F1’s Fernando Alonso on Spanish GP, Advice for Next Generation
Barcelona, home of stunning architecture, lively nightlife and a soccer team holding onto second place in La Liga. It’s Formula One’s playground this weekend.
Nestled about 20 minutes northeast of the heart of the city is the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, where one of the oldest races in the world is held. The first Spanish Grand Prix took place in 1913. It’s also the home race of two Spanish greats, Fernando Alonso and Carlos Sainz from Ferrari.
“It feels good to be in Spain,” the 40-year-old Alonso says, “and we only experience it once a year. Obviously we try to enjoy the weekend and to make the people happy.”
The two-time world champion came from modest beginnings, born almost nine hours away in Oviedo, Spain. Although he claims he didn’t have a lot of racing experience, you wouldn’t know it from the story of the serial record breaker.
Michael Schumacher dominated the grid in the early 2000s, and it was Alonso who finally topped the F1 king. He was F1’s youngest polesitter and race winner, as well as the world champion, world champion, and double world champion.
But after the 2018 season, Alonso took a sabbatical from F1 but not racing. He pocketed two Le Mans wins before returning to the pinnacle of motorsports in ’21.
The Spaniard is coming off a difficult weekend. He went from eighth at the Miami Grand Prix , to ninth after receiving an additional five-second penalty for his collision with Pierre Gasly. Then FIA stewards handed the Alonso another five-second penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage, causing him to fall to P11.
“This one is certainly difficult to accept since Fernando handed back the time during the lap and we were not able to present the evidence to clarify the particular situation before the penalty was issued,” Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi said in a statement.
But now, all eyes are on Barcelona, with Alpine “determined to piece together a much slicker and, a more fair, race weekend and demonstrate the real potential of our package.” As F1 prepares for the race, Sports Illustrated spoke with Alonso about competing in his home country, the best advice he’s received and how he’s a “very normal guy.”
Fuel for Thought is Sports Illustrated’s exclusive Q&A with Formula One’s biggest names. These questions and answers were edited for clarity and conciseness.
Sports Illustrated: What has been your favorite Spanish Grand Prix?
Fernando Alonso: 2006. We came here as a world champion in 2005, and I remember the grandstands were full with a lot of supporters and we won the race. It was a magical moment.
SI: What is the fan atmosphere like with it being home track?
FA: It is obviously very special, especially here in Spain. Formula One is a football-like experience that we live. Fans are passionate and very loud. They move around constantly, bringing flags to the race. They are not just spectators who sit and enjoy the race. They are very active.
SI: How does the atmosphere and the way that the fans are compare to the Miami Grand Prix?
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FA: It is different. There were many VIPs and celebrities in Miami. Maybe we don’t have as many. As I mentioned, fans are less prominent but [they are] still very passionate about the race. In Miami, there were more people who enjoyed the show, but perhaps didn’t understand the race.
SI: What stood out to you about Miami?
FA: The whole atmosphere and how the popularity of Formula One has been increasing in the U.S. and how people were embracing that weekend. It’s not just the race track. It was also the hotels, the airport and the restaurants. Everyone was so positive about the race weekend. It was a surprise to everyone.
SI: What should we be watching for at Barcelona? Which part of the track is most difficult?
FA: The challenge will be the tire degradation. This weekend’s track is very challenging for tires and it’s extremely hot here in Barcelona. There will be some challenges for the teams on Sunday. This could lead to some great action on the track and some drama about the strategy and the tires. This could make for some interesting television.
SI: We talk a lot about race strategy and preparing for each weekend. What does that look for you?
FA: The week of the race we have, very early that week, a lot of meetings just to prepare what we should concentrate on the free practice. Consider the new parts coming to the car in comparison to previous Grand Prix. Then, evaluate them on the free practice. The weekend after practice is a continuous research process of setup, fine tuning, and preparing for the course. It’s easy to get lost in the technical details and not enjoy the weekend.
SI: Are you a superstitious individual?
FA: Not that much. I will use the helmet from one race if it goes well in the next. If I can recall what I did on Sunday morning, I will try to do it again. It’s not required.
SI: How would you describe the atmosphere within Alpine this season?
FA: It has been good. Generally, we did improve from last year, where our natural position was between P8 and P12. I believe we look top seven, and more top 5. We made a significant step forward. It’s not enough, however, because the first two teams are still a bit ahead in their league. We need to catch up. Overall, I believe we are moving in the right direction and everyone is happy about that. We didn’t get as many points in the first half of the championship.
SI: How do you kind of shake off those types of weekends?
FA: It is difficult. There have been many rough races and rough weekends. You focus on the next page and try to get the page done quickly. I am competitive. I’m a very competitive person.
SI: Who is Fernando Alonso?
FA: That’s a very, very good question. I’m a normal guy. Yes, I do an extraordinary job and sport. Only 20 people in the world can drive Formula One cars, and that’s probably how the people know me and know my name. On Monday morning, when the race is over, I am a normal guy with loyal friends and loyal family. I’m from the north of Spain, with no motor racing experience. I’m here to race because I love it. The whole thing about Formula One, perhaps it’s not my lifestyle or from where I come.
SI: Where do you see yourself after everything is said and done with Formula One?
FA: I don’t know. I don’t know if there is a plan. I took two sabbatical years in 2019 and ’20 outside Formula One, and in that time, I was competing every weekend. I was doing a 24 Hours of Le Mans, and I was doing the 24 Hours of Daytona. I found myself driving almost every weekend. I’m sure that I’ll be driving every weekend after Formula One.
SI: What shows are you binge watching right now or a movie that you would recommend?
FA: Normally all the movies we watch are on planes, because we spend a lot of time traveling. Sometimes, there are no updated movies on planes. We used to choose random movies that maybe are 10 years old, 20 years old and are still good to watch. I may not be the best person to recommend something that is trendy right now.
SI: What is your go to postrace meal?
FA: I try to fly home if I can Sunday nights to spend Monday morning already at home and waking up on my bed. I grab whatever I can at the airport or home, but not a particular one.
SI: What is your happy place outside of racing or outside of a car?
FA: Sports in general make me happy, and it’s something that I don’t do just for training. I enjoy being myself. Outside of racing, my happy place will be on my mountain bike alone, enjoying the morning and the beautiful weather.
SI: What is the best piece of advice that you’ve gotten in your career?
FA: One was a typical one, which is enjoy myself, because at the age we start racing, normally we are still kids. We are 14 or 15 and we are racing around the world in different tiers of motorsport. Enjoy the ride. You will not be able to deliver the results if you put too much pressure on yourself. You will perform your best when you are happy behind the wheel.
Then the second, I remember in go-kart racing, one of my engineers told me that second is the first loser because I finished second in one race. And I was happy for that because I made a good comeback from 10th, and when I arrived to the garage, everyone was not so happy and I was the only one happy. He took me aside and said, “Remember this for all your career: The second loser is the winner.” Although you did a great job, the winner is the one who celebrates. Second has nothing to celebrate.’
SI: What is your advice to this next generation of drivers, because they have the added pressure of not just being in Formula One, but they’ve also got social media and a lot more attention now that keeps growing and growing.
FA: It is more challenging now for the younger generation because they have all the social media and all the pressure from people. Even if they don’t know you, or have never seen a race, they can still make comments about your work or judge you on it. We are creating an, unfortunately, some artificial war that doesn’t value all the preparation and all the sacrifices that you made all over your career, when you left home when you were 13 or 14 and you sacrifice time with the family, you sacrifice some friends. [the young drivers] will never understand this as they can judge you and comment on everything. I believe we need to have more sportsmen than ever before. They must be mentally strong.
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The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.