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Alonso and McLaren - the first time around

12 Dec 2014

Given his previous tenure at the team, many believed Fernando Alonso would never race for McLaren again. That all changed this week however, when the Spaniard agreed a move back to the Honda-powered team. As the parties prepare to reunite, we take a look back over Alonso's first spell with the former world champions...

"Sometimes in life things do not work out…"

With those words, issued in early November 2007, Fernando Alonso departed McLaren, his relationship with the team he'd supported as a boyhood Ayrton Senna fan eroded in barely 11 months.

It was all supposed to be so different.

Alonso arrived in Woking with the world at his feet; a 25-year-old double world champion who'd not only ended Michael Schumacher's unprecedented run of titles, but also helped usher the legendary German into retirement.

For McLaren, a team that had suffered the ignominy of seven title-free years despite their vast resources, the Spaniard was deemed the missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle: not only did he possess a devastating ability behind the wheel, but two drivers' crowns had done nothing to quench his thirst for success. Alonso was convinced he'd made the right move at the right time, as was McLaren's meticulous team principal Ron Dennis, who was no doubt delighted when the world champion reported for work in Woking with a neatly-cropped new haircut…

A new F1 superpower had seemingly been forged, with shared goals and a similar desire for immediate success. What could possibly go wrong? The answer was nothing, at first. Testing revealed the Mercedes-powered MP4-22 to be everything Alonso had hoped for when he'd agreed to leave home-from-home Renault a year earlier - a car capable of challenging for the world title, even in the face of strong opposition from Ferrari. However, at the season-opener in Australia it became obvious that the reigning champion would have more than just the red cars to contend with in 2007.

Almost no one had expected Lewis Hamilton to be such a strong competitor in his maiden F1 campaign, but there he was in Melbourne, the GP2 champion and a driver that McLaren had nurtured from childhood, brazenly sweeping around the outside of his elder team mate into the first corner.

It's too simplistic to suggest Hamilton's meteoric emergence (and the fanfare that accompanied it) was the sole reason for cracks appearing in the relationship between Alonso and McLaren over the 2007 season, but it certainly seemed to prevent the Spaniard - who had never faced such in-house rivalry - from settling at his new squad.

At first Alonso had the better of the exchanges, overhauling Hamilton in Australia and then leading him home for a one-two in Malaysia. But in Bahrain, where Dennis was pictured having an unusually public heart-to-heart with his star driver, he was outperformed by his rookie team mate. In two of the next three races he then made uncharacteristic errors as he was again bested by Hamilton, though he did win brilliantly at Monaco in between.

By the season's halfway point Hamilton's rock-solid consistency allied to wins in Canada and the USA had given him a 14-point lead over his elder team mate and, with McLaren committed to providing both their drivers with an equal chance, a legitimate shot at the title.

On the back foot for arguably the first time in his F1 career, Alonso found himself increasingly at odds with McLaren. First there was the sudden swerve towards the pit lane at Indianapolis whilst running a close second to Hamilton. Alonso denied it, but many attributed the act to his annoyance at McLaren's refusal to make the marginally slower British racer move aside. Then there was the furore that unfolded during a notoriously bad tempered qualifying session in Hungary where Alonso was docked five grid places after being found guilty of blunting Hamilton's pole charge by loitering in McLaren's pit box.

Later it emerged that emails between the Spaniard and test driver Pedro de la Rosa had formed part of the evidence in the McLaren-Ferrari ‘spy scandal'; the controversy that ended up earning the Woking team an unprecedented $100 million fine.

Surprisingly, rather than going completely off the boil amid the growing rancour behind closed doors, Alonso's title charge intensified. Little by little the double world champion began to look more and more like the driver who had bettered Michael Schumacher the year before, winning with authority at the Nurburgring and Monza to close the points gap to Hamilton.

Ultimately both he and his team mate would lose out in the championship stakes to Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, though Alonso's third place at the Interlagos season finale did at least enable him to finish level on points with Hamilton, albeit a position lower in the standings by virtue of count back. Outside of his maiden season with Minardi, it remains the only time in the Spaniard's F1 career that he has finished below a team mate over a full season.

In total, Alonso won four of his 17 races with McLaren, taking eight other podiums as well as two pole positions - a very decent return in a season in which dominance swung back and forth between Woking and Maranello.

However, it was wholly unsurprising when, less than two weeks on from the final round in Brazil, McLaren and Alonso agreed to an amicable divorce.

"We have had our ups and downs during the season, which has made it extra-challenging for all of us, and it is not a secret that I never really felt at home," the exiting Alonso candidly explained.

"I know there have been suggestions of favouritism within the team and people say a lot of things in the heat of battle, but in the end I was always provided with an equal opportunity to win."

Seven years and a lot of water under the bridge later, winning remains Alonso's primary motivation, though he didn't do any in 2014, his fifth season with Ferrari. Despite several near misses, his tenure at the Scuderia also failed to yield any championships, meaning that he returns to McLaren with the same goal he had in 2007: winning that elusive third drivers' crown.

Who knows, perhaps like his boyhood hero Senna, he'll achieve it in a McLaren-Honda...