Why Alonso is able to enjoy F1 more now than when he left

2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

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Fernando Alonso showed all the verve of a two-times Formula 1 world champion in the two-lap sprint to the finish which ended last week’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix,”

Having lined up 10th at the restart, the Alpine driver picked off Daniel Ricciardo, Carlos Sainz Jnr and Yuki Tsunoda. With Lewis Hamilton slithering off at the first corner, that secured an unexpected sixth place for Alonso.

It’s his best result since returning to Formula 1 following a two-year absence. But even before Sunday’s race, Alonso said he was enjoying the sport more now than he was when he left.

“In terms of happiness or how I feel coming back, it’s better than I expected,” said Alonso in Baku. “Honestly, I’m enjoying so much every weekend, enjoying driving so much.

“The weekends that we don’t have racing I miss the grand prix. So now that we have three races, France and to Austria, I will enjoy it because I like the back-to-back.”

Fernando Alonso, McLaren, IndyCar, Indianapolis 500, 2020
Alonso made third Indy 500 appearance last year
Alonso left Formula 1 at the end of the 2018 season. Although he left open the possibility of a return, he wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to take part in other series while he had the chance to do so competitively.

During those two years he ticked off several events which belong on any professional racer’s bucket list. Alonso raced from Indianapolis to Dakar, and scooped the top prizes in endurance racing, Alonso feels free to enjoy himself back in F1.

Now he’s back in Formula 1, having had those experiences is allowing him to better appreciate being back in grand prix racing.

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“The two years out of the sport was needed for me,” Alonso explained. “After 18 seasons in Formula 1 non-stop, full dedication. It was too demanding at one point.

Fernando Alonso, Toyota, Le Mans, 2018
He now has two Le Mans victories with Toyota
“I had in my head other challenges with Le Mans, with Daytona, with the World Endurance Championship possibility, et cetera. I had to do those in a way and tick those boxes to to be happy and to be free to come back and enjoy it.

“Until I was not doing those challenges, I felt that I was losing time in F1 for some of the last seasons before ’18. Once those challenges were completed, now I’m freer, in a way, to enjoy every weekend here.”

He has also enjoyed a smooth reunion with the team which, as Renault, he scored his two world championship successes. “I think the team is amazing,” he said.

The atmosphere we have now, what motivation we have in the team in Enstone, in Viry, the hard work that everyone is putting in, how we approach every weekend, how we approach the little success that we have some weekends and how we approach the bad moments in some other weekends, you know we are all united in the same direction. And this feels very good every week.”

Alonso hasn’t had a race-winning car under him since his penultimate year at Ferrari, in 2013, when he came second to Sebastian Vettel in the championship. Racing in the midfield is “a completely different sport”, he says.

“All you do when you have a package that will not win the championship, is to get ready for that moment. You just make sure that you are improving every single day, all the weaknesses of the car, the weaknesses of your driving style, the start procedure, the pit stop, all the things around the weekend that must be ready when you have a competitive package eventually, one day.

The twice-champion grabbed a fine sixth in Baku
“So you know, when you have a winning possibility car. I think that’s the magic of the sport until that day is just a preparation for that moment, so you change a lot in how you approach the weekend.”

Alonso’s rejuvenating spell outside Formula 1 also brought his only victories since 2013. For a driver as competitive as Alonso, this also provided vital extra motivation.

“This is very similar for competitive people, they love to win in whatever [they] do in life,” he said. “It’s not only related to F1 or motorsport.

“I think once you’ve tasted the victory, then you will hate losing for the rest of your life. And that’s enough motivation, I think.”

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2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

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Author information

Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
Hazel Southwell
Hazel is a freelance journalist who roams the paddocks of Formula E, covering the technical and emotional elements of electric racing. Usually found at...

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23 comments on “Why Alonso is able to enjoy F1 more now than when he left”

  1. F1MadFan1970 (@)
    12th June 2021, 10:51

    Still getting beaten by Ocon.

    1. @F1MadFan1970, what does this comment add to this article or to anything in particular?

      I don’t understand this pettiness or the need to broadcast it in the first place.

      Back to the article, it’s nice to read the grid is having a happy Alonso.

      1. Embassy Hill
        12th June 2021, 12:11

        And actually its quite close. On points and in reality. Ocon appears to have a Saturday edge but on Sunday they have been nose to tail more often than not

      2. The hollowest comment he could think of writing, that’s for sure.
        It’s all about satisfaction and passion for the sport, and the bloke there has to bring this meaningless info.

    2. I don’t know what elso would you expect at this point realistically. Alonso is 39 and spent two years away from F1, if anything I would say he’s doing better than what I expected. Not the biggest Alonso fan but psychologically I, as much as anyone else would love to see a good comeback story against the odds. I kinda root for him at this point and I think he does as good as anyone could expect him to.

    3. You are only as good as your last race, and Alonso beat Ocon in both qualifying and race.

      1. @kpcart Ocon retired early on through a mechanical issue, so an unfair comparison.

    4. Rodric Ewulf
      12th June 2021, 19:16

      Fernando Alonso vs. Esteban Ocon (intra-team Alpine fight) so far:

      Qualifying: Alonso 2-4 Ocon – Esteban has been having the upper hand on qualifying positions so far, and that trend may continue at least for some time this season as Fernando keeps getting up to speed and being fully adapted to the Alpine car (since the beginning of his career racing capabilities were his most phenomenal trait, a little bit stronger than his one-lap speed, so it was not a surprise that a returning Fernando, not 100% confident on his machine, would struggle in qualifying rather than the race, as initially he appeared to improve faster in race trim). But Alonso is already leading Ocon 10-8 in practice sessions so I would not count him off even for the qualifying battle, given he had his measure of bad luck with traffic as well in some qualifying sessions.
      Race finishes: Alonso 1-4 Ocon – This stat is a little misleading because in Bahrain Fernando had his race ended because of a sandwich bag in a weekend he outperformed Esteban in qualifying performance and race pace (in qualifying, granted, Estaban had his final hot lap hindered in Q1); furthermore Fernando finished right behind Esteban in Imola and Portimao races, minimizing the deficit of points relative to him what would prove to be very important for his champioship charge.
      Championship points: Alonso 13-12 Ocon – Despite finishing four races in a row behind Esteban, Fernando did a job so good in minimizing the deficit (losing no more than 2 points per race btw, when part of the media and some armchair “specialists” reacted like he was being outscored 20-0, finishing one minute behind team-mate etc.) that as soon as the first time he was not seeing the chequered flag after his team-mate he already had leapfrogged him in the WDC, as he seized the opportunities to finish sixth in Baku.

      Those results reminds me of the Alonso-Trulli fight in 2004 driving for Renault, when Trulli outqualified Alonso more than the other way around in the beginning of the season. Trulli even had an edge in finishing positions in the first part of the season as well, and Alonso only outscored him later on by being the more consistent driver, and also because Trulli-Renault relationship fell out as he felt he didn’t get the support from the team he deserved after his Monaco victory. In comparision with that season, Alonso is already doing better: the best result of Alpine was achieved by him and he is not behind his team-mate in the championship as early as the 6th round. Furthermore, it can be said that up to now Esteban Ocon is having a very consistent season, so it will be interesting to see how it plays out. If FA remains on this steadily improvement trend, he probably will come out on top this season as Alpine’s leading driver, but how likely it will be depends also on Esteban mantaining his currently strong form or not. If he keeps performing so good, he might still score less points in the end, but it definitely won’t be a easy fight for Fernando. So let’s see!

      1. The red flag interrupted Q2 at Baku was great for Alonso in terms of the intra-team fight with Ocon. As an Alonso fan, it was terribly demoralizing to see him consistently qualify 3 to 4 places below Ocon and also be significantly below him in the driver standings. However, when considering the limited pre-season practice Alonso had plus the bicycle accident that hampered his preparations during the pre-season, Alonso didn’t do too bad. Still, we’re talking about one of the greatest drivers in Grand Prix racing (at least fans like me would like to think so). To see him below Ocon in the standings was very tough. From that perspective, Azerbaijan offered a welcome break for Alonso to look respectable in the drivers’ standings though it was chance circumstances that made Ocon not improve his qualifying position and have a mechanical failure that put him out of the race. Had Ocon qualified higher and the mechanical failure not struck him, he would be in the equation too to finish higher in the race – lots of if’s and but’s. Still Alonso had a great restart and showed tremendous consistency all through the race. Let’s hope this is a turnaround for him.

        1. Rodric Ewulf
          14th June 2021, 20:54

          Yeah, and not forgetting that Fernando also had a misfortune from which he was blameless in Bahrain where he was doing a solid race and had to retire due the famous sandwich bag incident, so had he finished that GP he probably would have scored more points to be nearly level or even slightly ahead Esteban in the standings earlier this season. If Fernando has successfully sorted out his one-lap issues (finding the ideal set-up with tyres etc.) he will be in nice shape for the remaining of the season, as his race pace was never found as much compromised through his readaptation process. Even considering that Esteban is consistently bringing home good results, it seems reasonable to assume that a peak Fernando (a driver who would extract nearly the absolute most of the car in a frequent basis, with an incredible racing IQ) would have an edge on him, so the situation of that intra-team fight might still be a good indicator of how rapid Fernando has been getting up to speed on his comeback.

  2. Happy for him, more than likely he’ll be a very different person to the one of 20 years ago, I guess he gets to soak it in and enjoy it more.

    He seems happier than the late Ferrari days. Same could be said for Seb this season.

    Kimi seems exactly the same as he was 20 years ago, both Ferrari eras etc

    1. Agreed. I’m not an alonso nor vettel fan, but they both seem to have an fresh attitude that comes with age and knowing there is more to life but also they massively respect the position they find themselves. And I’m starting to like them both more now.

      1. I’d rather say the occupy seats for young exiting and faster talented people. But nostalgia is a large part of the F1 world and there are a lot of old men watching the sport. So their marketing value is great. I however watch for the sport event.

  3. Is he actually enjoying more than before?
    I wouldn’t bet a dime on it, since he is constantly bashing other drivers (Hamilton in particular), underlying his recurring (and still very much present) frustrations.
    Good driver, but definitely a toxic personality.
    I am counting down the days until things get rough at Alpine.

    1. @likoe41

      Is he actually enjoying more than before?

      Well after his last few years at McLaren, it is probably quite easy to enjoy something more. But yes he still seems to be quite toxic and controversial.

    2. Where is he bashing Hamilton? He has shown high praise for Hamilton in recent years. It is not 2007 anymore, get over it.

      1. He still didn’t take the pill.

    3. Is he actually enjoying more than before?
      I wouldn’t bet a dime on it, since he is constantly bashing other drivers (Hamilton in particular), underlying his recurring (and still very much present) frustrations.
      Good driver, but definitely a toxic personality.
      I am counting down the days until things get rough at Alpine.

      Sorry, just wanted to repeat this post because it is spot on.
      Alonso even had the incredible attitude of asking for sanctions to drivers who crash during qualis, precisely him, who had a win in his record because his teammate crashed on purpose.

  4. I am not a Alonso fan. But I can understand/ relate to his feelings. The midfield is a very competitive fight and as a driver you have to prove yourself every lap and every race.
    Fighting for podiums will be a similar feeling I guess, but with only a few or even only one opponent.
    In the midfield every competitor is your opponent.
    Always nice to see an old fox in action. The on-board in the sprint race was very telling about his experience

  5. I think Alonso will be a top 3 driver next year again after getting back in the groove this year and when every driver gets a reset for next year’s rule changes. I can see him driving to age 44 in F1.

  6. Very nice to hear the enjoyment is back. It’s like Raikkonen realizing there is no better fun to be had anywhere so why not continue. Even enjoying the team camaraderie as well.

    Let’s see if the ‘hate of losing’ will return if the car is not to expectations next year.. Although I would dearly like to see that it is. One of the biggest wastes in F1 is Alonso in a midfield car. Yes he was demanding and even toxic, but for do the teams want points, wins or championships or a nice atmosphere at work? I just don’t understand it. I bet Red Bull is secretly regretting playing hardball with him. A properly embedded Alonso from 2015 later paired with Verstappen would be a formidable pairing. Might even have made life difficult for Mercedes last years. Who cares if there’s rivalry and politics.

    1. Embassy Hill
      12th June 2021, 20:59

      Yeah this

      Back in the past team bosses were racers and having to manage two difficult drivers was a worthy cost to pay for having 2 brilliant drivers. That risk wasn’t even that much of a worry. Piquet, Mansell, Ayrton, Alain and co were clearly not easy people to manage.

      Now most of teams are run by essentially fancy accountants or engineers or board of directors. So they are all so scared of losing they would rather be 3rd with an easy life than take the risk of fireworks but with the potential of being champion.

      Mansell would never get a drive today and frankly that is just stupid. Look at Ron Dennis… one of the men he first worked with was Graham Hill and he worked with many more awkward characters.

    2. Alonso and marko in one team…not going to happen and never was a real option. Only fa suggested it.

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