Following his Indy 500 exploits last year, Fernando Alonso will tackle another one of motor racing’s famous events, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but with Toyota the firm favourites to take victory at the Circuit de la Sarthe, Alonso has rarely had a better chance to win a motor race in his career.
It’s in stark contrast to his recent F1 career where he hasn’t had a race wining car for some time. In fact, for how much of it has he had a chance?
Toyota have unfinished business with Le Mans; they were denied victory in 2016 after a mechanical problem cruelly eliminated them from the race, whilst further technical problems dropped them out of contention in 2017.
With Toyota the last of the manufacturers in the hybrid LMP1 category of the World Endurance Championship, they’re unchallenged for outright pace this season with the rest of the category consisting of non-hybrid power teams.
Such is the pace advantage of the Toyota TS050 Hybrid, that they have taken provisional pole in Thursday’s qualifying at Le Mans by over two seconds.
With the organisers of the World Endurance Championship looking to shift the schedule from summer to winter, the current championship is a transitional one. Referred to as the ‘Super Season’, this season will run for just over one year, making it the ‘2018-2019 World Endurance Championship’.
Included in the super season will be two attempts at Le Mans; this weekend’s race (round two of the championship) and the finale, which will take place this time next year. This means that Alonso should have two attempts at winning the prestigious event.
How often has Alonso been the one of the favourites in Formula One?
It’s a long time since Alonso has been labelled as one of the favourites for a Formula One race. He has 32 Grand Prix wins to his name, but the two-time champion wont have much experience of being in a team that’s head-and-shoulders above the rest of the field.
His first team, Minardi, were perennial back-markers, and his first couple of seasons at Renault yielded several podiums and one win.
Even during his championship-winning Renault years of 2005 and 2006, he regularly faced competition from a rival team, most notably McLaren in 2005 and Ferrari in 2006.
His switch to McLaren for 2007 might’ve been ill-fated, but he would’ve enjoyed participating in some of the races in which McLaren had the measure of Ferrari, such as the Grands Prix of Monaco and Italy.
However, a return to Renault saw Alonso move himself away from a championship fight for 2008 and 2009.
He then transferred to Ferrari, racing for them from 2010 to 2014 and, whilst he had two championship-challenging seasons, there were very few races in which Ferrari could’ve called themselves the clear favourites.
Since his move to McLaren in 2015, he’s been away from the podium and battling only for the lower points positions.
In the same period, Formula One has seen numerous stints of domination from the likes of Ferrari, Red Bull, Mercedes and, at times, McLaren.
Whilst he waits for a competitive return to the forefront of Formula One, his ventures into IndyCar and Le Mans have been a welcome break for Alonso who, having already won the Monaco Grand Prix (one of the triple crown of motor racing), has turned his attentions towards winning the remaining races in the crown.
All images: Motorsport Images
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