Two-time world champion Alonso is leaving Formula 1 after the season finale and has said he does not plan to return.
To mark the occasion, McLaren have unveiled a new livery on Alonso’s MCL33, which includes colours of the Spaniard’s helmet – blue, yellow and red – in the orange and black livery.
The colours have been emblazoned across the car’s engine cover, while there is also a special ‘FA’ logo on the top and sides of the cockpit.
“We want his last grand prix to feel special in every way, and this was just one of the ways we could reflect that,” said McLaren CEO Zak Brown.
“We worked closely and collaboratively with Fernando, and then with the FIA and Formula One to make the change for this one race, and they were all hugely supportive of the move.
“Hopefully, this will give Fernando’s fans a little something extra to look forward to at what is bound to be an especially emotional weekend.”
It will be the first time McLaren enter a race with a one-off livery since bringing a yellow-branded car for Keke Rosberg at the 1986 Portuguese GP.
Alonso who joined McLaren in 2015, will remain with the team but no longer as an F1 driver. Instead, he will lead McLaren’s bid to win next year’s Indianapolis 500 as he goes for motorsport’s unofficial ‘Triple Crown’ of winning the Indy 500, the Monaco Grand Prix, and the Le Mans 24-hour race.
But with his F1 career set to come to an otherwise underwhelming end – the Spaniard, widely regarded as one of the best drivers of his era, has not won a race since 2013, when he was with Ferrari, as McLaren have struggled to give him a competitive car, and a low points finish is all he can reasonably expect in Abu Dhabi – this weekend’s one-off livery will at least be a memorable way to send him off.
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If Greta Garbo were to drive a Grand Prix car, would she choose a Lotus?
It was not the movie star who drove the Lotus to victory at Yas Marina Circuit in 2012, but a man who also spurned outside interference.
‘Leave me alone, I know what I’m doing,’ Kimi Räikkönen told his pit crew as they tried to keep the Finn abreast of developments in an incident-strewn fourth Abu Dhabi race which he was leading at the time.
Both car and driver were proof of a resurrection of sorts. The 33-year-old, world champion with Ferrari back in 2007, was back in F1 after a two-year sabbatical in which he had focused on rallying rather than circuit racing.
The so-called Lotus, meanwhile, was not so much a reborn version of one of Grand Prix racing’s most iconic marques, but a briefly rebadged Renault team trying to work its way back to the glory days of 2005 and 2006 when it won both world titles with Fernando Alonso.
Kimi qualified only fourth in a session that produced the first surprise of the Yas Marina weekend. In year four, for the first time, a driver other than Lewis Hamilton or Sebastian Vettel found himself on the front row, in the form of Red Bull’s Mark Webber.
While teammate Vettel was relegated to the rear of the grid because of a fuel infringement, the Australian lined up alongside that man Hamilton, whose best lap of 1:41.497 put him on pole in the UAE for the second time, in his final appearance there for McLaren before switching to Mercedes in 2013.
While Webber dwelt on the line and was swamped by the pack, Hamilton sprinted into a lead he never looked likely to relinquish – until outside circumstances intervened.
Early in the race his future teammate Nico Rosberg was eliminated in a Turn 16 collision with Narain Karthikeyan’s HRT that was spectacular but eventually harmless – except to both cars, which were out on the spot.
The resultant Safety Car period lasted until lap 14, and four laps later the leader too was gone, victim of a sudden and terminal loss of fuel pressure. That left the reborn Räikkönen in the lead, a position he occupied with considerably more calm than the crew on his pit wall.
And Kimi did indeed know what he was doing: despite a late charge by Alonso’s Ferrari, the Flying Finn held station till the end to claim his first victory since Spa-Francorchamps in 2009. This Abu Dhabi victory was Räikkönen’s 19th in a Formula 1 career that had started back in 2001 with Sauber.
Ironically, as the 10th Abu Dhabi race approaches, Kimi is on the cusp of another return: to his old team Sauber, now powered by Ferrari, as he prepares to change places with that team’s young phenomenon Charles Leclerc in 2019.
Räikkönen’s heart-warming win had little bearing on the outcome of the 2012 Drivers’ Championship in which Vettel and Alonso were the only remaining competitors. The German came to Abu Dhabi 13 points ahead and left with a still-comfortable margin of 10 after an outstanding drive from pit lane to podium.
While the 2012 season had been remarkable for producing seven different winners in its first seven races, Vettel eventually won five in all to claim a third successive world title ahead of Alonso and… Räikkönen.
Kimi’s exasperated comment from the cockpit found fame as the wording on a tee-shirt that was already selling by the thousands by the time he reached the next race in Austin. Once again, though, he had kept himself to himself.
‘So long as I manage to get myself to the next event, I think the team will be happy,’ he said on leaving Abu Dhabi. ‘I’ll try to get home at some point…’
Jenson Button summed it up well when he said he wanted to finish the season in style and have some fun. He and his Brawn Mercedes team were embarking on the first Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend just 11 days after securing the Drivers’ World Championship in Brazil, so no wonder the 29-year-old Englishman was in easy-going mode.
But drivers are competitive animals, and there was something at stake: the honour of being the first man to take victory on the UAE’s brand-new Yas Marina Circuit, whose state-of-the-art facilities had Formula 1 folk positively purring with pleasure.
Part of the attraction, of course, was the way in which the whole track came glowingly to life as daylight faded and floodlighting picked out the spectacular setting, its architecture bowing gracefully to the country’s past while welcoming the modern phenomenon of Grand Prix racing with open arms.
The quickest man in Friday’s opening practice session was none other than Lewis Hamilton, who was then a McLaren driver, albeit with Mercedes power. Hamilton is one of just five drivers in the 2018 field who competed in Abu Dhabi back in 2009, the others being Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Räikkönen, Fernando Alonso and Romain Grosjean.
When things got serious in Saturday’s qualifying, Hamilton was first to claim pole at Yas Marina with a lap of 1:40.948 in Q3, though he had been quicker in both Q1 and Q2. Alongside him was Vettel’s Red Bull Renault – so neither Brawn could make it to the front row.
That simply underlined the fact that the 2009 season was the proverbial game of two halves. While Button won six times, those victories all came within the opening seven rounds. His teammate Rubens Barrichello claimed Brawn’s other two wins in 2009, and the fourth of their 1-2 finishes came in round 13 in Italy.
But no-one was complaining, least of all Button’s competitors. Jarno Trulli of Toyota put it succinctly: ‘When he had the best car, he proved he was a race-winning driver,’ said the Italian. ‘And when he didn’t, he stayed cool and he collected the points. He deserves to be champion.’
But in the end neither the new world champion nor the pole-sitter could write his name in the Yas Marina history book – not yet, at least.
Hamilton was sidelined by a right rear brake issue after 20 laps, leaving Vettel to bring his Red Bull home for the fifth win of his fledgling career.
Button did, however, light up the race with his pursuit of Vettel’s teammate, Mark Webber, in the closing stages.
The Australian, fresh from victory in Brazil, produced one of the finest drives of his career to keep Button at bay and make it a Red Bull 1-2 finish ahead of the two Brawns.
‘I thought I could pull it off,’ Jenson said, ‘but Mark is always hard to pass. We were on the edge, but it was good fun, and clean.’ Webber agreed: ‘I knew it would be fair and hard, and it was,’ he added. ‘It’s good to have a ding-dong fight with the world champion.’
And in his typical pithy fashion, it was Webber who also had the last word on F1’s newest destination. ‘It’s an awesome place when it’s lit up,’ he said. The intervening years have done nothing to contradict that view.