ABU DHABI • Fernando Alonso said goodbye to Formula One with a fanfare of crowd-pleasing doughnut spins and generous tributes from his fellow drivers on Sunday.
After walking through a guard of honour before the start of the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, he pulled on his helmet and delivered a dogged drive that took him to 11th spot in his final outing with McLaren.
It was a metaphor for much of the Spaniard's career - he nearly finished in the points, just as he nearly became the greatest champion of his era and nearly won titles with Ferrari.
He bows out with two world championships, won with Renault in 2005 and 2006, but a palpable sense that far greater hopes and expectations are unfulfilled.
"I have been very surprised because I have raced with great champions," Alonso said.
"I raced with Michael (Schumacher), I raced with Jenson Button. And, two or three years ago, in the same place, it was his last race and no one had all the things that I received this weekend.
"I cannot say thanks enough to everyone."
He even hinted he might make a comeback after taking a break next year to try and win titles in other motor sports.
IN THE PIT LANE FOR NOW
I am not thinking to come back, but I don't know how I will feel next year. I need a break now, different challenges. I want to fight for the 'Triple Crown'.
FERNANDO ALONSO, not ruling out a F1 comeback following his retirement from the sport on Sunday.
"I am not thinking to come back, but I don't know how I will feel next year. I need a break now, different challenges," the 37-year-old added.
"I want to fight for the 'Triple Crown', the Indy 500 and other iconic races. Maybe Daytona."
Although there was to be no fairy-tale ending, Alonso appreciated the gesture from race winner Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes and second-placed Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari at the Yas Marina Circuit.
In a special tribute, they gave him space to drive with them in a synchronised display of doughnut spins during the slow-down lap.
"It was a good in-lap," Alonso joked. "It was improvised and not planned. I saw them doing doughnuts at Turn 8 and Turn 11 so I caught up. We kept going like this until the start-finish line.
"I'm really thankful for the nice gesture and it was nice to celebrate by seeing the chequered flag."
Alonso admitted, too, that he had not had time to absorb the scale and impact of the many messages of praise and good luck.
"Literally, I've had no time. I need a little bit of time for myself to realise what a magical weekend that I've had," he added.
After a bruising season alongside then rookie Hamilton in 2007, which sparked rows at McLaren, Alonso returned to Renault.
He leaves the sport with two titles, 32 race wins and boundless admirers of his talent and individuality spread through 17 seasons of success and also disappointment.
But Hamilton never lost respect for his old sparring partner, referring to him as a "true legend".
"It's been a privilege to race when he is racing," the five-time world champion said on Sunday.
"The sport will miss him and I will miss him from the sport."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN