Breaking the internet is his specialty, aside from pouring his heart out on track. Fernando Alonso announced that he will not be competing in Formula 1 next year, and bid farewell to the sport in moving fashion: through a heartfelt voiceover looking back his F1 achievements and memories. That works for the emotional part of a retirement speech, but the statement released by McLaren is far more interesting, considering that it is high in hints and discussion points.
The press release from Woking kicks off with Zak Brown’s quotes and it starts with a bang.
The Alonso brand. “Fernando is not only an outstanding ambassador for McLaren but also for Formula 1. His 17 years in the sport, as arguably the pre-eminent driver of his generation and undoubtedly an F1 great, have added another layer to Formula 1’s rich history.”
Overtime the Spaniard has turned into a brand, other than founding his own ‘Kimoa’. Fernando Alonso has evolved as a character, while keeping his identity deeply rooted in Formula 1’s old-school dimension. Liberty Media has fully exploited the association game that connects Alonso with both the youngest and the older generations. His fitting ‘underdog’ label has characterised him for the entire duration of his career. His second McLaren stint was entirely built on his popularity, and he was tasked with being an ambassador, aimed at launching the comeback of Honda. Unfortunately, success-wise things did not go as planned, but when he hit rock bottom with McLaren-Honda and wildly unleashed his frustration in every possible way, Liberty took advantage of it. The perfect example would be Liberty’s planned ‘Happy holidays’ gag at the conclusion of the 2017 Hungarian GP, when Alonso grabbed the spotlight while the podium celebrations were still on and replicated his ‘sunbathing scene’ from the 2015 Brazilian GP’s FP2, as his Honda engine had failed him for the umpteenth time. That scene became iconic straight away and triggered the most creative of social media users and artists to produce T-shirts, memes, drawings or even scale models, virtually carrying the ‘McLaren-Honda’s Alonso brand’. His auto-ironic and peculiar ways to manifest his frustration towards the Japanese manufacturer were transformed into a full-on strength, although they are the embodiment of Fernando Alonso’s titanic relationship with the modern F1.
McLaren’s fine relationship with Alonso. “There is a time for everyone to make a change and Fernando has decided the end of this season to be his. We respect his decision, even if we believe he is in the finest form of his career. Our open dialogue with Fernando has meant we could plan for this eventuality.”
McLaren has always - and rightfully - boasted on its open and special relationship with Alonso. The driver has been allowed to keep a number of clauses on his contract, including the permission to keep his discussions and evaluations going until late in the year. This time around Alonso made his announcement relatively early, considering the fact that we are in the middle of the summer break.
The praise. “While evaluating his future during the past months, Fernando’s competitiveness has been undimmed. He has continued to perform at the highest level throughout, as we know he will do in the remaining nine races of this year’s championship.
“I know that the entire team joins me in paying tribute to Fernando’s enormous contribution to McLaren; he is a legend both for the championship and for the team. Fernando is an important part of our story and will join an illustrious line of McLaren drivers.”
Board references. Is he still there? “On behalf of Shaikh Mohammed, Mansour and our entire board, we wish Fernando every success in the future.” Last week Mansour Ojjeh has been rumoured to have left the company on July 26th, as The Independent and virtual paperwork stated. McLaren took the matter in its own hands and released a clarificatory statement, assuring that Ojjeh is still part of the McLaren board. And apparently, yesterday’s release was yet another occasion to reinforce the concept.
Moving on to Fernando Alonso’s juicy part, get ready to be left in awe.
Thanksgiving. “After 17 wonderful years in this amazing sport, it’s time for me to make a change and move on. I have enjoyed every single minute of those incredible seasons and I cannot thank enough the people who have contributed to make them all so special. There are still several grands prix to go this season, and I will take part in them with more commitment and passion than ever.
The IndyCar hint. “Let’s see what the future brings; new exciting challenges are around the corner. I’m having one of the happiest times ever in my life but I need to go on exploring new adventures”.
Michael Andretti gave Alonso a fortnight ultimatum, openly declaring that the Spaniard is either disputing a complete IndyCar season or nothing. Moreover, the Indy 500 victory is missing on Alonso’s tally to complete his Triple Crown achievement, which is why he is likely to move overseas next year.
Broadening his horizons thanks to a trailblazing team. “I want to thank everyone at McLaren. My heart is with the team forever. I know they will come back stronger and better in the future and it could be the right moment for me to be back in the series; that would make me really happy. I have built so many great relationships with many fantastic people at McLaren, and they have given me the opportunity to broaden my horizons and race in other categories. I feel I am a more complete driver now than ever.”
Back to the brand ambassador thing. “I made this decision some months ago and it was a firm one. Nevertheless, I would like to sincerely thank Chase Carey and Liberty Media for the efforts made to change my mind and everyone who has contacted me during this time”.
Fulmen in clausula. Leaving the door open. “Finally, I would also like to thank my former teams, team-mates, competitors, colleagues, partners, journalists and everyone I have worked with in my F1 career. And, especially, my fans all over the world. I am quite sure our paths will cross again in the future.”