In the first part of this interview series we spoke with Giancarlo Minardi, owner of the former Minardi team, for which Fernando Alonso made his F1 debut in 2001. In part two we spoke with former teammate Pedro de la Rosa.
Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber have known each other since the beginning of this century, when the two were active in the Formula 3000 championship, both participating in the 2000 season. Both drivers impressed in the lower class by finishing third (Webber) and fourth (Alonso) in the championship. A future in Formula One followed for both men.
The first time Webber knew he was racing against a potential world champion was during the Formula 3000 race at Spa-Francorchamps.
In an exclusive interview with RacingNews365, Webber remarked: "I saw him go through Eau Rouge and I thought 'Yeah, okay!'"
"He was very fast and very good in Spa and also very fast in Budapest. He was immediately very competitive. I knew he would be unstoppable later."
Webber and Alonso met early on in F1. Alonso debuted at Minardi in 2001, after just one year of Formula 3000, and switched to the Renault family in 2002. In '03, he raced full-time for the French team where he would capture his two world championships. Webber recalls their crossed paths in F1: "Our careers overlapped to a considerable extent, and we always got along well.
"I was testing at Renault when he was an Minardi driver, and then he went as a test driver [for Renault], and I went to Minardi."
Despite the fact that they became competitors with each other, the bond remained good: "He was insanely fair with me. I think the relationship helped, but we never touched each other, even though we spent, like, 40% of our careers together!"
What makes Alonso so special
Webber explains to us that Alonso is a driver who is able to mix pace with intelligence. The two-time World Champion anticipates his opponent and adapts as he races against someone.
"He always tries to be unpredictable, in the good sense of the word. In a fair way. Also, he tries to manipulate your racing lines and send the dirty air to your car," the former F1 driver continued.
"Fernando is someone who is constantly thinking, 'How can I make it as difficult as possible for you?', whether he is attacking or defending, he is brilliant at this! I was able to learn a lot from him while racing against each other, although sometimes I got it right, sometimes he got it right.
"He was magic at mixing it up, keeping the pace really high and wasn't overly predictable."
During the time the two drivers worked for Minardi, they also occasionally trained together.
"He was just a total animal," Webber remembers. "Although I was never intimidated by it, but I think I was pretty similar. It was never something that the teams had to worry about with us."
Fernando has had some big crashes, but he was never reckless himself
The competitiveness radiated from them, Webber remembers well. In their early careers, the two played a basketball game in Melbourne for fun. It didn't get very fun against Alonso, however.
"I remember playing basketball with him once in Melbourne. Like, two-on-two, and he was getting pissed off that he was getting beat and he wanted to change the rules. He loves winning."
In the end, Webber and Alonso remained active in Formula 1 for many years. Fernando walked the path of Ferrari, while Mark headed toward the Red Bull family. The two stayed in good contact with each other and the fair duelling, as Webber explained, will undoubtedly be down to the bond and respect for one another. The mutual bond also produced some iconic moments, such as Alonso's well-known "lift" with the Red Bull driver at the 2013 Singapore GP (see photo above).
There was a lot of overlap in F1, but Alonso never made a secret of the fact that there were other racing classes he was interested in as well. For example, he recently made a bid to go for the Triple Crown: winning the Formula One race in Monaco, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Indy 500. Only the latter is still missing.
The foray into IndyCar came as no surprise to Webber, although he respects that Alonso dared this kind of adventure despite a couple of big crashes. "I don't want to say IndyCar is reckless, but it is certainly more dangerous than F1, but Fernando is very calculating. He has had some big hits such as in Brazil [2003, Alonso crashed out after colliding with debris from Webber's car in the rain] and in Melbourne [Australia 2016, rolled several times after contact with a Haas car]."
"With such a long career, you're going to have some big ones, but he was never reckless. I wouldn't say he's fearless, he doesn't have that character either, but IndyCar I thought was a bit of a surprise, and Dakar as well.
"He just wants to do anything he can strap himself into behind a wheel, just look at how much karting he still does!"