One may forgive Fernando Alonso for harbouring feelings of deep regret at the ultimately fruitless decision to rejoin McLaren in 2015.
It has been one that’s seen the Spanish two-time world champion end his twilight Formula One years amid mediocrity at the back of the grid.
After the 2005 and 2006 double was done with Renault, Alonso failed to rekindle his championship magic with a dream move to Ferrari in 2010.
Then, four years ago, he rolled the dice again and returned to McLaren. But repeated failings with its new Honda engine has left a legend of the sport spending his final four seasons collecting rust as one-time former McLaren team-mate Lewis Hamilton has accumulated four championships following his own bold move to Mercedes.
The 2018 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will bring the curtain down on an illustrious 17-year career in the sport. It is one that has yielded those two titles – Alonso is the joint-fifth most successful driver to have entered a cockpit – as well as numerous other impressive feats.
Sunday’s Abu Dhabi finale will be Alonso’s 314th race (second only to Rubens Barrichello’s 326), he has the sixth most podiums (97) and is also sixth for total wins (32).
So even though the last four years are not how the 37-year-old would have wanted to sign off, regret is not a word he is thinking about on the climatic weekend of his F1 career.
“I don’t regret many things. I’m happy with the decisions,” said the veteran Spaniard, who starts from 15th on Sunday.
“There are always things that either go your way or they go someone else’s direction. In my career I feel extremely proud to have driven for Renault, McLaren and Ferrari. They are three teams that I spent 17 years of my career with.
“They are the three teams with more wins and success in Formula One. Recently, Mercedes has been dominating, but in my time I am proud of those three families that I joined.”
He may be headed for 10th place in the drivers’ standings (Alonso’s placings at McLaren read two 10ths, one 15th and one 17th), but Alonso believes no-one except world champion Hamilton can be satisfied with their 2018 season.
“In F1 there is always one winner and the all the others are not winning. Only one is happy here and that’s Lewis Hamilton this year,” added the man from Oviedo, speaking after qualifying at the McLaren villa in the shadow of Yas Marina Circuit on Saturday evening.
“To finish second, seventh, 12th, it’s the same. I won two championships, 97 podiums. I have here mates with a lot of talent you know, like Niko Hulkenburg, zero podiums. Sebastian (Vettel) a lot of years now not winning. (Max) Verstappen, great talent, zero titles. (Daniel) Ricciardo, a great talent, zero titles.
“They are all unlucky? Probably, but this is the sport of F1. With all those things, coming from the north of Spain, being a go-karting guy, two times world champion, no regrets on anything.”
And despite the failings of McLaren with Japanese giants Honda as engine partners, Alonso again said he does not look back with dread on his decision to jump ship from Ferrari in 2015.
“I’ve been unlucky in some of the places I’ve raced but without a crystal ball it is difficult to make decisions,” added Alonso.
“After you finished your chapter it’s easy to say, but when I joined Ferrari in 2010 10/10 was my decision to join Ferrari. It was my home team. When I joined McLaren-Honda in 2015, all the previous year I was hearing it was a very good decision.
“The turbo engine from Ferrari was not good, we were fighting to stay P3 and McLaren-Honda had one-year development for free, they were not racing in 2014, so that was a major decision. Again, it was 9/10 going in that direction.”
Alonso, 37 next month, will become only the fourth driver in history to reach the milestone here in Canada on Sunday.
“I am one of the best to have raced in F1,” Alonso said.
“I am probably not the fastest driver in qualifying. I’m probably not the fastest driver in the race, or in wet conditions, but I am a 9.5 in all areas, and I try to benefit from that.”
Along with Lewis Hamilton, Alonso is viewed as the greatest of his generation, but it has been more than five years since he won a race, while he toasted the last of his two successive titles in 2006. Remarkably, Hamilton has double the tally of Alonso’s victories: 64 plays 32.
Alonso’s career is rather a case of what might have been after a catalogue of rows, and ill-advised moves.
He was signed by McLaren from Renault as the two-time world champion in 2007, but he departed after just one season following bitter fall-outs with Hamilton and the team’s long-serving chairman Ron Dennis.
Alonso appeared to resurrect his title hopes with a move to Ferrari, but after he was beaten by Sebastian Vettel at the season-concluding races in 2010 and 2012, he was shown the door after the Italians grew frustrated with him.
Alonso opted for another term at McLaren, but his second spell has been disastrous. Alonso has got the very best out of an under-performing car, but he knows he may probably never win again.
“There are some opportunities missing,” Alonso added. “I could have won four or five championships, but at the same time I feel extremely privileged to have had 18 years in F1.
“I have a lot of good memories. There have been a lot of ups and downs, but winning my two championships was definitely the high point.”
Alonso will contest the Le Mans 24 Hours race next weekend as he bids to emulate Graham Hill’s ‘Triple Crown’ – which also includes the Monaco Grand Prix (a race Alonso has won twice) and the Indianapolis 500 (where Alonso excelled on his debut last year, before a late engine blow-up cost him dearly).
F1 has taken a back seat for the Spaniard, but despite three years of turmoil at McLaren, Alonso remained for another campaign in the hope that their divorce from Honda and switch to Renault would fire Britain’s most successful team back to the front.
But McLaren still remain a shadow of their former selves, and only Alonso’s brilliance has enabled him to collect 32 points and lie seventh in the standings.
“No, I’m not bored,” said Alonso, who will later this summer decide whether to extend his £20million-a-year-contract into another campaign.
“It’s obviously the top series in motorsport, and it’s where we all dream to come, but it’s true that in the last years it is so predictable.
“This is race seven – there are 21 races – and we all know what is going to happen. You can play basketball, and have a magic night and score 40 points with your team-mates and win the game.
“There are favourites for the World Cup, but you can’t guarantee Germany, Spain or Brazil will win, but here everyone can guarantee that Mercedes or Ferrari will win the race, and this is very sad for the sport.”
Alonso is preparing for his home race here at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya off the back of his debut victory at last week’s World Endurance Championship race at Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium.
But the 36-year-old Spaniard’s days of winning in F1 appear further away than ever before as McLaren’s troubles extend into another season.
Alonso, who last took to the top step of a Formula One podium at this race back in 2013, may be sixth in the standings after accumulating 28 points from the opening four rounds, but that tally says more about his racecraft rather than the speed of his McLaren.
The British team, having terminated their engine relationship with Honda at the end of last season, had expected to challenge at the sharp end of the grid this year.
But the move to Renault power has provided little joy with Alonso failing to qualify inside the top 10 at any of the four rounds so far.
It has been more than four years since a McLaren car last occupied the top three places, and Alonso, on the eve of what could be his final home race, hinted his future could lie away from F1.
“The biggest thing here is how predictable everything is,” said Alonso, who is dovetailing his F1 commitments with six World Endurance Championship events, including next month’s prestigious Le Mans 24 Hours race.
“We can put on paper now what would be the qualifying result here on Saturday, what it would be in Monaco, and what it would be in Silverstone. This is sad for Formula One. So that’s something you need to take into account for future decisions.
“I’m attempting two world championships at the same time. The F1 calendar is quite demanding.”
Alonso could leave McLaren at the end of the year but would give up his pay packet, estimated to be upwards of £20million.
McLaren have brought a series of updates with them to Barcelona in the hope of improved performance, but they will not be alone with the opening leg of the European season kickstarting the development race.
“Normally Spain brings a lot of updates for all the teams so hopefully we can benefit a little bit from that,” Alonso added.
“There’s still a long way to go for us but at the same time we were here last year with zero points and now we are sixth and fourth in the world championship so in a way it’s been a very good start. Let’s keep that momentum.”