When Fernando Alonso made the jump from Alpine to a struggling Aston Martin, it not only blew the driver market open but also threw up questions. Did he know something we did not? It turns out that it would be the move of the season.
Alonso joined Lando Norris with the most podiums scored by a non-Red Bull driver at seven this year, while Aston Martin finished fifth in the Constructors' Championship - and improvement on seventh in 2022.
At the same time that Alonso went to the green team, so did fellow compatriot Pedro de la Rosa. He was appointed ambassador in November 2022, becoming involved in the team's Driver Development Program.
The 52-year-old De la Rosa still drove against Alonso during his F1 days and praises his compatriot's continued professionalism, in an exclusive interview with RacingNews365.
"It's great that Fernando is driving for our team," says the good-humored De la Rosa. "He is a demanding driver and I think he pushes every department. That can be about the technical side, but also about marketing or PR.
"He is always extremely professional and when he focuses on something, he delivers 100 percent. If Fernando tells you he can be somewhere by 7:30 the next morning, he'll be there. Then it doesn't matter if there is something going on with the weather or the traffic - he is there."
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"I only see Fernando's arrival in a positive light."
Alonso has been known for being a demanding customer in F1; it's what has made him the driver that is consistently always there in a title fight during the latter years of the V10 and V8 era.
De La Rose believes this has enabled Aston Martin to reach new heights, as they look to cement themselves as future title contenders.
"I think that also helped all of us to raise our game. I can only see positives from Fernando's arrival. The very first moment he arrived to the team and you can tell he came here to work hard. This is the sense we got from him, is that he's not here on a retirement phase, it's not like that. He's here to win championships and that gave us a very strong energy inside the team."
Although De La Rosa is from Barcelona and not Alonso's native Oviedo, in Spain, the pair have a long time friendship that stretches back to before they shared the track in F1.
"I've known Fernando for a long time. When he was active in karts there was already a lot of talk about him; he was going to be the next world champion and everyone was right about that," says De la Rosa.
"We ended up racing each other in Formula 1, after which we also started working together. Now here we are, although I am functioning from a different role. I'm not involved in the development, the technical side and the testing. Nevertheless, I like how he has developed himself and matured."
De La Rosa has not been in the car since the 2012 season with the back runners Hispania, but his new role in Aston Martin keeps him occupied.
"Working with Fernando, I'm still learning at my age. That keeps me alive. People sometimes wonder why I returned to F1 and if I like my new role. I respond by saying that I enjoy every second because I'm still learning," he explains.
"You learn in F1 when you work with special people and at Aston Martin we have a lot of them. It's not just about Fernando, don't get me wrong. There are a lot of incredible people working there, who I also know from my time. For example, I worked with Andy Stevenson (Aston Martin's Sporting Director) back in 1998."
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De la Rosa saw Aston Martin's potential
Aston Martin were the big surprise at the start of the year, after they managed to turn around their poor fortunes at the end of the 2022 season and produce a car worthy of podium finishes.
Much of F1's aero testing rules enabled that rise to sudden success for a midfield team, but even this rapid improvement surprised De La Rosa.
"Honestly, I was in the right place at the right time. It's also fair to say I wouldn't have joined if I didn't see potential, but still I had some luck. I did know where I was going. When I arrived, the team was already confident after the development we went through in 2022," says De La Rosa.
"For the public, the 2023 start may have been a surprise, but the team understood the car quite well and made a lot of strides a year earlier. During the winter break it was just a matter of continuing the momentum of that development."
With the team's seventh place finish at the end of last season, it enabled them to have 100% of testing time in the wind tunnel and computational fluid dynamics compared to 70% for championship winners Red Bull.
But De La Rosa believes it was a combination of factors that played into Aston Martin's strengths, rather than one specific area of improvement.
"It's small details. Of course aerodynamics play a big role, but I think it is unfair to say that it was only an aerodynamic upgrade. The whole chassis, the suspension, the power steering, all the details were different. Overall, it was a nice step up from the previous car. However, you never take a big step in one area of expertise, you have to focus on all the parts."
De La Rosa is also quick to point to the work done by Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll in the previous season: "I think the feedback from Lance and Sebastian was important and it was continued with the arrival of Fernando.
"But still I think Lance played a very important role because he was the only driver who stayed with the team. He contributed during the winter period and was the consistent link in the process. That also paid off in the simulator."