Born in Oviedo in Northern Spain, Fernando Alonso Diaz inherited a kart from his older sister Lorena at the tender age of three. Their father – José Luis, an amateur karter and explosives expert – originally made the kart for Lorena, but showing no interest for her father’s passion, the kart was handed down. Fernando was eager to learn and started competing in competitions. His natural talent shone through and as he started to win, his hobby became more and more of a potential career.
During his teens, Fernando won three Spanish Karting Titles (1994, 1996 and 1997), and came second in the European Karting Championship. In 1999, Fernando competed in Spanish Euro Open MoviStar Series. Helped by former Minardi F1 driver, Adrian Campos, Fernando won the series and a chance to compete in Formula 3000 the following year. Although he only completed one year in F3000 – winning the Belgian race and finishing 4th overall – Formula One beckoned in 2001 with Minardi.
Alonso became the third youngest driver to ever start a race at the season opener in Australia. And although the Minardi tended to hog the back of the grid, Fernando showed great tenacity at the wheel and despite not driving in 2002, Fernando did earn a coveted test driver position with the improving Renault team.
In 2003, Fernando returned to competitive racing with the Renault squad and claimed Pole Position in Malaysia. He would do one better though, and at the Hungarian Grand Prix, Alonso won in spectacular style. He became the youngest driver to claim a pole and to also take victory in a race. He finished 6th in the drivers championship.
Although 2004 went by with no wins for Alonso, the Spaniard managed to beat his career best and finish 4th in the drivers championship. The season was marred with an under-performing car and some poor results in the early part of the season dogged Fernando. The Renault team was in a state of unrest as Fernando’s team mate, Jarno Trulli, left before the end of the year, despite winning in Monaco.
2005 saw a return to form for Renault though, and Fernando enjoyed a revived team and new team mate, Giancarlo Fisichella. Fernando finished the year as the youngest ever World Champion at 24 years and 59 days old. Winning 7 races and 8 other podiums, Fernando comprehensively beat Kimi Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher taking the title before the season had ended.
Renault continued with Fernando in 2006, where although other teams had improved significantly, Renault still managed to win races, and Fernando claimed his second drivers championship in the final race. The 2006 season became a real nail-biter after both contenders suffered penalties and failures at key moments. At Monaco, Michael Schumacher appeared to crash his car during qualifying. From the video footage it looked as though Schumacher and stopped his car on purpose in order to hinder Fernando’s chance to bettering his pole position lap. Schumacher insisted his innocence, but the stewards decided to impose a grid penalty on Schumacher, allowing Alonso to effectively start on pole position. It later became apparent through an interview with Alonso that had Schumacher not been penalised, he would have arrived on the grid after the parade lap, vacated his Renault laid down in front of the Ferrari in protest. Thankfully, it come to that.
Despite the issues though, it was the Spaniard who triumphed and won along with Renault in the constructors championship, Alonso taking the ‘Number 1’ with him to McLaren for 2007.
Pre-season testing gave clear indications that the McLaren MP4-22 was a very fast and capable car, with Alonso trading fastest laps with his new team mate and rookie driver Lewis Hamilton. The young driver had been awarded the drive after a strong GP2 campaign and it was originally thought the pairing of wise and experienced with young and daunted would work well.
From the very first race in Australia though, Hamilton ensured Alonso was aware that he was not allowed to run away with race wins. Despite Fernando driving well and winning races, his team mate was consistently right behind him. The pair appeared to have trouble getting along, and soon the media were hyping up the difficulties they faced with each other. In Monaco both drivers were told to hold station in order to preserve a one-two finish, but with Hamilton behind Alonso, it seemed as though the Briton was not happy.
Although Lewis Hamilton won both North American rounds and also in Japan, Fernando managed to complete four victories. The Spaniard trailed Hamilton for much of the year, and the friction only worsened. In Hungary, the falling out become public when they held each other up during qualifying, and now the team were being penalised.
While the team mates feuded off-track, Ferrari quietly gained momentum and were never too far behind. Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa looked fairly strong towards the end of the year, but team work at McLaren had all but dissipated.
Alonso managed to cling on to the title-hopes into the final round in Brazil, and although he did well from the start line, beating Lewis Hamilton through the first corner, his car was no match for the Ferrari and Kimi Raikkonen took the title away from Fernando.
After the end of the season, with a disappointing 109 points and third place in the title race, as well as having been found to be indirectly involved with illegal spying, Fernando and McLaren parted ways with mutual agreement. The year had been one of the sports most tumultuous, and Alonso went on holiday as soon as he could to consider his future. Upon return, Alonso announced his return to Renault and started pre-season testing well.