Sport : F1

Fernando Alonso

6th March 2014, 03:52pm

It's now four years and counting for Fernando Alonso and Ferrari in their quest to deliver the World Championship that most thought would prove an inevitable consequence of their long-awaited union.

Last season represented the third time since the double title winner arrived at Maranello in 2010 that he had finished second in the standings to Sebastian Vettel. Yet for F1's most successful team, and a driver with such relentless hunger and determination as Alonso, it still equated to an all-too-familiar feeling of frustration.

And, for the first time in 2013, signs of that spilled out in public as Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo criticised the Spaniard for tongue-in-cheek comments about the team's underperforming car and Alonso's manager apparently sounded out Red Bull about a shock defection. For several reasons - notwithstanding the arrival of a fellow World Champion team-mate in the shape of Kimi Raikkonen - 2014 is a crucial year in the relationship.

Having made his F1 debut with minnows Minardi as a 19-year-old back in 2001, Alonso is now one of the increasingly youthful grid's senior citizens - although he remains one of its most dominant and talented personalities.

While his machinery at the Italian team was massively limiting, it was obvious that the Spaniard was far too quick to be a mere backmarker and it was no surprise when manager, and Renault team boss, Flavio Briatore promoted him to the role of the Enstone team's tester for 2002 and then handed him a race seat the following year.

Alonso's rise was astonishing. The next 12 months saw him become the youngest driver ever on pole and the youngest to set a fastest lap, while his win in Hungary in 2003 made him the youngest ever race winner at the time.

Momentum subsided the following year but Alonso hit back comprehensively in 2005, claiming seven wins and eight other podium finishes on his way to the becoming the youngest ever World Champion.

Despite announcing in November 2005 that he would be joining McLaren for 2007, Alonso stayed with Renault for the 2006 season and went on to claim back-to-back titles after beating Michael Schumacher in a thrilling season-long duel.

In the end, he only missed out on the hat-trick by a point after joining McLaren the following year. But Alonso's move to Woking proved ill-fated as he spectacularly fell out with team boss Ron Dennis - the emergence of rookie team-mate Lewis Hamilton as a title contender being the sticking point.

The Spaniard was soon on his way back to Renault and although the team were not the force of old come 2008, Alonso still produced results beyond the car's capabilities and a late-season surge saw him finish fifth in the standings. 2009, however, proved a massive disappointment and the team ended the campaign engulfed in high controversy after the events of the previous year's Singapore GP, which Alonso won after team-mate Nelson Piquet Jr. deliberately crashed, came to light. After months of rumours, it came as little surprise when he left for Ferrari to replace Raikkonen.

Alonso's career in red started in style, winning the season-opening Bahrain GP. But from there it went downhill, culminating in a row in Germany after Felipe Massa was given orders to move over, handing his team-mate victory.

The fine that move triggered seemed a very small price to pay as the win sparked a turnaround in form for Alonso, who went on to win the Italian, Singapore and Korean races, putting him firmly in the hunt for the world title. Heading into the final race in Abu Dhabi, Alonso was leading the fight, but a strategic pitwall error cost him and allowed Vettel to take the title by four points.

That miss inspired many a comment from Alonso and Ferrari about how 2011 would be better, about how they would atone for their mistakes and about how they would seek revenge. That never happened, however, and the season ended with just one victory at Silverstone.

Year three seemed set to follow a similar pattern as a disastrous pre-season with the new F2012 saw the team over a second off the pace, and not even able to make Q3, at the season-opener in Australia. But a battling fifth place in race conditions would ultimately set the tone for the year as Alonso repeatedly overcame middling qualifying results.

Two surges through the grid - from ninth to first in the rain in Malaysia and 11th to victory on home soil in Valencia - were the stunning highlights and all of a sudden Alonso held a 40-point advantage over his rivals at the halfway point of the season.

The impossible dream suddenly seemed achievable but on the resumption of the season, two costly first-corner exits at Spa and Suzuka, and a four-race winning streak from Vettel, swung the title race in the German's favour despite a nail-biting decider in the rain of Interlagos.

Last season was supposed to witness the big breakthrough and the F138 was certainly more competitive straight out of the box, allowing Alonso to gain two early-season wins in China and Spain. However, development of the car stalled in the summer whereas Red Bull and Vettel marched on at unchecked speed - the German wrapping up his fourth crown with three rounds to spare.

Having been left behind at the start of F1's last rules overhaul, Alonso needs Ferrari's new turbo engine to be a class leader if he is to finally win the third drivers' title he craves.

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