Alonso was often tipped to be Schumacher's natural successor, sharing some of his attributes. He is one of the drivers capable of being on the pace every lap in a race and having the ability of driving around problems while losing minimal lap time. He was nicknamed "Magic Alonso" by a Telecinco commentator (a nickname that later became the title of a song by Melendi).
Born Fernando Alonso Díaz (his full name includes his mother's maiden name as is Spanish custom) on July 29, 1981, in Oviedo, in the Asturias province of northern Spain. His mother worked in a department store and his father was employed as an explosives expert in the mining industry. The Alonsos and their two children, older sister Lorena and Fernando, lived comfortably but were by no means a wealthy family. Fernando’s father José Luis, an amateur kart racer, wished to pass on his passion to his children. He built a pedal kart mimicking an F1 car. Originally the kart was meant for eight-year-old Lorena but she showed no interest in the sport, as opposed to her three-year-old brother, who was eager to have a go. His parents said he showed a competitive spirit at that young age.
From then on the youngster and his father, who also doubled as his mechanic, competed in karting competitions around Spain. While his entire family fully supported Fernando’s increasingly successful hobby, his progress would require more funding than his family’s resources could provide. It was difficult to acquire sponsorships and Fernando knew the only way to get the financial backings was to win races, as he did with success. Alonso won in many races he entered. Age was never a hindrance as he easily won three Spanish Karting Titles (1994, 1996 and 1997). He raced in the European Karting Championship, placing second, and by his mid teens he was the world junior karting champion in 1996.
In 1999, Alonso made the jump to open-wheel cars, racing the Spanish Euro Open MoviStar by Nissan (his first and last season in the series) with the help of former Minardi F1 driver Adrián Campos. Then only 18 years old, he became the series champion, immediately earning him a ticket to Formula 3000 in 2000. A win at the Spa-Francorchamps highlighted a very solid fourth place in the drivers championship, and Alonso was off for Formula One in 2001.
Alonso was the third-youngest driver to start a F1 race when he made his debut with Minardi at the 2001 Australian Grand Prix. The car was not highly competitive during his rookie season, and Alonso failed to score a championship point. However, in the races he finished without mechanical problems, he was usually ahead of his team mate, and sometimes ahead of technically superior cars.
His driving talents earned him a spot with the newly-founded Renault team in 2002 as a test driver (run by his manager, Flavio Briatore); the team groomed him to be a regular driver in 2003. With a much better car than in his first F1 stint and in only his second race for Renault, Alonso became the youngest driver ever to win a Formula One pole position at the 2003 Malaysian Grand Prix; he also became the youngest driver ever to win a Formula One race at the 2003 Hungarian Grand Prix. At season's end, he was sixth in the championship, with 55 points and four podiums. This was below his team's expectations.
Alonso remained with Renault for the 2004 season but the difficult-to-drive R24 kept him out of the winner's circle. In the early part of 2004, though, questions were asked of Alonso when he was comprehensively out-qualified and out-raced by teammate Jarno Trulli. The situation would change towards the end of the year when Trulli suffered a mysterious lack of form after dropping Renault boss Flavio Briatore as his manager. Trulli's relationship with the team deteriorated to the extent that he signed for Toyota from 2005 onwards, and even left for his new team for the final 3 races of 2004. Though he had no wins, Alonso ended the year a career-best fourth in the championship standings, scoring 59 points and four podiums.
For the 2005 championship season, he was joined by Italian Giancarlo Fisichella. He finished third in the first race in Australia. In the second race of the season in Malaysia he got pole position and easily won the race. Alonso repeated this form in the season's third race, winning the Bahrain Grand Prix from pole position, and continued his good form with a close win over Michael Schumacher in the San Marino Grand Prix after an epic battle with the 7-time World Champion lasting about 13 laps. While he did not win his home grand prix he set the mark for the rest of the season, driving consistently to finish second after Kimi Räikkönen.
McLaren's improving form saw Räikkönen win again at Monaco while Alonso suffered from high tyre wear, though finishing fourth. One of the most memorable moments of the 2005 season was Räikkönen's spectacular exit from the European Grand Prix at the Nürburgring, granting the win to Alonso.
Alonso's run of good results came to an end at the Canadian Grand Prix, when he made a mistake and crashed into the wall at the Villeneuve corner, damaging his suspension, after coming under pressure from the McLarens of Juan Pablo Montoya and Räikkönen. It was his first retirement of the year.
At the United States Grand Prix, due to safety concerns over the Michelin tyres, Alonso, along with all the other Michelin drivers, did not start.
Alonso took his third pole position of the season at the French Grand Prix, and led the race from start to finish, winning his fifth race of the season. He followed this with pole position a week later at the British Grand Prix, where he finished a conservative second behind a McLaren-Mercedes, as colombian Juan Pablo Montoya took his first victory of the season.
McLaren's poor reliability granted another win to Alonso at the German Grand Prix when Kimi Räikkönen's car suffered a hydraulic failure. Alonso then celebrated his 24th birthday two days before the Hungarian Grand Prix but qualified only 6th and finished 11th and out of the points after a collision with the Toyota of Ralf Schumacher that partly damaged his car.
At the Turkish Grand Prix Alonso took 2nd place from Juan Pablo Montoya after the Colombian collided with Tiago Monteiro in the closing stages of the race. At Monza, Alonso qualified third and drove consistently to finish second behind Montoya.
At the Belgian Grand Prix, Alonso finished second and struggled with a car which was extremely difficult to drive due to a less than ideal set-up for the track conditions. He again made up a place in the closing stages after Antônio Pizzonia crashed into Montoya.
The Spaniard qualified on pole, but finished 3rd in the Brazilian Grand Prix to clinch the Driver's Championship title at the age of 24 years and 59 days old, thus breaking Emerson Fittipaldi's record of being the youngest F1 champion in history by about 18 months, and ending the 5-year dominance of Michael Schumacher. He had led the championship from the second race of the season. Commenting on his victory, he said:
"I just want to dedicate this championship to my family, and all my close friends who have supported me through my career. Spain is not a country with an F1 culture, and we had to fight alone, every step of the way, to make this happen. A huge thank-you should also go to the team as well - they are the best in Formula One, and we have done this together. It will say that I am world champion, but we are all champions - and they deserve this."
The Japanese and Chinese Grands Prix saw Alonso and Renault abandon the conservative style evident in Brazil when he was still chasing the championship title and Renault closed the performance gap considerably. Jordan's commercial director Ian Phillips described Alonso's overtaking manoeuvre around Schumacher at Suzuka as “one of the best of all time at this grandiose circuit”. Starting from 16th on the grid, he eventually finished third behind race-winner Räikkönen, who started from 17th on the grid and clinched victory with a last-lap pass on Fisichella, and his team mate. The Chinese Grand Prix saw Renault and Alonso win to claim the 1st Constructor’s Championship for the Renault F1 team.
Proponents of Kimi Räikkönen argue that he has been the best driver of the 2005 season despite having the same number of victories (seven) as the Spaniard. Without the reliability issues Räikkönen might have won the Drivers' Championship. However most commentators agree that Alonso fully deserves the title, dominating the early part of the season while McLaren struggled and driving consistently since then to capitalise on Räikkönen's problems.
Alonso's season started with a close win over Michael Schumacher at the Bahrain Grand Prix, overtaking the German after coming out of the pitlane with 18 laps left. He had qualified fourth but was able to win after overtaking Massa and edging Schumacher out after his last pit stop.
He qualified a disappointing seventh at the Malaysian Grand Prix due to a fueling error but was able to finish second to team mate Giancarlo Fisichella after an excellent start, overtaking four cars, and with a better race pace than Jenson Button.
Fernando beat Kimi Räikkönen to victory in Australia after overtaking leader Jenson Button's Honda.
After poor qualifying (by their past standards) for both Renaults at San Marino, Alonso was unable to pass Michael Schumacher for the majority of the race, partly due to the track's lack of overtaking opportunities and partly due to Schumacher's defensive driving in a Ferrari which appeared considerably faster on the straights. Renault attempted to pre-empt Ferrari with an early pitstop but a clear in-lap for Schumacher, who counter-attacked by pitting early in the next lap, coupled with traffic for Alonso's out-lap, allowed Schumacher to leave the pit lane seconds before Alonso could pass him. Later, Alonso considered the early pitstop a tactical mistake. Schumacher won to reverse the positions of the 2005 San Marino Grand Prix.
Alonso won pole ahead of Schumacher for the 2006 European Grand Prix. It was thought he qualified with less fuel than in previous grands prix but this was not the case, as the Spaniard pitted only two laps ahead of Schumacher in the first stint. However, in the second stint Schumacher pitted several laps later and emerged 5.5 seconds ahead of Alonso. Those positions remained until the end of the race, with Felipe Massa finishing third and Kimi Räikkönen fourth, both just behind Alonso, as Räikkönen had been pressuring Massa in the final laps and appeared faster.
On May 14, 2006, Alonso dominated to win the 2006 Spanish Grand Prix, the first Spaniard to win his home grand prix.
He achieved his 12th victory and 12th pole position in the Monaco Grand Prix, the latter several hours after the qualifying session had concluded. Schumacher was sanctioned by the stewards for "deliberately stopping his car on the circuit in the last few minutes of qualifying", denying his rivals, Alonso included, the opportunity of recording fastest qualifying lap. During the race, Alonso was mainly threatened by Kimi Räikkönen, who ran close to him for much of the race, and Mark Webber, who looked set to challenge for the lead in the next round of pit stops. Both suffered mechanical problems and withdrew, allowing Fernando Alonso to cruise to his first victory at Monaco.
Alonso dominated the British Grand Prix from the Saturday qualifying session to the end of the race on Sunday. It was the first time Alonso achieved pole position, victory and fastest lap in a grand prix. Schumacher and Räikkönen joined him on the podium.
The 2006 Canadian Grand Prix was a new victory for him, and his fifth pole position in a row. Michael Schumacher finished second after taking advantage of a late error by Kimi Räikkönen, who finished third, and a safety car period that allowed both of them to reduce the gap to the driver ahead.
His run of good results ended at the United States Grand Prix, when he qualified fifth and finished the race in that position. Ferrari were superior all weekend and Michael Schumacher won the race, followed by his teammate Felipe Massa, and Giancarlo Fisichella. This meant Alonso's advantage over Schumacher in the championship was reduced from 25 points to 19. Schumacher won the French Grand Prix too, with Alonso finishing second and losing 2 more advantage points. It had been suggested Michelin (tyre suppliers for Renault) had been too conservative at the United States Grand Prix. However, the French Grand Prix showed Bridgestone (tyre suppliers for Ferrari) were competitive in general, and had improved the quality of their tyres.
On December 19, 2005, Fernando Alonso and McLaren principal Ron Dennis announced that Fernando would be moving to McLaren for 2007. For some, this immediately put some doubt on whether he would perform well with Renault in 2006, given that they might not throw their full support behind a driver who they knew was going to leave them at the end of the season. Others saw it as a sign that Renault was pulling out of Formula 1 at the end of 2006. However, Alonso's overall performance, and Carlos Ghosn's announcement that Renault would stay committed to Formula 1 beyond the end of 2006 put an end to those rumours.