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F1 and me - an exclusive interview with Fernando Alonso

09 Aug 2016

The rising star, the multiple champion, the benchmark, the hero, the villain, the underdog - Fernando Alonso has been all these things and more in his 15 seasons as a Grand Prix driver. So how does the McLaren man now feel as one of the grid’s elder statesmen, and what more does he hope to accomplish in the sport? We sat down with the Spaniard to talk life, the universe and of course F1…

Q: Fernando, in Hungary after qualifying you were laughing for what seemed like the first time in a long time while being interviewed in the FIA pen. Was it the knowledge that things are looking up?

Fernando Alonso: You think I was laughing for the first time? We’ve been in Q3 a couple of times - true not with both cars. But I remember it was a funny question that I was asked - and that’s why I was laughing. Yes, we’ve had some good and bad moments this year - everybody knows that. But really laughing has something to do with humour - and not with any lap time!

Q: Coming to humour: You once said that you have to be an actor to survive in F1. Where would you say your bigger talents lie, in drama or comedy?

FA: In comedy of course - all the time! (Laughs) Everything in Formula One is a comedy: it is a sport, nothing really serious, so definitely not a drama. It is a bit like those slapstick comedies where you get hit on the head - and the next day you are as good as new. I would definitely be a comedy actor…

Q: ...any character that you would want to play?

FA: Jim Carrey - any of his roles! I think he would do well in F1, making a mockery of everything! (Laughs)

Q: This is your sixteenth season. If you look back over the years, how has Fernando Alonso changed? From a naïve young driver to a hard-nosed professional?

FA: You change in any ways - not just as a driver. A person at 19 years of age is completely different than a man of 35. That goes for any kind of relationship: family, friends, and the approach to the team, the working methods and of course the media. Everything changes - not because you want to have it changed in one direction, but because life changes you! You cannot escape that - the Peter Pan story of not growing old is only a fairy tale! 

Q: Sixteen years in Formula One - there must have been many happy moments, otherwise you wouldn’t still be here…

FA: Probably success is the most important thing of the enjoyment of being here. You are here to compete - you are here to compete against 21 other drivers and try to be the best in the world. So being on the podium, winning a race or even a championship: these are the moments of ultimate enjoyment. But then there is also the joy about other things that surround F1. The travelling that gave me the opportunity to travel to many countries I probably would have never seen in another life: India, Korea, Russia or Azerbaijan. I am happy with all the fantastic side effects the sport has given me.

Q: After travelling for sixteen years is there still a place that Fernando Alonso would want to go?

FA: There are always places that attract your attention. Argentina for example - one day I want to go and visit Argentina. South Africa is another destination - probably all the places that we don’t have any more in Formula One. And then why not go to Terra de Fuego - to the furthest south - or to Alaska, way up north? I am that kind of person! (Laughs) I am still young - even if not any more - but at least I do feel that way, so I want to see all these places. You have to take chances whenever they come your way as you never know when they dry up!

Q: Speaking about travelling and modes of travel, you’re obviously a fanatical train rider - especially in Japan. Is it because it fits your personality? A strict timetable for a strict personality?

FA: Ha, probably yes! I enjoy that kind of precision, that sense of being perfectly on time - yes, that suits my way of living. The trains in Japan are probably a synonym for everything that I find exemplary! (Laughs)

Q: If you are really that precise person you say you are, isn’t it sometimes hard to live with yourself?

FA: Yes! But for the people around me it is even harder! I’ve known myself for many years so I can deal with it - but the others… oh boy! (Laughs)

Q: Before a race start you used to sing with Luis - who is now your manager. Are you still doing that?

FA: No, we don’t do it anymore. We’ve lost that ‘moment of inspiration’! 

Q: What are you doing now to get in the mood for racing?

FA: These days nothing special. No special routine. I spend time with my team - the engineers to go over the latest changes in rules! (Laughs) Now they seem to be a bit more stable - but before it was a constant ‘rehearsing’ that what you know is the latest state of affairs!

Q: What people remember is title winners. You’ve won two but you’ve also come in second more than once - and by only a few points. Does that hurt?

FA: Not really. I have been so lucky in my entire career to fight for championships - yes, there have been more good opportunities for me but for one reason or the other it did not happen.

Q: You probably could have matched Juan Manuel Fangio by now…

FA: Yes probably - but my career path also could have ended in karting! So everything is perfect for me.

Q: When you started in F1 it was a much more dangerous sport. Are you happy with the way it has gone? You had the most spectacular crash in a long time in Australia and escaped with minor injuries. Based on that, what more can be done in your view?

FA: Probably the halo system is the next step in security. The head of a driver is still the sore point as all of the latest fatal accidents that we’ve seen were head injuries. The FIA understood, the sport understood - so we are working on it. 

Q: What does Fernando Alonso still want to achieve in this sport. What’s still on your tick-off list?

FA: Another championship is the ultimate target - and we are working hard on that project. And with the new regulations in place next year we will probably get the excitement back as the cars will be much more attractive - and much faster. That is still the target that Fernando wants to achieve! (Laughs)

Q: Seen on paper will the 2017 changes be good enough to keep you in F1 beyond 2017?

FA: I hope they are on track!

Q: But given the fact that the cars will be wider, the tyres will be wider and the cars will be faster - is that what can make you hooked again?

FA: Yes, because it means that you are very excited in the car when you jump in. I expect the feeling of ‘wow’ again - as when I started in F1!

Q: We have just heard that you are a very disciplined person. But is there a soft spot that you have with yourself?

FA: Sure. I do have my free time! When working my routine is very exact - but then there is Fernando Alonso in private, when I do completely the opposite…

Q: So no sheets on your walls where you tick off what you have accomplished?

FA: The sheets are turned to the wall! (Laughs)

Q: After travelling for 16 years, where do you feel at home? What definition of home do you have?

FA: I don’t think that right now I feel home in any place! I have been living in Spain, in England, in Switzerland, in Dubai - and that is okay as I had my apartments in these places, where I have my clothes and all my toys - but it’s not home. I think not until I have retired and have spent six months in one bed will I call anything home. Right now I am living in Dubai. It is in the centre of the world, it is convenient - the airport is one of the biggest hubs that takes me pretty much anywhere. What more do you want as a ‘frequent traveller’?

Q: What hobbies does Fernando Alonso have?

FA: Sports in general. I love to ride bicycles. I like football, I like basketball, and I like tennis - calling some friends and playing something!

Q: Could you ever think of starting to study something when you have retired? Maths? Art? History?

FA: Well, this chapter is not completely closed - but right now there are no real ambitions. But you never know what the future brings!

Q: You have a karting school to nurture young talent. How is that campus doing and could it be that you have already seen a future champion?

FA: We have many activities in Spain. We have a museum and we have the go-kart circuit where we have two activities: one is a road-safety program where all the schools from my region in Spain are attending - and then we have the karting school where we have about one hundred kids from all over the world. We have different age groups of kids and we work with them for five weeks. With the very young we show them how to feel comfortable in a kart, and with the ones that are a bit older we do real competition! And of course it would be a great achievement if a future champion in single-seater cars came through my school - but that is a dream of the future!

Q: It is summer time - and F1 also takes a bit of a break? What’s your plan?

FA: The idea is to go to the USA, as you have much more freedom there, as you don't get recognised on the street! (Laughs) A bit of California and Las Vegas - to switch-off from F1. Not to Alaska, not this time!