The unshakeable self-belief driving Alonso’s 16-year pursuit of a third world title

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As the chequered flag dropped on one of the most controversial season finales in the history of Formula 1 last year, Fernando Alonso’s mind was already on 2022.

Driving back to the pits, he sent a clear message to his Alpine team: “It’s only the beginning,” he told race engineer Karel Loos.

“Sexy boys and girls, the best is just to come next year. I promise. This was a warm-up, like the boxers. They do a game just before the big fight, this was the 2021 for us.”

Alonso returned to Formula 1 in 2021 after a two-year break from the championship during which he opted to explore endurance racing in WEC and IMSA, pursued victory in the Indianapolis 500 and went off-road rallying in the Dakar. But the heightened level of competition in Formula 1, and the opportunity to reunite with his former team Renault under their new branding of Alpine, proved too appealing to turn down.

Fernando Alonso, Alpine, Yas Marina, 2021
“The best is yet to come” Alonso told Alpine
Signing just a month after the pandemic-delayed 2020 season began, the 39-year-old twice-champion put himself back in the frame to fight at the top in the pinnacle of motorsport.

“Right now, I think especially after the pandemic, it’s a series that is more capable to produce a good show and to produce a good competition,” he told media including RaceFans after beginning his comeback last year.

“In 2018, when I left the sport, I was very honest with everybody, saying that I had better feelings or ideas elsewhere than Formula 1 and I had more attractive challenges in WEC or in Indy or in Dakar than what Formula 1 offered me at the time.

“Now it’s exactly the same point; in 2020 when I made the decision to come back, there were other series on the table and I thought that Formula 1 was the best challenge in that moment and the best competition.”

This weekend Alonso returns to his home circuit, where he scored his last grand prix victory nine years ago. He remains committed to fight for a third world title, but he hasn’t had the best start to the season, only scoring points once, during F1’s first outing in Bahrain at the end of March.

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Saudi Arabia saw Alonso’s first retirement of the season. It was followed up by more bad luck in Australia, where car trouble struck in qualifying and the timing of Safety Car periods boxed him into an unfavourable strategy. But there was a glimmer of hope – Alonso put himself in contention for pole position on Saturday, the rapid Alpine showing it could be a forced to be reckoned with.

Fernando Alonso, Alpine, Circuit de Catalunya, 2022
Alpine’s new car had teething problems in testing too
Matters did not improve at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, where another retirement followed after he tangled with Mick Schumacher’s spinning Haas on the first lap. Alonso was forced into the pits after a significant chunk of his sidepod flew off.

Meanwhile the other Alpine of Esteban Ocon has been in the points in all but one race this season. Alonso lies 16th in the championship, 22 points behind his team mate.

He shows no signs of relenting or slowing down. But with two championships under his belt, his 41st birthday and record-breaking 350th grand prix start coming up, why is Alonso so desperate to continue racing in F1?

He is under no illusions that in order to deliver the third title he has pursued for 15 years he needs a fully competitive package. “When [Ayrton] Senna won the championship and the races, he had the fastest car,” said Alonso earlier this year.

“When I won the championship I had the fastest car. Michael [Schumacher] had the fastest car. Lewis [Hamilton] broke all the records and pole positions because he had the fastest car. It’s Formula 1.”

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His Alpine certainly isn’t the fastest car in its current form, yet Alonso has shown no interest in stepping away from the sport any time soon, and is fully invested in making the team world champions. Asked by RaceFans after his Imola retirement what drives his desire to carry on competing, Alonso gave a characteristically frank answer.

Esteban Ocon, Fernando Alonso, Alpine, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2022
Alonso put one over Ocon before gremlins struck in Jeddah
“Because I feel better than the others,” he replied. “When someone comes and I see that he’s beating me on pure ability, I see that I’m not good anymore at the starts, I’m not good in preparing the car or the other side of the garage is one second faster than me, and I cannot match those times et cetera, maybe I raise my hand and I say ‘this is time for me to think in something else.’

“But at the moment I feel the opposite. So I love racing.”

Alonso’s contract is set to run out at the end of the season. A decision is to be made regarding Alpine’s future line-up by July. The team’s reserve driver Oscar Piastri, a champion in Formula 2 and Formula 3, is waiting in the wings.

Some may feel the two-times F1 champion is filling a seat which that may path the way for a new talent to emerge in F1. Piastri is widely tipped as a star of the future – much as Alonso was when he sat out the 2002 season waiting on the promotion to Renault which put him on a path to the championship.

Alonso is Formula 1 royalty, and remains one of the best drivers of all time. If Alpine can provide a championship-contending car, it could be a while before his need to win overtakes his desire to remain in F1.

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Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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13 comments on “The unshakeable self-belief driving Alonso’s 16-year pursuit of a third world title”

  1. It is hard to assess whether Alonso has lost his ultimate pace now that he’s in his 40s, because the equipment he’s had has been all over the place. Unlike, say, Schumacher – whose speed was already dropping off by the time of his first retirement and had disappeared entirely by his comeback – and Raikkonen, who struggled to consistently beat journeyman Giovinazzi in his last couple of years – it is less obvious that age has caught up with Alonso. If Alpine does deliver and he gets the chance to fight at the front, we’ll see. But unfortunately I don’t see that happening any time soon.

    1. Agree, Alpine needs to deliver for him since I dont see him switching to a team with a race winning car that easily, given his highly political past. One would almost forget since he is such a likeable chap these days but when the stakes return he has proven countless times to be quite a handful. But people forget and so maybe do team bosses, so there is a tiny chance. Similar small to Alpine upping their game.

  2. The pessimist in me might say that Alonso is delusional, and will definitely never get the third title. There are just too many drivers of the new generation(s) like Verstappen and Leclerc that can beat a 40-year-old has-been.

    Then again, the optimist in me admires his confidence and ability. He is still very much on top of his game, as evident by some of his heroics in the past season.

    The “truth” — if there is such a thing — must be somewhere in between.

  3. Alonso doesn’t have the ability to hit his highest performance level on a consistent basis like he did in his best years imo. He’s capable of delivering great performances still but I doubt he’d be able to outperform any of the younger drivers across an entire season in order to win a championship. At the end of the day though if he’s capable of doing a job for a team and is enjoying the sport then fair play to him. Not everyone on the F1 grid can win a title and indeed some of them if given the fastest car wouldn’t either.

    1. Didn’t do any research to see what may have been the deserving number of points for him and OCO, but he beat OCO in 2021 by 7 points. For sure there’re drivers on the grid that ALO (at age 40-41) will outperform over an entire season… unfortunately those won’t be fighting for a champ. He will have to battle the likes of VER, LEC, SAI, PER etc… and he will need a significantly faster car to get on top.

  4. I think people are underestimating Alonso, he’s one of the top drivers of the current era and with the right car would be a threat to the young guns.

  5. I’m doubtful that he would have the speed+consistency of Verstappen or Hamilton at his current age, plus the chances of Alpine getting him a competitive car are increasingly slim. But I don’t feel he should move over for Piastri just yet. It’s unusual for a driver to remain so competitive for so long, and the longer it goes the more enjoyable it gets!

  6. His experience tells him he won’t fight for the championship driving for Alpine, but he could easily be fighting for victories if Alpine had nailed the concept.
    Well, they didn’t. And so didn’t Mercedes and Aston.
    But Hamilton is getting hammered (no pun intended) by Russell, while Alonso couldn’t care less about Ocon.

    Gossip and crystal ball time: Alonso to Aston, Ricciardo back to Renault/Alpine and an USA driver to McLaren.

  7. If Alpine want a world championship they need a driver who can best the likes of Verstappen, Hamilton or Leclerc. Thats a high bar that I don’t think Alonso can manage in his 40’s and I personally think Ocon falls way short of.

    Their big hope is sitting on the pit wall and doing cameo’s in the commentary box…

    If Alonso is out-performing Ocon, which he is despite the points tally, then it raises serious questions about the value of keeping Ocon.

  8. Alonso still can get a third title. He just has to stay in a good car and wait for FIA to get rid of his main contender because he’s won too many titles in a row, like he did for the first two.

  9. José Lopes da Silva
    19th May 2022, 20:49

    Senna did not have the fastest car in 1991.

  10. He is my favourite driver but I would much prefer to see him in WEC, IMSA and Indycar. He is clearly still good, better than Ocon last year and I think this year also when luck is taken into account. But when is he going to get a decent F1 car? And if he gets one, I cannot see him beating Verstappen. Verstappen is for me the best driver since Alonso. Prime Verstappen and prime Alonso might be equal, maybe even Alonso has the advantages due to less errors and cleaner driving, but Alonso is only close to his peak currently rather than actually at the peak.

  11. Alonso needs to get over his de facto defeat to rookie Hamilton in 2007 and be a bit more generous towards him. Since then, and after seeing Lewis climb up to 7 world titles, Alonso has never missed an opportunity to diminish Hamilton’s achievements as just down to having a dominant car – which he did have at times, but not always. The sour grapes remain sour. If you look at Alonso’s career, he always preferred to have second drivers alongside him. He could hardly ever handle a really strong teammate. Button was in the twilight of his career, and was never particularly renowned for his outright speed. I’d like to see Alonso against the likes of Norris, Russell, Leclerc and Verstappen. I’m not even sure he could consistently beat Ricciardo.

    But, if there’s one thing Alonso is really good at, is hyping his own reputation. He creates this image of the one truly best driver on the grid who would beat anyone, had the Gods not punished him with less than good cars. He would have won 13 titles, had he been in a Redbull, then in a Mercedes. Or so he’d like us to think.

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