Brutal sledges put F1 icon in his place
FERNANDO Alonso will retire from F1 at the end of the season and while the accolades have started flowing, not everyone had such kind words to say.
Despite being considered one of the best drivers to ever grace an F1 cockpit, the 37-year-old has not won an F1 race in five years and the drivers' championship in over a decade - leading some to question how successful a career he's really had.
McLaren boss Zak Brown called Alonso a "legend" and former teammate Felipe Massa tweeted he was "one of the best drivers on the planet", but former F1 world champion Jody Scheckter said the Spaniard was "overrated" and questioned his destructive influence on the teams and teammates he's worked with.
"I like to just think how many championships somebody's won," Scheckter told BBC Radio 5 Live.
"You can rate people that they had bad luck and bad cars. I think people overrate him. One of his problems is he seems to upset teams and everybody around him. That's not the way to win world championships.
"You've got to work with your team and you're nearly a leader."
Scheckter wasn't the only one to suggest Alonso has been a rogue figure who has sometimes done more harm than good for his teams. While Massa - who partnered Michael Schumacher at Ferrari before teaming up with Alonso - said his talent was undeniable, he mentioned how difficult it was to learn from the fierce competitor even when they were driving alongside one another.
"I have to admit - it was not easy to live by his side. I had a close relationship with Michael (Schumacher)," Massa said. "I was young and eager to absorb all the knowledge of a seven-time champion, and Schumacher treated me very well. But I had to wrestle with Fernando in a different way.
"Outside of the race car, I had zero problems with Alonso, we have always maintained a healthy working relationship.
"With Fernando, that's one thing. If he pulls down his visor, he becomes another person. He can split a team. We saw that in many racing teams he drove for.
"I see that as his problem. Maybe he could have made more of his talent without this trait."
Only last week, Red Bull ruled out signing Alonso as a replacement for the Renault-bound Daniel Ricciardo because as team boss Christian Horner said: "He's tended to cause a bit of chaos wherever he's gone."
Former F1 driver turned Sky Sports pundit Martin Brundle also referenced Alonso's combative nature and "unfulfilled potential".
The two-time world champion is set to head to America and make a full-time switch to the Indy Car series.
"After 17 wonderful years in this amazing sport, it's time for me to make a change and move on," Alonso said.
By moving Stateside, Alonso will be able to pursue his ambition of completing motorsport's "triple crown", having seemingly given up hope of landing a frontrunning drive in F1 again either at McLaren, with whom he has spent the last four years at the wrong end of the grid, or with the sport's current dominant forces - Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.
Although McLaren has improved this season following their switch from Honda power to Renault, Alonso, who has out-qualified teammate Stoffel Vandoorne in every session this season, has not finished on the podium since rejoining the team from Ferrari four years ago.
"I made this decision some months ago and it was a firm one," confirmed Alonso.
Zak Brown added: "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.
"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 have not yet said who will replace Alonso in 2019.
WHERE DID ALONSO GO WRONG?
Alonso's two world championships were secured in 2005 and 2006 when he drove for Renault.
Few would have predicted then that he would fail to win another.
After spending a single turbulent season at McLaren in 2007 after leaving Renault, Alonso returned to the Enstone outfit for two more years before switching to Ferrari where he twice narrowly missed out on winning the drivers' championship.
While Alonso's career is riddled with unwise choices, it has also been saddled with several near-misses: In 2007, he lost out on the drivers' title by a single point; in 2010 he missed out by just four and in 2012, he once again lost out to Sebastian Vettel by a mere three points.
His decision to quit Ferrari for the McLaren-Honda "project" proved, in retrospect, to be a critical mistake and will be seen as having taken his career to a dead end.
Despite high hopes the reforged partnership would take the fight to Mercedes, only the now-defunct Manor team finished below McLaren-Honda in 2015. Although 2016 brought a modest improvement, McLaren slumped again in 2016, finishing ninth out of 10 in the constructors' championship - triggering their split with Honda.
By that time, Alonso's attention had already begun to turn to alternative motorsport series and the prospect of achieving the "triple crown" - consisting of winning Le Mans, the Indy 500 and the Monaco GP, which he first won a decade ago.
With McLaren's permission, he missed last season's Monaco GP to compete in the Indy 500 and won Le Mans at the first attempt with Toyota three months ago.
In hindsight, McLaren's union with Renault amounted to the last throw of the dice for Alonso's F1 career. Although Alonso has excelled again this term, scoring 44 of McLaren's 52 points so far, it hasn't proved enough to keep his F1 fire burning.
- with Pete Gill, Sky Sports