chequered flag in time to start a flying lap. According to team boss Ron Dennis, the team had got “out of sequence” when Hamilton did not as agreed allow Alonso past earlier in the qualifying session. He added that Alonso was “under the control of his engineer” when he was waiting in the pit lane. Alonso was handed a 5-place grid penalty and McLaren were docked 15 points.
During the same year, McLaren were also embroiled in an espionage case with Ferrari. It transpired that some McLaren team members, including Alonso, were aware of confidential information belonging to the Ferrari F1 team. McLaren test driver Pedro de la Rosa had also received information from McLaren chief designer Mike Coughlan and passed it to Alonso.
The email contained text suggesting that Alonso was surprised by the data and doubted its authenticity. According to the email exchanges between Alonso and de la Rosa, it was clear that Alonso knew about Ferrari’s pit strategies in the Australian Grand Prix and Bahrain Grand Prix.
Ron Dennis told the FIA about the case during the Hungarian Grand Prix. Amid media allegations that Alonso threatened Dennis with reporting the team to FIA himself if he was not given number one driver status, Ron Dennis stated in a televised interview that there had been an argument, and that Alonso had said something in the heat of the moment but immediately apologised.
This was when Dennis found out about Ferrari data and immediately informed the FIA. Pitlane sources have suggested, from published FIA stewards data, that an argument involving reporting the McLaren team to the FIA was prompted by the fact that there was no stewards’ investigation regarding the qualifying pitlane incident until Anthony and Lewis Hamilton made a formal complaint on the Saturday evening; costing Alonso a five-place grid penalty and loss of Constructors’ Points for the team. FIA then revealed that it had had knowledge of the Spygate case thanks to a slip made by Coughlan.
This controversy was also close to besmirching Alonso’s reputation. During the inaugural Singapore GP, the Renault team ordered Nelson Piquet Jr to crash intentionally. This caused a safety-car incident at a moment where Alonso would get tremendous benefit from his race strategy. It put him towards the front of the field, and giving him a fighting chance to win the race, after a number of opponents suffered.
However, there was no evidence suggesting that Alonso had any knowledge of the plan. So the aftermath was that team boss Flavio Briatore and driver Nelson Piquet were banned from F1.
Fernando is Faster than You
During the 2010 German Grand Prix at Hockenheim, Alonso became involved in a controversy with teammate Massa, as Ferrari were accused of using team orders during the race. The incident started when Massa was leading the race and defended his pole position when Alonso tried to overtake him. Alonso said “This is ridiculous” on the team radio, supposedly complaining about Massa.
Ferrari engineer Rob Smedley then contacted Massa through radio to say “Fernando is faster than you. Can you confirm you understood that message?”. Shortly after this, Massa slowed down visibly and was promptly overtaken by Alonso. After the race notable people of the senior personnel in Ferrari, Massa and Alonso were summoned to the stewards. The matter was then referred to the FIA World Motor Sport Council and Ferrari were given a $100,000 fine but the result of the race was unchanged.