THEY ASK THE QUESTIONS
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 benet 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