Sao polo, Oct 19: Fernando Alonso can have the last laugh over McLaren if he wins the Formula One world championship for the third year in a row in Brazil on Sunday.
To call the Spaniard's season 'troubled' would be an understatement.
Arriving from Renault as the man to restore McLaren's fortunes after the Mercedes-powered team failed to win a race last year, Alonso has found himself acting out an altogether different script.
Briton Lewis Hamilton, the 22-year-old rookie who leads Alonso by four points ahead of Sunday's showdown at Interlagos, made clear early on that the role of number two was not for him.
Alonso has been denied the special treatment he thought he warranted as a double world champion and has seen his relationship with both Hamilton and team boss Ron Dennis deteriorate to the point of silence.
An argument between him and Dennis on the morning of the Hungarian Grand Prix only contributed to his team being stripped of their constructors' points for the season and being fined a record 100 million dollars.
He has accused McLaren of favouring Hamilton while Dennis has described him as a 'remarkable recluse' and their relationship as 'very cold'.
Many in the paddock expect the Spaniard to leave the team at the end of the year, despite having a contract for 2008, and Renault have made clear they are keen to have him back.
Alonso may feel uncomfortable at McLaren but his abilities behind the wheel are indisputable. If he wins the title on Sunday, he will become the first driver since the late Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio in 1957 to win successive titles with different teams.
Interlagos holds nothing but good memories for him, Alonso having won his two titles there with Renault in 2005 and 2006.
''It's definitely a lucky circuit for me,'' he said on Thursday. ''I love the place. I love the circuit. I have great memories when I come here...so hopefully this year it can get even better.'' No driver currently on the starting grid has more wins than his 19 to date and, unless Hamilton wins on Sunday, he remains the sport's youngest champion after taking his first title at the age of 24.
He is also one of just eight drivers to win back-to-back titles, is the only Spaniard to win a grand prix, and won both of his titles against Michael Schumacher -- the most successful driver of them all.
Alonso is ferociously aggressive on the track, even if his image as a soft-spoken and diffident man off it has had to be reassessed this season.
As Dennis and Hamilton have both recognised, the Spaniard is intensely competitive and finds it hard to take being beaten by anyone.
''He's exceptionally good, no question about it. What marks him out is he very clearly has an enormous amount of fight in him,'' 1996 champion Damon Hill said last year.
Alonso has a magic touch, he entertains friends and family with card tricks and sleight-of-hand, and is an accomplished mimic and passionate Real Madrid soccer supporter.
He is also an intensely private man, someone for whom fame is a cross to bear.
From an unglamorous background in northern Spain's Asturias region, where his father was employed as an explosives expert in the mining industry and his mother worked in a department store, the champion started racing karts at the age of three.
''I am just a normal guy,'' Alonso said last season. ''I was never totally obsessed with making it to Formula One. For me, this is a job like any other -- it has its own pressures and restrictions.''