In any sport­ing gen­er­a­tion, there’s al­ways a star among stars. And in con­tem­po­rary For­mula 1, de­spite the pres­ence of a Hamil­ton and a Vet­tel and a Räikkö­nen, we have an Alonso. Mighty, re­doubtable Fer­nando Alonso – grilled here, ex­clu­sively, by the lu­min


From Häkki­nen to Horner, the great and the good of F1 quiz one of the sport’s finest cur­rent tal­ents: Fer­nando Alonso

Some driv­ers grant an in­ter­view. With Fer­nando Alonso, re­garded near-uni­ver­sally within For­mula 1 as the best of his gen­er­a­tion, it’s an au­di­ence. You’re aware, in his pres­ence, of his pres­ence.

This is no waifish 19-year-old F1 ar­riv­iste. This is The Man: the hard­est racer, the doughti­est com­peti­tor and a driver who has earned a stature that far out­shines the mere statis­tics of his ca­reer. Two ti­tles to Vet­tel’s four, and that pair now claimed some time ago (’05, ’06)? A quirk of math­e­mat­ics that has given up the ght against Alonso’s re­lent­less pur­suit of ex­cel­lence; a dis­par­ity that has ceased to hold any rel­e­vance as a mea­sure of his em­i­nence.

For truly, no one in For­mula 1 re­gards Se­bas­tian Vet­tel (or any of his peers) as the bet­ter driver. Most sen­tient ob­servers, in­deed, think pre­cisely the op­po­site.

So stats be damned, Alonso is numero uno, for this age, in the way that Michael Schu­macher was for most of his. Neatly, of course, Alonso’s ti­tles butted up to Michael’s – a ba­ton passed – and Fer­nando once ad­mit­ted to this jour­nal­ist that his ’06 vic­tory would have meant lit­tle had he not had to beat Michael to earn it.

The com­peti­tor pure, then, as ag­gres­sive and pun­gent a racer as For­mula 1 has ever known. Yet a driver who, at 33, knows he is un­likely ever to im­prove and must ac­knowl­edge the prospect of fad­ing pow­ers, even if there is no sign, yet, of their wan­ing.

With th­ese con­sid­er­a­tions oc­cu­py­ing our thoughts, we wait for Alonso in the pri­vate up­stairs quarters of the Fer­rari mo­torhome in Bu­dapest, gi­ant Hublot wall clock mark­ing the pass­ing seconds, and won­der… Will he to­day be the rag­ing bull, hun­gry for the fight with any ri­val? Or will we ex­pe­ri­ence the milder, more ap­proach­able, ar­tic­u­late and re­flec­tive Fer­nando, of­ten seen in me­dia brief­ings? That kid from Oviedo who per­forms magic tricks and prac­ti­cal jokes for his friends when his mood is light?

There is, it must be said, trep­i­da­tion when he ar­rives wear­ing ob­sid­ian Oak­leys, iPhone clamped to right ear. Its case is bright blue with a golden cross – the As­turias flag of his home re­gion – a sym­bolic state­ment, we later learn, of vic­tory. How ap­pro­pri­ate for this war­rior driver that the lo­cal stan­dard should bear the Cruz de la Vic­to­ria, the Vic­tory Cross.

The call is ended. The phone placed care­fully face down on a white ta­ble. Shades off. A smile! A rm, but not clench­ing, hand­shake, then a wel­come. We’re away. When is your bike team start­ing… and why are you do­ing it? Franz Tost We ap­plied for the forms and the doc­u­men­ta­tion on 1 Au­gust, be­cause that’s the date when the UCI [cy­cling’s gov­ern­ing body] re­quires them. The in­ten­tion is for the team to be on the road next year, in Jan­uary, but at the mo­ment that is just a guess. We need in the next cou­ple of months to build a huge struc­ture, so that’s our in­ten­tion. But we’ll see how it ends up. Why am I do­ing it? Be­cause I have to think of my fu­ture. F1R: Who would be on the team? FA: I haven’t thought about that yet. F1R: Al­berto Con­ta­dor [Spain’s top pro rider] maybe? FA: Ah, he al­ready has a con­tract for next year. F1R: What will you call your team? FA: I prob­a­bly won’t put my name to it. We’ll nd the best name pos­si­ble, or use the name of a bike man­u­fac­turer, or spon­sor, or what­ever we de­cide is the best name. But not my name. F1R: Cy­cling’s a big pas­sion for you, isn’t it? FA: It is, it is. It’s my favourite sport and now it can be­come a re­al­ity for the fu­ture, so it’s nice.

If you never win another world ti­tle, how will you feel about re­tir­ing from F1, hav­ing won only two? Damon Hill Right now it’s tough be­cause I want the third ti­tle so much. But if I can’t win it and my time comes to re­tire, there is not so much I can do, so I have to step back to give the op­por­tu­nity to new peo­ple to go in. I know that with time, two ti­tles will be more and more im­por­tant and I will be ex­tremely proud, even if now I al­ways want more and I am al­ways hun­gry for suc­cess. I know that they will have a huge value when I re­tire, even if I have two, three or what­ever. F1R: But win­ning three is still a big thing? FA: Yes. F1R: So win­ning a third ti­tle is, in fact, a big part of your mo­ti­va­tion? Or are you mo­ti­vated enough any­way? FA: I feel mo­ti­vated any­way, but it’s true that I have been so close to a third ti­tle on a few oc­ca­sions that it’s part of the mo­ti­va­tion as well, to keep go­ing and to achieve it.

For the record, Alonso has nished sec­ond in the ti­tle race three times in his four full sea­sons to date with Fer­rari. In 2010 he nished four points be­hind Vet­tel, after a ti­tle-de­cid­ing Abu Dhabi nale; in 2012 he was just three points be­hind his Red Bull neme­sis after a thrilling show­down in Brazil; last year Vet­tel and the RB9 crushed all-com­ers to win by a mas­sive 155-point mar­gin. A young Rus­sian self­con­fessed Alonso fan picks up the theme…

How did you over­come the thought that you could have been a three-, four- or five-time world cham­pion in the days fol­low­ing those times when you just missed out? Daniil Kvyat It’s tough… def­i­nitely tough and there have been some… er… tough weeks, some tough days after the missed op­por­tu­ni­ties. But I had some great fam­ily support and great friends who sup­ported me each time and there’s no doubt that each time I had to strengthen my character and my mo­ti­va­tion. It’s not easy to step back from a big dis­ap­point­ment like that. F1R: What did you do? Go out on your bike and ride till you for­got about it? FA: I stayed at home. I didn’t get de­pressed, but I had to take some time for my­self. Not do­ing many things, but just be­ing, you know, with my loved ones around me.

How did you learn to set up your ‘vic­tims’ on the race track? I’ve never seen any­one do over­takes like you. Ger­hard Berger [There’s a broad Alonso grin…] I ‘cook’ the over­tak­ing slowly. Kart­ing was the best school for me. I spent so many years in karts and even now I still do some kart­ing. There were many nice bat­tles and it’s where you learn so many of the things you can use in For­mula 1. F1R: So kart­ing still ap­plies di­rectly to F1? FA: Very much, yes.

Why didn’t you ever take a week off – and why did you make my life so dif­fi­cult?! Rob Smedley [race en­gi­neer to Felipe Massa through­out his four years as Alonso’s team­mate from 2010-2013] Well I worked hard, that’s for sure! And I still do work hard, but there were tough week­ends for both sides of the garage, I think – both for Felipe and Rob and for An­drea [Stella, Alonso’s race en­gi­neer] and me. We didn’t quite have the car that we wanted and we were strug­gling a lit­tle bit. There were some dif­fi­cult sea­sons, but at the same time I was ex­tremely proud of the team­work that we all did to­gether. I’ve known Rob since F3000, when he was my race en­gi­neer, so it has been a long jour­ney and I think that we both achieved many things. It was good fun to spend some time to­gether and we had some good years at Fer­rari, even if he was with the other car. How do you main­tain your con­sis­tency when your ma­chin­ery isn’t up to your own level of per­for­mance? David Coulthard It’s just a case of try­ing to keep the mo­ti­va­tion high, try­ing to set new tar­gets for ev­ery week­end, be­cause the per­for­mance you can achieve is dif­fer­ent ev­ery week­end, so you just need to rrrrrre-adapt [spo­ken with a par­tic­u­larly fruity rolled ‘r’] to that level of per­for­mance and achieve what’s sup­posed to be the max­i­mum. [Then a deep ex­hale and sigh, as if mo­men­tar­ily wea­ried by the prospect of con­tin­ued strug­gle.] You know, I hate los­ing, so that’s enough to keep me mo­ti­vated – even if it’s a bat­tle for sixth and sev­enth, I would rather be sixth than sev­enth, so that’s enough to keep me mo­ti­vated. Will you ever run a rac­ing school? I would like to send some driv­ers to it… Mika Häkki­nen [Laughs] I will, I will! That’s the plan, ac­tu­ally. I al­ready have a kart cir­cuit in Spain and the plan is to have a school there for kart driv­ers, young driv­ers, and also for road safety. I’m in­volved in a good project for road safety with schools in Spain – teach­ing kids from a young age. And we’ll try to use bi­cy­cles and karts on a big cir­cuit we’re plan­ning. So Mika can send down some good young Fin­nish guys any time he likes! F1R: If you were teach­ing them to drive like Fer­nando Alonso, what would you teach them? FA: Just en­joy what you do, try to be ag­gres­sive and try to have a plan al­ways in your head. Then ex­e­cute it. It’s as sim­ple as that.

Does the 2014 F1 tech­ni­cal pack­age re­quire more tal­ent to drive, and make the best driv­ers stand out more? Emer­son Fit­ti­paldi I don’t think so, no. The 2014 reg­u­la­tions are more or less the same as any other year in terms of driv­ing style, so I don’t see a big dif­fer­ence. We miss a lit­tle bit the free­dom to ac­ti­vate KERS in what­ever place we wanted – this year it’s just au­to­matic: when we go full throt­tle, the power unit de­liv­ers what you ask with your foot. I don’t think it’s more chal­leng­ing this year. The cars have a lit­tle bit less grip, they are heav­ier, they are slower, but I don’t think they are more dif­fi­cult for any rea­son or that driv­ers have a big­ger im­pact on the fi­nal re­sult. You’re the coolest driver I’ve ever seen be­fore a race. Are you re­ally that re­laxed, or are you just an amaz­ing ac­tor? Pe­dro de la Rosa [Pauses to mull over the ques­tion]. I think I am re­laxed – and I’m def­i­nitely not a good ac­tor! But I am re­laxed, yes. I see some­times some stress and ten­sion around the team and the other peo­ple around when a grand prix is about to start, yet nor­mally I am the one try­ing to keep it cool, try­ing to give them some con­fi­dence that ‘guys, we will give the max­i­mum’ and that they shouldn’t worry about any­one else. We will go out there, we will have a good start, a good strat­egy and a good pace, and the out­come will de­pend on many other fac­tors, but not be­cause we missed some­thing, and I am re­laxed be­cause of that. Also I think that ev­ery­thing in the race is nor­mally un­der con­trol and we al­ways give 100 per cent, so that is enough to be cool and to be ready for the start. No lim­its – how would you make your per­fect F1 car? Richard Cre­gan I think it would be close to the 2004 and 2005 cars. So def­i­nitely V10 en­gines, with no lim­i­ta­tions. Aero? No lim­i­ta­tions, so prob­a­bly dou­ble, or even triple dif­fusers, blown-ex­hausts, DRS… what­ever could be added to make the car faster. I’d want tyre com­pe­ti­tion, too. I think

it’s a good thing for For­mula 1 and raises the level of man­u­fac­tur­ers, be­cause they bat­tle and then the driv­ers benet from that bat­tle in terms of prod­uct… so, yeah, we would end up with a very, very fast car prob­a­bly!

At Monza in 2006 you said, “F1 is no longer a sport.” Do you think it still is? Do you think you’re a sports­man, or some­thing else? David Croft It is… well… half-sport, half-business. It is a strange sport, no doubt. I ac­tu­ally feel more of a sports­man be­tween the races when I do my prepa­ra­tion and when I get ready for the next grand prix than in the week­end it­self, be­cause here there is a lot more stuff than just driv­ing the car. There is the me­dia, the fans, the spon­sors. There are so many other things, that you need to be some kind of politi­cian, or busi­ness­man… many things, more than just driv­ing. So, I still think that For­mula 1 is a very strange thing… F1R: But you have a great pas­sion for For­mula 1, ob­vi­ously…?

I do have a great pas­sion for it, yes. I love For­mula 1 and my whole life is built around For­mula 1. But I un­der­stand as the years pass, just how com­plex a sport it is, and also who you need to be, at some mo­ments of the week­end, and who you need to be at some mo­ments of the year and even at some mo­ments of your ca­reer. It’s not just like pick­ing up a rac­quet and play­ing ten­nis. For­mula 1 is some­thing more than that… it’s some­thing else.

What would you have been if not a For­mula 1 driver? Paul Hem­bery I have no idea, to be hon­est. My rst kart race was at three years old and I have been all my life be­hind a steer­ing wheel. So I would prob­a­bly have been in­volved in another sport, be­cause I love sport. And in Spain, you know, foot­ball is quite big and as a kid, when I was not rac­ing I was prob­a­bly play­ing foot­ball ev­ery week­end. Cy­cling maybe… but I have no real idea.

Do you now re­gret not join­ing us at Red Bull in 2008? Christian Horner It was a tough call, a tough call. There’s no doubt that at that time, leav­ing McLaren, I had a few op­tions: Red Bull, Toy­ota, Re­nault… and it took me time to make that decision. But at the time Red Bull was just a funny team, not what it is now. It was a funny team with a good mar­ket­ing side, but noth­ing more than that. So at the time, my decision was a log­i­cal one.

Which team has been your nat­u­ral home? Al­lan McNish Re­nault, in 2003, 2004 and 2005. That was cer­tainly the team where I felt most at home. Prob­a­bly be­cause I ar­rived in For­mula 1 with Flavio’s help [Flavio Bri­a­tore was also run­ning the Re­nault F1 team at that time]. I ar­rived there, I spent time in Ox­ford, it was close to the fac­tory, so then I started to have some of my first friendly re­la­tion­ships with the en­gi­neers and with Flavio… Then of course all the peo­ple from cater­ing were Ital­ian, so we were speak­ing Ital­ian to­gether [Alonso speaks uent Ital­ian, in ad­di­tion to French and English and his na­tive Span­ish], so you cre­ate some re­la­tion­ships. And my team-mate was Jarno Trulli, who I knew from karts. So that place at that par­tic­u­lar time over the years has felt most like my ‘home’ team. Why have you given Fer­rari so long to get it right? Johnny Her­bert I think be­cause Fer­rari are the best team in the world – the team that have achieved the most in

For­mula 1. They’re big­ger even than For­mula 1 it­self, and Fer­rari are so much more than a For­mula 1 team. They’re world-wide and seen as a big thing. And Fer­rari have the po­ten­tial. The right peo­ple, the fa­cil­i­ties, the bud­get… ev­ery­thing you need to be the strong­est. So you need to be­lieve, you need to trust, be­cause sooner or later we will win.

Can I have your car please? Ka­mui Kobayashi Which one? [Alonso is laugh­ing as he res back this re­sponse] The For­mula 1 car [more laugh­ter]? He can go in the garage for a look if he likes… but he can’t have the car.

For­mula 1 fever gripped Spain as Alonso burst onto the scene in 2001 and he’s proud to have raised the pro­file of his sport in his home­land

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