Five years is a long, long time in motorsport. Cast your mind back to May 2013. You will remember a time before Mercedes’ dominance in Formula 1, instead finding Red Bull at the peak of its powers. Kimi Raikkonen and Lotus genuinely seemed to be in the fight for the title, while Max Verstappen was still racing go-karts.

But next Saturday will mark the fifth anniversary of Fernando Alonso’s most recent F1 victory, coming at the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix. The 11-and-a-bit-year stint since Alonso’s last F1 title in 2006 is widely seen as one of the sport’s greatest anomalies, but to have not even won a single race in the last five years is arguably even more remarkable.

Maybe he’s not been in the right car at the right time - but surely a five-year spell is enough to allow for the stars to align at least once?

This weekend, though, Alonso may yet return to the top step of the podium as he makes his FIA World Endurance Championship debut with Toyota at Spa. It will act as the latest step for Alonso in his road to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

At 36, Alonso knows full well he is unlikely to ever match or beat Michael Schumacher’s tally of seven F1 titles, prompting the Spaniard to look for other ways to establish his greatness. His interest in other racing series led him to set his sights on the ‘triple crown of motorsport’, comprising the Monaco Grand Prix - which he won in 2006 and 2007 - Le Mans and the Indianapolis 500.

The unofficial title has only been claimed once before in motorsport history, by Graham Hill, who completed the feat in 1972. Juan Pablo Montoya is the only active driver who has two legs completed, missing only Le Mans, where he will debut later this year in the LMP2 class.

The hype surrounding Alonso’s entry to last year’s Indianapolis 500 showed how the motorsport world has been captured and enchanted by his triple crown story. No longer is he the fallen champion, clamouring for mediocre results that are merely the best his car is capable of. Instead, he is fighting at the front across multiple series, harking back to a bygone era of motorsport when drivers rarely committed to just a single championship.

“I love racing and I love competing,” Alonso said looking ahead to this weekend’s WEC season-opener. “It's good to have this opportunity. I've wanted to race in Le Mans for a long time. Now I think with the Super Season, it gives me the possibility to do extra races.

“Obviously, Spa and Le Mans was mandatory already. It's just to add another three to be able to fight for the world championship as well. This is the beginning, first race. I’m excited.”

Were Alonso’s desire simply to win the triple crown, a one-off entry to Le Mans would have been possible. Instead, he has taken on a full-season campaign in the WEC with Toyota, making him as much a part of its line-up as its other drivers. He will be sharing the #8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid with Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima this year as the Japanese manufacturer goes in search of its elusive maiden Le Mans victory.

The odds are good for Toyota. Following Porsche’s departure from LMP1 at the end of last year, it is the last manufacturer standing, now rivalled by a wave of arriving privateer outfits. Despite the regulations being aimed at levelling the playing field between the hybrid-running manufacturers - or, now, manufacturer - and the non-hybrid teams, Toyota still appears to have both a pace and mileage advantage heading into this weekend’s season-opener at Spa.

It doesn’t mean victory at Le Mans or even Spa will be a slam-dunk for Alonso. Toyota proved last year as it lost all three of its cars in the space of just a couple of hours at Le Mans, allowing Porsche to nick a 19th overall victory. But paddock consensus is that so long as the cars are reliable, Toyota should win Le Mans, meaning it would be 50/50 as to whether it is Alonso, Buemi and Nakajima, or the sister crew of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez.

Regardless, WEC has a chance to let the spark that has still burned in Alonso through his recent F1 struggles ignite. It was clear at Indianapolis how he relished being able to fight at the front of the pack again. Here, he has the chance to do so across the course of a season, fighting for a world championship. It’s a good escape from any F1 blues he may be facing. Things may be better this year, but he’s still not fighting where he wants to be.

A shot at Le Mans has been in the works for a long time. Alonso was present at Le Mans in 2014 to wave the starting flag, allowing him to get a first-hand feel for the race and its special place within motorsport.

“I remember everything, obviously it was a huge privilege to do the start flag,” Alonso said. “But because you are not racing, I think the approach and the stress and everything is a bit different. You’re a spectator there and you don’t feel the emotion of racing.

“I felt the same in Indianapolis last year, the driver presentation, the national anthem, those moments, they are very emotional.”

Alonso’s first bid to race at Le Mans came in 2013, when he requested to be part of Ferrari’s AF Corse GT team. Ferrari said no. The same rebuttal came one year later in 2014 prior to his departure from the team. Alonso was then in talks with Porsche to race in its third car at Le Mans in 2015, only for Honda, now linked with McLaren, to refuse. Nico Hulkenberg got the seat instead, and went on to win Le Mans at the very first attempt.

Opportunities in the last couple of years have been more limited given the scaleback of entries in LMP1, but the stars aligned for this year. The arrival of Zak Brown at McLaren has helped, with the American executive’s more holistic and open view of motorsport. He was instrumental in Alonso’s Indy 500 deal, and happy to work out plans for Le Mans. His own team, United Autosports, will race at Le Mans this year, having also featured at Daytona in January that afforded Alonso his sports car racing debut.

Factoring in McLaren’s split with Honda (a rival Japanese manufacturer) and Toyota’s continuation in the series and the team’s desire to shake-up part of its LMP1 line-up, the stage was set for Alonso to grab the chance.

All of this has added up to make Alonso’s WEC adventure happen, adding to his growing legend as being one of motorsport’s modern greats. If his F1 talents weren’t enough to tell you that, his desire to race anything, race it properly - as seen in his push to do the full WEC season, not just Le Mans - and be successful across the racing spectrum should.

“I’m more connected to the sport and to being a better driver,” Alonso said. “I think sometimes in Formula 1, you live in a very small world. You think that winning here with three pole positions or seven pole positions will put you in a better level, or you are better than other drivers.

“I think motorsport in general is a very big world. There are very talented drivers in go-karts, in Formula 3, in Japan, in WEC, in Indy. It’s very challenging if you want to beat all of them.

“If you want to beat all of them in Formula 1, it’s a very small group. Normally your car helps to beat the slower cars, and your car will not allow you to beat the quickest cars.

“So it’s not a fair comparison. I think doing Indy or WEC or other races, I challenge myself much more. You become a better driver.”

He’s breaking the mould of the modern racing driver. And it will all start for real at Spa on Saturday when Fernando Alonso stands a real chance of becoming a race winner again.



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