There are some athletes who make you fall in love with the sport. Seeing them, you adore both the person and their trade. In F1, you can point to Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher. But to this generation, the definitive driver has been Fernando Alonso.
Alonso is already one of the greatest to push a car to its limits, but he is also the driver who made many fans fall in love with F1. F1 wasn’t the popular sport it is today, but drivers like Alonso altered fan perception and brought in viewers.
Chequered flags galore
Currently racing for Alpine, Alonso is a legend of the sport. He is a two-time world champion, having won the title with Renault in 2005 and 2006. He has also driven for top teams like McLaren and Ferrari. Winning in style is what he is known for, and he has taken his exploits out of F1 as well. He won the 24 Hours of Le Mans twice, in 2018 and 2019. He also won the FIA World Endurance Championship in the same time period.
Alonso made his debut in 2001, so his championship wins are more impressive from that angle. At that time, he became the youngest pole-sitter, the youngest driver to win a race, the youngest world champion and subsequently, the youngest two-time champion in F1 history. After flirting with Renault for a second time, he signed for Ferrari.
With the Italian outfit, Alonso proved exactly why he was one of the best in the world. In the four years he drove for the Prancing Horse, he finished runner-up to Sebastian Vettel in 2010, 2012 and 2013 in very hotly-contested seasons. He then left Ferrari to join McLaren for a second time, but couldn’t repeat his performances there.
What makes the two-time (yes, two-time) FIA Hall of Famer do what he does, then? Pundits, former drivers and fans all hail him as one of the greatest drivers ever. What makes him thrive is primarily his pace and consistency. His ability to get the best out of any car, and that too in any weather and on any track, is a massive ace up his sleeve.
Alonso knows how he can control the car, and his ability to stick in slip and eke grip in faltering zones is one of his party tricks. Comparisons to the legendary Ayrton Senna’s understanding of grip and balance is entirely justified. His cornering ability is also ridiculous, and the speed he carries into corners and out of them plays a big part in his driving.
Alonso’s braking skill deserves a special mention, because the timing and execution of it is absolutely world-class. His reaction times and awareness of how hard a corner is coming helps him drive at the highest possible speed. It is even effective for a fellow driver in front of him. When this happens, he is alert to carry that greater shade of speed into corners and not spin out. His ability to smoothly turn and pull away with acceleration is sublime.
The Spaniard is an all-round nice bloke as well. He interacts with the media in a very nice manner, and is always grounded and realistic. He also does not like fame and flash, and prefers a private lifestyle. One interesting thing about him is that his F1 persona and his private self are two very different people. He is very shy and reserved in public, but when he is not racing, he is like the mate who is an absolute blast to be with. Fellow Spaniard Carlos Sainz Jr. said it best, when he claimed, “There are two Fernandos.”
A sporting ambassador
Perhaps the greatest thing about Alonso is his appeal. At a time when F1 was little more than a fringe sport and less popular than rallying or MotoGP, Alonso helped put it on the map. His ability behind the wheel and his racing exploits dropped jaws and turned viewers into fans. Personality Media called him ‘Favourite Male Athlete’ in 2015, and he won a staggering 99% recognition rating among the Spanish voters. He is also one of the most popular drivers on the grid today, and a hero to many fans of the sport.
As Alonso approaches the twilight years of his career, there is no questioning his legacy. He is one of the greatest drivers in the history of F1, and quite deservedly so. Moreover, his driving ability means he will always be welcome back to F1 long after he hangs up his boots. Until then and beyond, let us celebrate him for his achievements and for what he has given to the sport.
Drivers like him are the reason F1 made the jump from what it was to what it is today. He was the torchbearer for a new era in the sport, and should be acknowledged as one of the greatest to sit in an F1 car. Even today, he is honing his craft at Alpine, and his experience and ability will be important assets to the constructor.
Alonso is a once-in-a-lifetime athlete and competitor, and his greatness is of the highest order. Whether it is in F1, Le Mans or any other form of racing, speed is in his DNA.
The best thing about him is that it isn’t just raw speed, but finely tuned, finessed and utterly flamboyant speed that runs in his veins. A driver of such class is quite simply a treasure. We are all lucky to have seen him race his heart out on the track.
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