As a Formula One double World Champion, two-time winner of the Le Mans 24-hour race, and victor in the FIA World Endurance Championship and the 24 Hours of Daytona, Fernando Alonso might appear to have achieved pretty much everything there is to achieve in the realm of elite motorsport.
Despite this, though, the 42-year-old Spanish legend feels he is far from
done with motor racing. So, what keeps powering him onward?
When you chase perfection, you quickly discover it’s a moving target, says Fernando with a grin.
As you pursue it, you need to open your mind, broaden your vision and approach the target with the belief that nothing is impossible.
By nature, I’m a racer, says the man who will be the oldest driver on the F1 circuit this year.
I’ve always been very competitive. Whatever I do, I do it to win. It’s number one or nothing for me.
The pursuit’s back on
His passionate pursuit of perfection is partly what brought Fernando back to the discipline where he made his name, following a sabbatical that began in 2018. The experience of the intervening years is one that he feels has left him even better equipped for his return.
What I did away in my time away has made me a more complete driver, he explains.
Different cars, competing in various race formats and applying varying driving techniques gave me even more insight into the philosophy of motorsport.
When you’re in F1 for many years, you get used to a very strict routine of driving these cars and managing your skillset around it. By leaving for a few years to chase other motoring pursuits, I learned new things from scratch. And I have no regrets, only fantastic memories.
Now signed to the Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant Formula One™ Team (AMF1 Team) Fernando is convinced that, together, he and his new team can close in on success.
I have always said that I could see the burning ambition at AMF1.
There are 23 races this season, that’s the longest calendar in the sport’s history, he reflects.
As someone who relishes challenges, I can’t wait!
Perhaps later in the year, we can win races if there is an opportunity. Then, in 2024, we’ll have more opportunities to fight for wins and podiums, if we can lay the groundwork this season.
I have always said that I could see the burning ambition at the AMF1 Team, he says.
Anyone who saw the car being unveiled at our brand-new technology campus could see our ambition and determination. And the new car – the AMR23 – is fantastic.
The sleek green AMR23 has been hailed for its bold and aggressive design, including refinements to its front wing and sidepods, crucial to its aerodynamic performance.
Crucial components of success
While the car will be integral to the team’s pursuit of success, Fernando knows there are other factors that will need to align.
I’m always demanding in everything I do, he says.
I expect a lot from the people who work with me. I give 100% and I want those around me to do the same. Anything can happen in motor racing, and a tiny detail can change the outcome.
Given the intense physical and mental demands of his craft, Fernando has always set great store by his wellbeing.
You’ve got to be mentally strong to cope with anything, he observes.
The physical aspect is also essential. I go on my bicycle to help keep in shape. But this is not like a 100-meter sprint or a tennis match. You still rely a lot on the machine, and on your team.
It’s basically a massive team effort. The two drivers are backed by this powerful network, with hundreds of people working on one car at any given moment during the season, he adds.
Much of the relationship and teamwork is built on trust. The team trusts you to drive the car to the best of your ability, and in turn when you are behind the wheel, you trust them to work on the finer details to optimize performance.
The sport has changed a lot and so have I.
The power of technology
The advancement – and reliability – of technology will be a further contributing factor to AMF1 Team’s quest for success. This is something Fernando appreciates more than most, given the advances and developments he has witnessed throughout his long and distinguished career.
The sport has changed a lot and so have I, he says.
When I started out in 2001, we still had an ignition switch in a largely analog car. But over two decades later, I see how phenomenal digital technology is changing the game.
Every parameter of the car can be checked and radioed to the drivers. There are different instructions on the steering wheel we can use to change driving settings, not merely gears. A tremendous amount of data is transmitted to the paddock, engineers and factory during the race.
You can literally do anything in the simulator that you would physically execute on the track, he adds.
All the visuals and graphics are inch perfect. It’s a perfect replica of the circuit. Bumps, curves and chicanes – everything is exactly the same. And if a concept doesn’t work on a simulator, it doesn’t make it into production. So, our sport is getting safer and more efficient.
Motorsport has given me so much in my life that it is amazing to have the chance to give something back.
Building a legacy off the track
With his place in motor racing history long since guaranteed, Fernando is equally determined to be remembered for his contributions away from the circuit.
I’ve always wanted to make a positive impact in society, he says.
Since 2005, I’ve been a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. Traveling the world as a driver, I’ve seen a lot of the challenges that people face, especially children. Seeing the living conditions of many kids in deprived parts of, say, Brazil and India made a real impression on me. So, I want to do anything I can for them to have a better future.
Motorsport has given me so much in my life that it is amazing to have the chance to give something back, he adds.
As part of this, Fernando is committed to readying the next generation of racing drivers. Go-karting – in which he had his earliest driving experiences – remains one of his passions. He loves to drive alongside aspiring young racers on the karting circuit he built for them in his hometown of Oviedo, Spain, where he has also established a school.
Being able to share some of my experience with the drivers of tomorrow is amazing, says Fernando.
I’m grateful for all the advice people gave me in when I was starting out and also throughout my career. So now it’s time for me to pay it forward.
Asked if today’s – more experienced and worldly-wise – Fernando Alonso is better-equipped than the precocious young driver who burst onto the Formula One scene more than two decades ago, he’s unequivocal.
Yes. In many areas, he says.
I can read a race better today. I know when to attack and when not to. Back when I started, tire management hardly played a role. Today it does.
With the pit stops these days, it’s all about parking to the centimeter. With the fuel stops as they were, it didn’t matter. You were standing around for 10 seconds anyway because of the refueling. If I had to race against the Alonso of 2006 [when he won his first world championship], I’d beat him on those exact details!
I know I don’t have forever, Fernando reflects.
But as long as there’s a one per cent chance of taking the title again, I’ll keep going. And if it doesn’t work out as a driver, then maybe it will in a role outside the car. If I then win the world championship, that would also give me satisfaction – because I could then say that I helped to build it.
I’ve always wanted to make a positive impact in society.
Fernando Alonso: My life
My first ever drive was when I was only three years old. I don’t really remember very much about it, but my parents still have the photographs capturing the moment. My father had built a go-kart for my older sister. She was eight but she didn’t enjoy it much. So, my father thought ‘Let’s try with Fernando.’ Apparently, I really enjoyed it and that’s how it all began!
My first proper memories of racing are when I was about eight. It was in a go-kart in the street circuit in my home city of Oviedo. By the time I was thirteen, I was racing for a go-kart manufacturer, who encouraged me to go to Italy, where the best racing action was at that time. I subsequently won karting championships and that led to me racing in Formula 3000.
I really didn’t think I could become a professional racing driver until I was 19 or 20 years old. It seemed like a dream too far for a Spanish go-karting kid with no family background in motorsport. But then I was offered a chance to drive a top level test. I was quite fast, and I caught the eye of the Renault team.
Nothing really prepares you for that step up to being a driver at the top level – the competition, travel, glamor, media attention and loss of privacy. I’m as proud of how I’ve handled that as I am of my championships.
Of course, I do love travelling the world. Every two weeks, I find myself in a different country, in a different time zone, with different traditions, religion, and culture. I’m especially attracted to Japanese culture. Travel teaches you respect for other cultures in a way that living in a closed environment cannot. You learn there is no absolute truth. It’s also convinced me that most people in the world are good people.