FORMULA 1

Alonso talks to AS: "There's a good chance I'll still be here in 2024"

Fernando Alonso spoke to AS in Austria. “Every time I pull my visor down, I think this could be the Sunday where I win,” says the Spaniard, who is doubtful of his chances of a podium finish in 2021, but adds: “Maybe we can dream of doing more in 2022.”

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Alonso talks to AS: "There's a good chance I'll still be here in 2024"
XPB / James Moy Photography Ltd

Other Formula 1 world champions interviewed recently by this newspaper have asked to know ahead of time what subjects we’re going to discuss. One who wanted the questions in advance crossed several out. Another turned up late, albeit without placing any conditions on the interview. And then there’s Fernando Alonso Díaz, who only needs to know the time and the place. He arrives at the appointed hour at Alpine’s hospitality entrance, in a deserted paddock being sizzled by an unbearably hot early-afternoon sun. Because protocol prohibits journalists from entering the team’s motor home and taking advantage of the air conditioning, the two-time F1 champion seeks out a spot in the shade created by the lorry that carries Alpha Tauri’s tyres, and, for the next 10 minutes, answers every question I’ve got for him.

Are you still being asked how you’re settling in and when you’ll be back at your best?

Even before the Azerbaijan Grand Prix and French Grand Prix, I’d been saying that this season had gone well right from the off. Finishing within a second of [Alpine team-mate Esteban] Ocon three times in races was on a par with my expectations, but maybe it had become an obsession that I had to be ahead of him to make it a good weekend. And if I was behind him, it was a bad weekend. So I feel the season was going in the right direction then, and continues to do so now. Even if the public perception has changed a bit, not a lot has changed for me. There are still things to improve, but I’m happy with how my return has gone so far.

If you put half a second on Ocon in every lap, do you think people would give you more credit?

Yeah, maybe [laughs]. But that’s not the aim. I’ve come here to get used to the car, to the tyres, get as much as I can out of the car and do my best every weekend to help my team. And at the same time, I’m here to work towards 2022. My return to Formula 1 comes as we get ready for the introduction of new rules [next season]. I had a choice between coming back in 2022 or bringing my return forward to 2021 and using it as preparation, here on the inside, driving the car. That’s what I decided to do in the end. If we win the championship in 2021, then great - but we’re not in that position. So it’s also about making sure that by 2022, you’ve smoothed out all the little imperfections that you find.

Do you expect Alpine to get any podiums in 2021? Renault managed several in 2020.

No. Right now, we’d need a real stroke of luck. We’ll need a huge amount of luck to stop Red Bull and Mercedes from being on the podium. If we manage it, great, but I don’t expect it to happen. The podiums that Renault managed last year were great for the team and everyone’s morale, but Red Bull only had one driver, pretty much, and Ferrari were nowhere - they finished sixth in the constructors’ championship. We’re not in the same situation in 2021. Red Bull have two drivers and Ferrari are looking strong again. It’s much more difficult to finish on the podium this year.

What are your thoughts on the battle between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen?

It’s a great battle. After a period of Mercedes monotony, where it was only a fight between Hamilton and [Valtteri] Bottas until halfway through the year and then it was over, having two strong rivals is a good thing for the sport. It’s a bit more stressful for them; for those looking on, it’s more fun.

"It’s much more difficult to finish on the podium this year"

Fernando Alonso

Do you think Hamilton is no longer unbeatable?

He’s never been unbeatable. But… before he had to beat his team-mate and now he has to beat another car that at times will be quicker and at times will be slower. Both drivers are performing at a really high level. When there’s a weekend that the Mercedes is going a bit better, Verstappen pulls off the extraordinary to keep himself in the fight. And when the Red Bull is going better, Hamilton comes up with something and is in the battle. Both drivers have taken a step up and it’s interesting to see.

Do you think this year’s world title will mean more than others in the hybrid era?

They all mean as much as each other. Later on you forget how they were won or even who won them. They all mean as much as each other, but as I say, it’ll all be more exciting than in other years.

What do statistics mean to you?

They’re always important; they're what remains over time. Those of us who are experiencing our era maybe know the details of every driver, but in 10 or 15 years’ time all that will be left will be the statistics. We’ll only be measured by that. You can try to deny it, but they’re always important.

Are you excited by the possibility of one day being the driver with the most Grand Prix appearances in F1? Right now you’re third, behind Kimi Raikkonen and Rubens Barrichello.

Not especially. Someone will come along and beat the record. Drivers are reaching F1 at a younger and younger age and there are more and more Grands Prix every season. When I started out there were 16 or 17, and now there are 23. So it’s to be expected that in the next 10 or 15 years, the stats on Grand Prix appearances will be blown out of the water.

"Hamilton has never been unbeatable"

Fernando Alonso

The stats sometimes offer interesting insights. For example, you, have more wins than poles (unlike Hamilton or Sebastian Vettel).

There are interesting stats out there, certainly. I’ve also seen some on the number of points won by drivers relative to the total won by their team or team-mate, and I’m always among the top two or three in history, and I feel proud about that. At the end of the day, what matters is wins and titles, and I’ve been lucky enough to experience that. There are so many hugely talented, really quick drivers who haven’t been able to experience finishing on the podium or winning a race. I’ve been lucky enough to win two world titles and I’m very happy about that. And the experiences I’ve had in recent years have allowed me to gain in confidence and enjoy my passion for motorsport [beyond F1]. Formula 1 is fantastic, it’s the pinnacle, but it isn’t everything. It’s one of the things I say to the drivers in my karting school when I’m with them in Asturias. Aim for Formula 1, it’s the dream we all want to make a reality, but there are so many talented drivers out there that there isn’t room for everyone. So if they don’t make it, there are other categories of motorsport and each one is special.

In your case, does it make sense to return to Formula 1 if you’re not going to win?

Everyone has different moments in their life where the circumstances or possibilities vary. WEC [World Endurance Championship] isn’t at its peak in 2021-22 and, with the new rules, maybe it will be in 2023 or 2024. Indy has its ups and downs, and you need to like the oval track. You have to put all the categories that interest you on the table and decide which you most want to do at that particular time. And for me, Formula 1 was ideal right now. Regardless of whether I win or not, it was what I most wanted to do.

Do you think you’ll win a Formula 1 race again?

I don’t know. I haven’t set that as a fixed goal that I absolutely have to achieve. Every time I pull my visor down and go out there on a Sunday, I think this could be the Sunday where I win. Even now, although I know it’s impossible, I go out there with that mentality. Next year, in 2022, if everything comes together and it’s a tighter field, maybe we can dream of doing more. Maybe not. And if we don’t manage it, that wouldn’t be a disappointment; I’d just try to progress and improve for 2023.

Why is Alpine the right choice for you?

Well, you have to make what you feel is the right choice and make it from those that are available. Mercedes are surely the favourites for next year, but they have Hamilton and have earmarked George Russell as their driver for the future. At Red Bull, it all revolves around Max, whose future is assured and who is performing really well. So every time you set out on a new adventure, you look at what the possibilities are, the available places. After getting to know Alpine, I felt it was the option for me. There’s a real family atmosphere here and I’m enjoying my work.

"I haven’t set winning a race as a fixed goal that I absolutely have to achieve"

Fernando Alonso

I’ve talked to people from the team who are surprised by your determination in everything you do, day in, day out. What difference does it make to your life if you don’t overtake Yuki Tsunoda on a turn where nobody tends to manage it, and you finish seventh instead of sixth?

Whenever I pull down my visor, I want to be competitive and I like to do well. I like to maintain a high level of discipline and dedication, whether it’s here or whether I’m playing tennis with my friends one afternoon. That level of sacrifice and dedication is just what I’m about. Anything I do, I have to go at it 100%. Otherwise I don’t do it.

Your team-mate has renewed his contract until 2024. Where do you see yourself being then?

There’s a good chance I’ll still be here, as his team-mate.

All the best this weekend.

Thanks very much.