Image: AP Images

Fernando Alonso is the fourth most prolific racer in Formula One history, having already entered 299 Grands Prix with this weekend’s Canadian run set to be his 300th—only Rubens Barrichello, Jenson Button, and Michael Schumacher have run more. He’s been saddled with some terrible racing cars in recent years, and he can’t seem to catch a break with his career moves, but he still deserves to be ranked among the best F1 drivers of all time. I will contend to my dying day that if he’d made better contract signings, he’d be ranked as equal with the Sennas and Schumachers of history.

First of all, despite not having won any races since the Spanish GP (above) of 2013, a whopping five seasons ago, Fernando still has won more than 10% of all Grands Prix he has entered with 32 career victories, sixth all time. When he’s not won, he’s scored some serious points, third all time only to Lewis Hamilton and Seb Vettel.

Since returning to McLaren in 2015, he’s suffered 18 retirements, which accounts for almost 35% of his career retirements since he began racing in F1 17 years ago. Even with that huge spike in retirements in recent years, Fernando is equal to Schumacher on all time race finishes with 237 checkered flags crossed. This weekend he could break that record and stand alone at the top.

I have been a fervent Fred fan since 2005 when he won his first World Championship. I was a senior in high school, and I was living in Spain on a foreign exchange program. He’d whipped the entire Spanish population up into a frenzy about the sport, become a point of national pride, and probably inspired an entire generation of Spanish racing drivers.

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I was disappointed in the way McLaren handled the 2007 season, and contend that with his team’s support he’d have won that championship, and likely had a legitimate shot at the next five championships as well. If Scuderia Ferrari’s car hadn’t gone completely to crap after their 2008 double-championship, if Honda had produced a decent engine, if, if, if. For years we’ve watched the Spaniard drive sub-standard cars well above the level of competition they deserved. He can drive a bad chassis better than most drivers can a good one.

It’s not clear exactly what Fernando will be doing next year. Though McLaren boss Zak Brown says he’ll stay with the team, he’s awfully coy about what car he’ll be driving. With the Woking-based team talking about a full-season run in Indycar, and having been involved in the FIA WEC’s 2020 hypercar class regulations, there are a number of options for ‘Nando. If McLaren can actually put together a decent F1 car next year, they’d still be lucky to have him race it. Wherever he does go, I’ll still be a fan. He’s a legendary driver, and he deserves more than what he’s gotten.