Fernando Alonso was widely pilloried in 2015 for his move from Ferrari to the second generation McLaren-Honda partnership. Mid-way through the 2016 season and the validity of that decision is starting to swing back in favour of the Spaniard.
Another bad Alonso career move
The grim reality of how far off the pace McLaren were last year was evident early in the season. As a result Fernando Alonso looked like a fool. Following his decision to leave McLaren just before Lewis Hamilton took the world title in 2008, Alonso seemed to have screwed up once more. Ferrari appeared to be – in the hands of Sebastien Vettel – able to challenge the dominant Mercedes duo. Conversely, most observers predicted the two-time world champion would see out his final years in F1 fighting for 14th place. Fast-forward to the mid-point of the 2016 season and his decision to rejoin McLaren is starting to look much better.
Why leave a race-winning team?
Alonso believes he is good enough for at least one more world championship. I along with pretty much every F1 fan and commentator agrees. But he left Ferrari for a simple reason: he was fed up waiting for the prancing horse to deliver him a car to win a world title and did not see much changing. At McLaren he saw a team hungry for success and an engine partner with proven pedigree. McLaren-Honda are not championship contenders yet but as it stands, neither are Ferrari.
Would Alonso have been world champion?
Alonso would not have won the much coveted third world title in 2015. He may have picked up a handful of wins along the way but for him that is inconsequential now. At the halfway point in the 2016 season, Ferrari are not going to deliver a world title for either Vettel or Raikkonen. Worse still, they appear – on the evidence of recent races in Austria and Great Britain at least – to be slipping behind Red Bull as ‘best of the rest’. By contrast, McLaren have hauled themselves from tail-enders at the start of 2015 to semi-regularly challenging for top ten qualification and points finishes.
The rate at which McLaren and specifically Honda have made gains suggests they could be challenging for places just off the podium by seasons’ end. It will be 2017 at least before they and Alonso can challenge for wins but, as many have forgotten, this was from the outset a 3-year project.
Alonso will not be world champion in 2017 but…
I am not getting ahead of myself here: Ferrari are still better placed to take race wins (that essential feature of world titles) than McLaren-Honda. That will continue for the rest of this season and most of 2017 probably. But as Fernando made clear from the start of his second stint with McLaren, this is not about winning the occasional race. This is about winning another world championship and on that basis his decision to join McLaren-Honda is starting to look like a better move than it seemed.