Ah yes that old saying ‘age is just a number’ which many sportspeople are showing is the case thanks to improved technology and science, plus changes in professionalism and the dedication that’s required to be an elite athlete.
When Fernando Alonso returned to Formula 1, many people questioned the announcement but he is proving his doubters wrong, very wrong.
Alonso is behind Alpine teammate Esteban Ocon in the F1 driver standings which isn’t reflective of his season because the Spaniard has been the better driver in 2022.
Is Alonso too old for F1?
Alonso will be 41 years old in July but he’s certainly showed no signs of slowing down since returning to F1 in 2021.
Although Ocon has scored 14 more points than Alonso in the 31 Grand Prix they have been teammates together, the latter has been very impressive against a driver who is rated highly.
Alonso needed time to get back into the flow and rhythm of life as an F1 driver but since last year’s Azerbaijan GP, he has shown that sheer grit and tenacity which made him such a force to be reckoned with during his Ferrari and Renault days.
His skill and wiliness to fend off Lewis Hamilton lap after lap despite being in a significantly slower car, on older tyres, was magnificent, underlining there is plenty of life in him.
It ultimately proved critical for Ocon, who was able to resist the pressure of Sebastian Vettel to win his maiden F1 race, a result the Frenchman owes as much to Alonso.
More consistent points scoring and a podium at the 2021 Qatar GP, Alonso‘s first since 2014, rounded off a fine comeback year for twice Le Mans 24 Hours winner.
Alonso is still quick
On paper, being quick is the best way to measure how good an F1 driver is. But, pure pace and outright speed has never been one of Alonso’s best strengths during his 19 seasons in F1.
Qualifying has generally been perceived to be a weakness of Alonso, although this may be slightly skewed by some of the old qualifying rules when drivers qualified with their race fuel prior to 2010.
However, he’s 6-3 up in the qualifying head to head versus Ocon after nine rounds, which includes a magnificent front row start at the Canadian GP in wet conditions.
Max Verstappen enjoyed lining up alongside Alonso and stated he is still a very fast F1 driver.
“To be on the front row together with Fernando, [who] I used to look at F1 as a little kid, seeing Fernando being up there and winning his races and championships and putting it on pole so to be sharing the front row is a nice thing,” Verstappen told the press.
“Of course Fernando is getting a little bit old, but he’s still very fast.”
Is Alonso easy to work with in F1?
There’s a myth that Alonso can be a challenging person to deal with in F1 which may have been the case at McLaren-Honda in 2015 to 2017, but there aren’t too many other examples where engineers or bosses have called out the now Alpine driver.
The recent Canadian GP saw a frustrated Alonso on the team radio, but you have to remember he had an engine which was clipping on the straights, because the ERS wasn’t functioning properly, and the safety car didn’t play into his hands. All this after so much promise from qualifying.
Alonso has felt hard done by with penalties in the past and had been vocal about inconsistency from the stewards, a lot of which has actually been true.
Take track limits on the opening lap for example. Many drivers went wide at Turn 1 at the 2021 Austrian GP on Lap 1, made up positions and were not penalised.
This annoyed Alonso, who has generally been a very clean racing driver and only changed his canny racecraft to become more aggressive to make a point to the stewards who let other drivers get away with it.
You could make an argument that when things get difficult, Alonso isn’t the best driver to have in your team. Don’t be fooled that other drivers don’t share the same feelings, they just hide it a little better.
Alpine team principal Otmar Szafnauer, who joined the French squad at the start of 2022, says Alonso has been easy to work.
“He sees life just like I see life,” Szafnauer told the F1 Nation podcast. “It’s all about performance – leave no stone unturned, you’ve got to do everything you can to get the next bit of performance on the car and do a good job on track.
“I think his motivation and techniques are maybe a little bit different than mine. But he’s got less people to motivate than I do and he’s brilliant.”
When will Alonso retire from F1?
Alonso doesn’t have age on his side and it’s difficult to see him joining another team, especially a top constructor like Red Bull or Ferrari. It’s highly likely he will finish his F1 career at Alpine.
He might be approximately twice as old as the likes of Charles Leclerc, Lando Norris, George Russell, Carlos Sainz and Verstappen, but he’s still among the top drivers and can match any of them on his day.
A third world title is unlikely, but there’s no reason why Alonso can’t keep on fighting with F1‘s young guns.
“I think that at least two or three years you will see me here [in F1],” Alonso told DAZN in May. “I won’t drive forever.
“I still have a lot to offer. Right now I am enjoying Formula 1 a lot. I enjoy racing, I am enjoying all the things because Formula 1 is not only the activity on the track, you have a lot of activities off the track and I also enjoy them.
“I have never felt that it was a disadvantage to be a little older, I carry with me more experience and more knowledge.”