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How age-defying Alonso is shining again in Formula 1

Equipped with an Aston Martin car capable of challenging for podiums, a rejuvenated Fernando Alonso has become one of the stars of the 2023 season. RacingNews365 spoke to the two-time champion about his racing form at 41 years of age.

World Champion Fernando Alonso might be widely considered to be one of the greatest talents to have graced the sport, but in a career also blighted by championship near-misses and ill-timed career moves, the most experienced driver in Formula 1 appears to have struck gold in what might be his final roll of the dice. After championship success with Renault in 2005 and 2006, Alonso's quarrelsome time at McLaren in the following year resulted in a mostly-unsuccessful return to the French team for 2008 and 2009. A move to Ferrari for 2010 was thought to be the way for him to challenge for a third title, but two failed championship finales and a woefully underperforming first Ferrari effort in the turbo-hybrid era triggered a return to McLaren for 2015, who were about to embark on some of their worst seasons in their history, equipped with Honda power units. McLaren switching to Renault power for 2018 didn't yield the desired improvements and, with competitive seats unavailable, Alonso chose to step away from Formula 1 altogether. Returning to 'Team Enstone' (now Alpine) for 2021-2022 brought only one podium and a partly-combative relationship with teammate Esteban Ocon, but Alonso saw an opportunity at the developing Aston Martin team, and made the call to move for 2023. With many still wondering what he could do with a quick car, even in his forties, Alonso quickly returned to the F1 rostrum, and the 41-year-old spoke about how his time away from the sport provided the springboard for his current success with the Silverstone-based team. "The timeout helped me, maybe not so much in the driving style, but I think on the mentality and in the approach and on the motivation," told a select group of media, including RacingNews365.com . "I think when you are in Formula One for 18 years, it's not that you lose motivation - I always have motivation - but I was tired of travelling, I was tired of the routine and repeating the same things. The two years out of the sport were very refreshing. "I was just charging my batteries and, maybe the driving is similar, but mentally I'm much fresher. I'm happy to work, and happy to come to the circuit early, happy to keep chatting with the engineers, PR staff, event sponsors, all of these things. "I have full batteries now, while in 2018 I was empty, so it did help. And then if I compare my driving, or try comparing myself to 2005 and 2006, I'm much better now. One hundred percent."

New social media approach?

Alonso's refreshed mindset is clear for everyone to see. Not one to shy away from a controversial comment or two, the Spaniard appears a calmer presence in the F1 paddock today. This new relaxed persona is prevalent on his social media channels, which he has used to comedic effect, such as his response to rumours that he was dating Taylor Swift. Alonso, however, is surprised by the verdict, and believes he had always tried to have an "authentic" approach to social media, as opposed to the "professional" methods of other drivers. "I think my social media has been always funny, and has always been a little bit ironic, and things like that," said Alonso. "But it's true that now we are living in a different world which is much more into social media, and younger generations are following Formula 1, so maybe it's more obvious. "But I remember in the Ferrari era, I was also quite active in social media and doing a lot of samurai things and samurai quotes and things like that, but probably back then we didn't have the following that we have now." "I also think the other drivers have a social guide that is doing their social media, so they are very polite, very straight and very professional in everything they do. "I don't have anything like that, so I post whatever I feel like on the day and the comments that I want, so it's more authentic, and people like that."

With Alonso approaching his 42nd birthday in July, many of his accomplishments in 2023 are followed with footnotes about his age and the statistical achievements associated with it. The Aston Martin driver is threatening to become the oldest driver for decades to take accolades such as wins and Pole Positions, and a victory for either himself or Lewis Hamilton would make them the first driver to claim a win with over 300 Grand Prix starts to their name. Alonso remains adamant that age could be an advantage for him, and that his abilities in recent seasons had always been there for people to see in other championship categories. "The age thing is a factor for sure, but it's what people think about when they see other sports," said Alonso. "We are not in the 100 metre race, we are not footballers. We need our strength to drive the car fast, we need the car to perform, the experience and we need the motivation. "At my age I still perform. With age, if anything, I try to think that there is an advantage, because I know more circuits, I know more conditions, I know more things. "Also, in the time that I was not winning, or the time that I was not on the podium, or the time that has passed since my last win and things like that, people started to forget that, three years ago, I was World Champion in the LMP1, in Le Mans, or Daytona or doing Dakar and finishing second in a stage against the best drivers or whatever. "Those kinds of things, for me, they really mean a lot. They really put you out of your comfort zone and push you to the highest level, and people, probably because it's not F1, they didn't look at that, and see that from 2013 that I was not winning anything, and that's not how I feel."

Aston Martin exceeding expectations

The 2023 switch from Alpine to Aston Martin might have been considered a sideways move at best for Alonso, who appeared to be detecting a lack of commitment at the French team. However, the upturn in Aston Martin's form in 2022, along with the addition of key technical personnel and big investment from owner Lawrence Stroll was enough to tempt a move to a team that has so far only taken one win within the last 20 years. Whilst a win is yet to arrive, Alonso is buoyed by the team exceeding expectations in only its third season. "The season has been incredibly good, surprisingly good to be honest, because we thought we would have a good car, but not one that could challenge Mercedes and Ferrari. That was a surprise in a way for us. "I think our car is overperforming compared with what we were expecting, maybe Ferrari and Mercedes are underperforming a little bit in the first races, but they are very strong teams, so they will get eventually better and better, we saw how much Mercedes improved during last season. "At the moment it's happy days for us with the podiums, but we cannot take it for granted and assume that it's going to be like this all season, things can change quickly. "The top teams are bringing upgrades to the car and things like that, so we have to also keep up the development race, because I think whilst we are racing every Sunday on track, we are racing in the factories as well trying to bring new parts."

Alonso: We'll need help for win number 33

With Alonso recently passing the ten-year mark since his last Formula 1 victory, how does he assess his chances of adding to his tally this season? "I hope so, but there are no guarantees. If you see over the last few years, Gasly won in Monza, Ocon won in Hungary, so an opportunity to win a race is always there, and the closer you are to the top, the better your chance is. So yes, why not? We will have an opportunity. "But at the moment. We need some help from the others, and it's going to be because of a mistake for somebody else, not an opportunity to win because we are better." Alonso will be 43 years old when his current contract expires at the end of 2024, but, given the performance of the Aston Martin car, could he be tempted into staying for longer? "I don't know at the moment, I haven't thought about that possibility yet. At the moment I have these two years where I want to see things, where I want to to develop things with the team. Obviously, we are in a better position than what I thought. "I hoped maybe in 2024 to get the opportunity to be on the podium, and I've been there four times in 2023 already, so things are looking better than expected, and maybe that's a temptation to extend the contract into the future. "But maybe there's also a temptation to stop it and finish with a smile on my face, so I don't know. "It's true that in 2026 new regulations are coming, so I don't know if I want to enter into that, so let's take it year by year and see how I feel."

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RESULTS 2024 F1 Spanish Grand Prix - Qualifying