In 2018, after 17 seasons of dedicating his life to Formula 1, Fernando Alonso had had enough.

With two world titles and 32 Big prize victory, he went away, even if unfulfilled. It had been 12 years since he had become champion and five years since he had won a race.

“When I finished it was at a low level and I didn’t want that because my performance, my competitiveness was as high as it was then, but people didn’t see it,” Aston Martin’s Alonso said in an interview. . “Now I’m proving I’m still fast, regardless of age – that’s part of the comeback story. A win in the 33rd Grand Prix or a fight for the championship would add even more drama to the story.”

After all, he was away from the sport for two years, 2019 and 2020, but during that time he continued to race and rediscovered the joy of winning. He became the world champion in endurance with Toyota he took the checkered flag at the 24 Hours of Daytona and won one of the most prestigious races in the world, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Twice.

Despite his strong start this season, it has been 10 years since Alonso, 41, last won a Grand Prix. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, the reigning two-time champion who leads this year’s title race, would like to see Alonso win again.

“I think Fernando should have won a lot more races than he did,” Verstappen said. “I think they deserve a lot more. So I’d be pretty happy to see him win number 33. But in a way, I’d also like to see him win more, so we’ll see in the next races.”

Alonso returned to Formula 1 in 2021 with Alpine with moderate success, but his star rose midway through last year after Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel, the four-time champion, announced his retirement. Alonso, an old friend Lawrence Stroll, team owner, he quickly agreed to the deal.

“I got a phone call from Lawrence asking if I had already committed to Alpine,” Alonso said. “I said not yet. My conversations with Alpine were pretty advanced, but I had nothing on paper.

“He said if I send you something on paper today, you will consider it. He sent it, I was happy, and since I had nothing from the other side, it was an easy decision. This relationship has made everything faster over the years.”

In an interview, Stroll said he was determined to sign Alonso for several reasons. “He is clearly one of the best drivers ever to be in Formula 1 and his motivation has never been higher.”

“When I spoke to him, he said: ‘Look, I can bring something to this team in the last few years that I’m driving and hopefully I’ll have some role at Aston Martin for many years to come after I stop. driving.” When he said that, I didn’t need much convincing.”

The deal was built on a friendship formed when Alonso first met Stroll and his then 12-year-old son Lance at a karting event in Canada in 2011.

Lance Stroll he was a member of the Ferrari Driver Academy and Alonso was in his second season out of five with the team. They are now teammates in Aston Martin.

“I wouldn’t say we had a relationship when I was 12,” the younger Stroll said. “I was just a fan. But yeah, there’s a great dynamic in the team right now. I definitely enjoy working alongside him. He is incredibly talented, knowledgeable, experienced and hungry to get the most out of himself every day.”

Alonso said he remembers meeting his team-mate for the first time and said it was “fun to look back on it now. I also remember in my last year with Ferrari in 2014 I stayed at Lawrence’s house in northern Canada after the Montreal race. I was there for a week training.

“I’ve also visited Lawrence in Monaco on his yacht in the past and we’ve had dinner so we have that relationship and we’ve always been in touch.”

Alonso said it made it easier for him and Stroll to turn their friendship into a “professional partnership”.

Stroll bought the team in 2018 when it was known as Force India and renamed it Racing Point. Two and a half years later, he bought a majority stake in Aston Martin, allowing him to return the brand to Formula 1 in 2021 after a 61-year absence.

That year, he said he expected the team to challenge for the world title in five years, helped by the construction of a new factory and wind tunnel at a cost of “over $250 million,” he said. The number of employees increased from “350 people to about 780 today”.

The move to the factory is approaching. The wind tunnel, which will allow the team to aerodynamically test a scale model of the Formula 1 car, will open next spring.

With Alonso’s performance, the results are ahead of forecast with the team in second place for the constructors’ title.

“When we signed this deal at the beginning of August last year, Fernando didn’t know the car was going to be as fast as this,” said Lawrence Stroll. “But he knew all the passion I put into it, the great people I hired, the great facilities I built, and he wanted to be a part of it. He believed.”

Alonso was surprised by how quickly he achieved results. “I trusted the project and felt it was a nice adventure for me at the end of my career to start with a team that has so much enthusiasm and good prospects,” he said.

“But I thought it would take some time to get to a certain level,” he added, “that maybe in 2024 we could fight for podiums.” I didn’t expect the car to perform as well as we have now.”

A second retirement and further roles with Aston Martin are far from his imagination. Alonso is having too much fun again. “I’m aware of my age,” he said. “I know I’m not going to be here for the next 10 years or whatever, so maybe when I stop racing I’ll be connected to the team somehow.”

He hopes that when that day comes again, his wait for win number 33 will be over.

“Winning the championship would be the perfect thing,” Alonso said. “If I won another championship all those years after the last one, it would be an unprecedented distance between two championships. That’s my goal at the moment.

“Or the legacy I want to leave in this sport, someone who loves it so much that I’ve raced for many years and kept the level as high as possible. That would prove the point, something that was part of my comeback.”

The team owner is not surprised that although Alonso is 40 years old, his desire and fitness are strong.

“These guys are gladiators,” Stroll said. “The condition he has been in physically and mentally and his motivation level is higher than ever. He is absolutely determined to win. The guy is just a big ball of motivation. He picks everyone up and says ‘Come on, we’re going to win’.”

Another win, another title is motivation, but he has a different desire. “I want to have a family,” said Alonso, who is divorced with no children. “This is my biggest dream in life. I still fail because of my lifestyle. That is something that when I stop racing, where I will find my happiness.’

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