Fernando Alonso: Fifteen years in Formula 1
It's been 15 years since Alonso's debut in Australia, fifteen years later he has two World Championships, 32 victories and 97 podiums.
He looked at Michael Schumacher and smiled, one of a number of smiles that betrayed the excitement of a young man who can't believe where is and the opportunity he's been presented with. It was the best moment in his life up to that point, fear and imagination raging over where it might all lead.
The sound of his own breathing must have been deafening inside his car for the first time before his first race. His answers were curt to the TV and to the team, yes, no, I feel fine ... he'd been up since seven in the morning, had breakfast with the team a half an hour later and at eight he met the engineers from the Minardi team. At eleven came the photocall where he stood alongside the best drivers in the world, prompting that smile for Schumacher. At 2pm his first race began, 15 years ago today.
Sweet celebration alongside his "partner in crime" in 2001 Australian Grand Prix: his Minardi PS01 pic.twitter.com/d3gAWMmc6V— Museo y Circuito FA (@CircuitoMuseoFA) 4 March 2016
AS recorded the event as such: "Right now no-one will care, but perhaps in time, the 4th of March 2001 will become an historic date for Spanish motorsport. If Fernando Alonso wins the championship one day, his baptism of fire will..." began Carlos Miquel from Melbourne. He was there, AS was there, few others were. Just like this new beginning for Fernando.
That day Alonso's legacy began, the driver caused an awakening as a nation discovered the bold new world of F1. They came along on an exhilarating ride that has brought two World Championships and the adoration of an entire nation.
That day he ended up 12th in the worst car on the grid, two laps away from Schumacher who would go on to win the title that season, but he finished his first race, an accomplishment that shines all the brighter when you consider that the team had literally put the machine together minutes before the race. That very same day, two other drivers made their debuts and would also go on to become greats of the sport: Juan Pablo Montoya and Kimi Raikkonen.
"I'm satified, I did what I had to", he said later, calmly, with the air of someone who realised that he was at the beginning of an adventure that would last a lifetime. Now, 34 years old, 2 World Championships, 32 wins, 22 poles, 97 podiums later - having driven for Renault, Ferrari and McLaren, he still dreams big and his desire hasn't dulled.
The first time he tried an F1 car he said "it's gonna be hard to be the boss here", now we can say that he's trying to get back to being the boss, and difficult as that's proving to be, he's still trying, still fighting.
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