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Fernando Alonso

De La Rosa recalls moment he knew Alonso was a 'special' driver

After Fernando Alonso achieved a significant milestone of 100 podiums, RacingNews365.com speaks with some F1 pros who have got up close and personal with the two-time champion over the years.

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In the first part of this interview series, we spoke with Giancarlo Minardi, owner of the Minardi team, for which Fernando Alonso made his F1 debut in 2001.

When Fernando Alonso made his Formula 1 debut with backmarker team Minardi in 2001, he was up against fellow Spaniard Pedro de la Rosa on track who was competing with Jaguar.

At 52 years-old, De la Rosa is very familiar and beloved face in the F1 paddock. He began his career in 1999 with Arrows, after a year as a test driver with Jordan in 1998, then joined Jaguar in 2001.

While at Jaguar, De la Rosa crossed career paths with Alonso in 2002 when they both took part in a test for the team.

20 years later at the post-season test in Abu Dhabi, the pair were once again reunited in a team sporting a green livery.

Latterly he joined McLaren (2003 - 2009) as a test and reserve driver. During that period he was Alonso's teammate for one year (2007) and drove a total of nine races for the top team.

He took his one and only podium in F1 in 2006 at the Hungarian Grand Prix, standing in for Juan Pablo Montoya who left F1 to pursue a career in NASCAR.

Following brief periods at Sauber (2010 - 2011) and HRT (2012), he spent his final years as an F1 test driver at Ferrari. In that 15-year period he reached a total number of 104 Grands Prix starts.

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	© xpb.cc

De la Rosa: That's when I knew he was special

RacingNews365.com spoke to De la Rosa in Saudi Arabia after Alonso became one of few drivers to achieve a centennial of podiums.

The Spaniard recalled the moment he realised his compatriot was an outlier amongst the pack.

"When I really felt that he was special was when I was racing a Jaguar and in 2001, I had a problem in qualifying and I had to start from the back.

"He [Alonso] was driving that Minardi and I remember getting onto his tail and looking at how the car was behaving in the corners, and how he was driving on the knife edge.

"I realised thinking 'Wow, this guy is super good!' I mean, the car was super slow as well. But I could tell that the driver was doing something special.

"He was rotating the car on the entry of the corners in a very special manner. So then I overtook him and I looked and it was Fernando's helmet. Then I realized 'Wow, this guy!' So he's as good as everyone is saying."

Alonso the fighter

When asked if he could describe Alonso as a 'racer' De la Rosa characterises the two-time champion as a 'fighter' who will never give up.

"He's a fighter, he enjoys having the pressure to deliver, he loves racing. And no matter where or what he drives, he always give it gives it 100%. His motivation will never decrease," said the Spaniard.

When asked what was Alonso's best race, without hesitation De la Rosa points towards the 2012 European Grand Prix in Valencia.

"Fernando started eleventh and won the race by overtaking people in places that have never been seen before," recalls De la Rosa.

"That's typical Fernando. Any other driver would have settled for a podium or one point, but he went for the full monty."

But even with 100 podiums under his belt, why does Alonso only have two World Championships to his name?

"The last 10 years he's been driving cars that are not competitive. That's the reality," he replies.

"But his motivation is kept high with driving those cars, and this is what is different from any other driver."

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	© XPBimages

A pure racer

In 2017 Alonso entered the Indy 500 with McLaren, becoming the first driver to do so with the outfit in 38 years. Following his brief departure from F1 in 2018, he went on to compete in the Le Mans - taking the outright win on two occasions - and the Dakar rally with Toyota.

This is what defines Alonso according to De la Rosa; as long as he can, he will continue to race, whether in F1 or some other discipline.

"He loves car racing. It doesn't really matter if it's F1, WEC, Dakar or whatever," he said.

"Every year we enter a 24-hour kart race together. We look at the regulations and we always say 'Ok what is the minimum time a driver has to do?' Let's say its four hours. All of the team will do four hours and he will do eight - the maximum available!

Will there ever be a point in time when Alonso stops racing?

"I can't imagine him ever stopping racing," says De la Rosa.

"As long as he is competitive, or he feels competitive, then he will race."

"I don't feel that he's peaking or he's going down. And I am of the opinion that if he is not driving in F1, he will be driving something else."

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