Fernando Alonso
Fernando Alonso of McLaren F1 team addressing media at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi on Thursday. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: After figuring in more than 300 races and claiming 32 victories, Spanish ace Fernando Alonso will be hanging up his Formula One racing boots when the curtain comes down on the season-ending Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at the Yas Marina Circuit on Sunday.

If you have been on the circuit for 17 years then you have seen and experienced it all. Along with the highs and lows, Alonso’s career is nothing less than a blockbuster movie filled with action, emotions and plenty of drama.

Sunday it is going to be different. It will get more emotional. There won’t be celebrations till late in the night because I have to be in Bahrain on Monday morning.

- Fernando Alonso » Spanish Formula One ace

The 2001 debut is a distant memory now but those were years of struggle when he entered the scene driving for Minardi and spending most of the time at the back of the grid. However, all that changed once he switched to Renault in 2003 but not before spending two years testing for them and for Benetton.

Taking a shot at the championship wasn’t easy. The Ferraris, led by Michael Schumacher, were ruling the roost and they were closely followed by McLaren and Williams. Another two years went by until Renault, too, emerged as a force and a matured Alonso made his presence felt straight away.

Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and others leave the press conference on the eve of F1 Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi. Alaric Gomes/Gulf News

With a car to finally challenge, for the first time in years a driver had risen to put an end to Schumacher’s dominance in the sport. Year 2005 and 2006 completely belonged to Alonso and Renault. With 14 race victories, Alonso had become the most sought-after driver in F1.

Nevertheless, that all changed with him opting to part ways with Renault and join McLaren in 2007 in the company of a rookie driver in Lewis Hamilton — with a huge appetite for success.

When you have two quality drivers fighting for supremacy in the same team, sparks fly. All hell broke loose at the 2007 Hungarian Grand Prix qualifying where Alonso took an over-long pit stop, costing Hamilton precious time and ruining the latter’s chances as Alonso took pole position.

If that incident was not enough, Alonso went on to threaten McLaren boss Ron Dennis that he would forward incriminating emails to the governing body, the FIA, claiming that McLaren were illegally spying on rivals Ferrari. That infamous ‘spy-gate’ incident saw McLaren and their engine supplier Mercedes being handed hefty fines.

Ferrari was Alonso’s next big switch but it was also the time when the Red Bull Racing car would emerge as a dominant force. Alonso’s car was certainly no match but still the championship battles would go down to the wire — mainly during the 2010 and 2012 season when Sebastian Vettel was at his supreme best.

His re-association with McLaren powered by Honda in 2015 never took off. It was always plagued with problems related to car and speed and Alonso was never in a position to challenge the front runners.

Going out with a great swansong may not be on the cards come Sunday, but the fighter in him will definitely make sure he gives absolutely everything to finish off with a hurrah.

“To enjoy the race will be my top priority,” said Alonso. “I know we are not competitive enough to fight against big teams. But we are fighting with Force India for Constructor’s Championship and it will be nice to finish in front of them. To finish in qualifying perhaps with Q3 will be a dream. It will be nice to do some good laps,” said Alonso adding, “So far it is a normal weekend but Sunday it is going to be different. It will get more emotional. There won’t be celebrations till late in the night because I have to be in Bahrain on Monday morning.”

Alonso also didn’t completely rule out the possibility of him making a comeback into Formula one in 2020.

“I don’t know what the future will be bring. As of now I’m concentrating on the personal challenges the triple crown (at the Indy 500) and some other races we have next year. For 2020 is further away and it is impossible to think now. Life is long and beautiful and I like Formula one and I will always like it. If I will be here as whatever I will think,” said Alonso adding that driving the F1 car and fighting for wins is something that he will be missing the most.

“If you can be on the podium there is extra motivation and joy. The cars are something special and it doesn’t matter if you are 14th or 5th. On the other side there are negatives as well because if you racing for 18 years then you have dedicated your entire life. You don’t have time for friends, family no privacy. It is full dedication and I think I have my priorities right now.”