Fernando Alonso will be the most experienced driver on the grid in 2022. But Alpine’s veteran said he’s fitter than ever after completing his return to F1 in 2021 – although he still has to undergo surgery in January after a pre-season bicycle crash.

    The two-time champion turned out for Alpine on Wednesday at Abu Dhabi, checking off nearly 150 laps and setting the eighth-fastest lap 18-inch-tyred lap of the two-day session. Readying for his second F1 season since taking a two-year hiatus at the end of 2018, Alonso was asked if he’s close to performing at his peak.

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    “I’m closer than 10 months ago,” he said. “Difficult to know… the limit, and where we could get next year. I think we need a good winter that’s for sure, I need to be prepared or to get ready a little bit better than last year; the accident in February with the bicycle didn’t help last year.

    “This January I will have to remove the plates from [my] face so I will have two weeks in January off but probably I had those off anyway even without the surgery because it’s just time to relax. But after that we need to go into winter testing with a good programme, physically and also in the car. And if the car is competitive, I’m sure I will be 100%,” he said.

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    The Spaniard, 40, underlined his fitness by batting away the vigours of the post-season tyre test and extolling the virtues of his experience in F1. He’s so ready to race, in fact, that this weekend Alonso will participate in a 24-hour karting race in Dubai.

    "[Regarding] my age, I feel good. Honestly, I feel an advantage, you know? When I come to a circuit, I know the circuits. Even now, you know everyone is testing this 18-inch tyre and I know very well these tyres from the WEC [World Endurance Championship]; there is exactly the same behaviour on the tyres and the same way you have to drive the tyre… All the things I am facing – that other people are facing for the first time – for me this is the second or third time. This is good.

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    "I think I only see the advantages. Physically, I think the cars of today are not very demanding. I think in 2004, '05, maybe the age was a limitation, but today I did 148 laps and now at 2130, in two hours' time I have a free practice in Dubai. I am racing the 24 Hours of Dubai [karting event] and there is free practice in two hours... I can do 300 laps with these cars, so there is not a problem physically."

    He quipped: "I’m super strong, I’m ready, I can start the season next week in Bahrain! No, I was planning to have a different preparation next year, not because the cars will be different… but just because this winter I couldn’t do a proper preparation because of the bike accident."

    The Alpine driver returns alongside Esteban Ocon for a second season with the French marque, hoping to build on a season that has seen the Frenchman take a victory and Alonso a podium.