In 2000, a very young Spaniard named Fernando Alonso joined Giancarlo Minardi's Formula One team. At the time he was only 18 years old, and fresh from winning the the World Series by Nissan (the precursor to the Formula Renault 3.5 Series) in 1999. He became Minardi's test and reserve driver for 2000.
A year later, Alonso made his debut as a full-time driver for the team. He made a good impression during that two-year period and was allowed to become Renault's reserve driver in 2002. In 2003, he would become a full Renault driver and the rest is history. He grew to be the team's hero, becoming World Champion in 2005 and 2006.
In honour of Alonso's 100th podium, RacingNews365 exclusively spoke with
former team owner Minardi, a successful Italian businessman with a passion for motorsports. The motorsport DNA was in the family, and in 1985 Minardi started the
eponymous Formula One team, after several successful years in Formula
2 and many adventures in other racing classes.
In 2001, the team was sold to Australian businessman Paul Stoddart and continued its presence in the sport before it was sold to Red Bull. The energy drink manufacturer would rename the team as Toro Rosso, known today as AlphaTauri.
"My first experience with Fernando Alonso?", laughs the 75-year-old Italian when we ask him about it. "Then he was only eighteen years old! By now he's almost 42! Now we are talking about a man! whereas back then he was just a boy."
"There is little to say about him except that he does a great job. It is unprecedented
that he has always been so motivated throughout his career. He chose
the move to Aston Martin because he believed in the project
and he is showing it right now."
Amazing to see champions fighting
Last weekend Minardi was no doubt sitting at home on the couch full of pride. "If Fernando gets his hundredth podium, I am sure I will get goosebumps," he said jubilantly ahead of the race weekend in Saudi Arabia.
Not only last weekend will Minardi have had goosebumps, even during the first Grand Prix weekend of the year he was already thoroughly enjoying his former driver, who, along with Lewis Hamilton, reminded him of a number of racing heroes from the 1980s.
"Physically, he is still in top form. You wouldn't tell he's almost 42. His overtaking during the Bahrain Grand Prix, on Lewis Hamilton, was amazing. I compare it to Gilles Villeneuve fighting with Rene Arnoux and Ayrton Senna along with Alain Prost. It was great to see how Alonso did that in Bahrain. A duel between two champions with a lot of respect for each other. You saw that in the fight as well."
Minardi: I knew he was going to be big
In the meantime, Minardi has not been Alonso's boss for more than 20 years, but he is still a big fan. He hopes Alonso can show great things this year, after his bold move to Aston Martin. Back in 2000, the Italian knew the young driver would be a great champion.
"Like everyone else, I can't believe that Alonso is still driving at the top in Formula One. When I first saw him in action at a young age, I knew immediately that he was going to be a big one in Formula One," enthused Minardi.
"He now has a good car in his hands again and can indeed go for many podiums this year, it seems now. During the first few weeks it looked good and the team has also got it right."
"Don't forget that that team has already produced good results in its previous guises as Force India and Racing Point, and already finished fourth in the constructors' championship once."
"So there is a good basis for this year. With Stroll also getting good results after his bike accident, it shows that Aston Martin has built a very good car."