After stepping away from Formula 1 in 2018, the two-time world champion is back this season, in a familiar squad – formerly known as Renault, but now under the new name Alpine.
“I still love cycling,” Alonso told CNN’s Amanda Davies as he reflected on his collision with a car during training. “I’m probably going to have to use the ATV a bit more now, on different trails and avoid normal roads.
“But in a way, that won’t change much. My preparation will always be based on a bike.”
Alonso admits he was fortunate, given the timing of the crash, to recover in time for the new season, and as he recalls a long career with three teams – Renault, McLaren and Ferrari – he also knows how lucky he has been in his life.
“I feel very privileged,” he said. “I know many, many talented drivers. Sometimes they don’t even have the opportunity to test a Formula 1 car in their careers.
“I had the chance to choose when to change teams. I had the chance to stop Formula One. I have the chance to choose one to come back.
“I’ve always had the option of choosing my own destiny in a certain way. So let’s have fun now.”
Alonso’s return to the elite motorsport division marks the first time a driver has completed three separate stints with a single F1 team – 2003-06, 2008-09 and now from 2021. His contract with Alpine is two years.
It’s no secret that Alonso wants to win the coveted “Triple Crown of Motorsport” – which includes the Indy 500, the 24 Hours of Le Mans race and the Monaco Grand Prix. He has already won two of the three, only the Indy 500 remains.
“I was always seen as the F1 guy who drove the Indy 500 and things like that,” said Alonso, who believes not much has changed in F1 since he sought new pasture.
“I see more or less the same people, the same pilots. It’s basically the same thing.
“And I think you have a memory of how to drive these cars, and after three or four laps you’re immediately comfortable with whatever you’re feeling.”
‘The right message now’
While Alonso was away, Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton created a commission on behalf of the current world champion to increase diversity in motorsport, while F1 launched the #WeRaceAsOne initiative, and with it a new group work to “increase inclusion in sport”.
The program, which was in development before 2020, has been expanded this year as part of F1’s environmental, social and corporate governance policy, with the sport addressing sustainability issues.
Alonso says “this is the right message now.”
“There are a lot of people in the world who are not having it easy right now,” added the 39-year-old. “They see sport as a way to get rid of all these individual problems for two hours while they are in front of the television.
“While they are having fun at the same time, they see a complex community – because Formula 1 is not easy to get everyone to agree on something – on this point we all agree and on that we are all united.
“It’s a very nice message I think, and a very important message for the sport.”
Current world champion Lewis Hamilton teamed up with Alonso at McLaren at the start of the Briton’s career in 2007, and asked if the Mercedes driver is the man to beat this season, Alonso replies: “Absolutely”.
“He’s a seven-time world champion. He’s the guy who’s dominated the sport the last few years. They’ve been very strong. No signs of weakening yet in recent years.
“Even if the regulations change a bit in 2021, their package and experience should be enough to stay favorites.
“But, you know, Formula 1 is sometimes not exact math. You have to cross the line first to win it. Let’s see how it goes.”
A new perspective
When he first drove in F1, Alonso was a precocious talent, then becoming the sport’s youngest champion in 2004 when he got the better of a dominant Michael Schumacher and the Ferrari team.
This time around, Alonso – the 32 Grand Prix winner – has more than two decades of professional driving experience and a new outlook on F1 after his first hiatus in 18 years.
“You’re in a little bubble all the time,” he says. “With your team, with your engineers, and maybe you just lose your perception of sport in general and the entertainment that you provide every second Sunday to millions of people.
“I think being away for two years and enjoying the race from the outside, maybe you can behave a little differently here and embrace some of the activities that you offer the fans.
“You’re probably more than willing to put on a better show because you know how you feel on the outside.”
Alonso acknowledges that 2021 will be a “year of transition” for Alpine as he aims for consistent top 10 rankings and a handful of podium positions.
However, “Alpine has big ambitions for the future,” Alonso adds, pointing to the regulatory change coming next year – F1 is expected to introduce major aerodynamic changes in 2022 – as the team ultimately hopes to feature on the podium as a race. winners.
And as he looks forward to the first race of the season – the Bahrain Grand Prix on March 28 – Alonso stops to take a moment to remember what he felt 35 years ago as a child in a kart for the first time, which he describes as “one of the best feelings of my life”.
Back on the F1 grid, Alonso hopes to be “back as a better driver, but also as a better show for the people”.
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