40 is no barrier for tough F1 warriors Hamilton and Alonso


On an F1 grid obsessed by youth, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso are outliers — but not just in terms of age. "I've never encountered any other driver nearly as competitive," says Matt Bishop. "Both remain supremely capable"

Lewis Hamilton shakes hands with Fernando Alonso ahead of the 2024 F1 season

Alonso was in his fourth full season of F1 when next year's Haas driver, Oliver Bearman, was born

Last week, in London’s Covent Garden, I hosted a media gathering wherein a number of British journalists quizzed ex-Haas team principal Guenther Steiner on the subject of the then-imminent British Grand Prix, which Lewis Hamilton went on to win on Sunday, making many thousands of people very happy, your humble correspondent included. It had been 944 days since Hamilton had last stood atop the central plinth of a Formula 1 grand prix podium, and, as he stood sobbing quietly while God Save the King was being played, almost every F1 fan the world over was feeling pleased for him.

Days earlier, the assembled reporters, columnists, and podcasters had asked Steiner about the three current British F1 drivers — unsurprisingly — and he praised all of them, especially Lando Norris, whom he admitted to rating slightly higher than George Russell. He also spoke interestingly about Hamilton — “I think he’s still got the hunger, he’s got nothing to prove, and he’s an icon of the sport” — and, when asked whether he thought Hamilton’s age might slow him down when he makes his Ferrari debut next year, by which time he will be 40, his answer was also interesting: “Physically, they — Lewis and Fernando [Alonso] — are still super-fit. Just look at them — Lewis in particular. But mentally? I don’t know. We’ve never had drivers this old at the top of F1 before. Well, we did 70 years ago, but it was a different sport then. It wasn’t mentally as tough as it is now. So, yes, I don’t think the issue is physical fitness. But mental fitness? I’m not sure. We’ll have to wait and see.” We did not have to wait long.

Alonso remains one of the greatest drivers of this or any other era

Alonso will turn 43 later this month, and he is therefore almost four years Hamilton’s senior. Steiner is right when he says that in F1’s early years — the 1950s — a few drivers won F1 grands prix in their forties (four actually: Giuseppe Farina, Juan Manuel Fangio, Piero Taruffi, and Maurice Trintignant) and even their fifties (Luigi Fagioli, who won the 1951 French Grand Prix at the ripe old age of 53). Equally, in 1969 40-year-old Graham Hill won the Monaco Grand Prix, in 1970 43-year-old Jack Brabham won the South African Grand Prix, and as late as 1994 41-year-old Nigel Mansell won the Australian Grand Prix. But those were outliers. Besides, even Mansell’s Adelaide victory occurred three decades ago, and in recent years the trend has been in the other direction, towards youth, illustrated most famously by Max Verstappen, who was just 18 when in Barcelona in 2016 he won an F1 grand prix for the first time. So, now, Alonso and Hamilton are also outliers.

Juan Manuel Fangio with Luigi Fagioli

Fangio (left) clinched his fourth and final world championship aged 46. He and Fagioli (right), jointly won the 1951 French GP while the latter was 53

The elder of the two, Alonso, delivered eight F1 grand prix podium finishes for Aston Martin last season, which was eight more than his team-mate, Lance Stroll, who is 18 years his junior. The explanation for that discrepancy is not age, fitness, or even experience, for at 25 Stroll is neither old nor young, he trains very hard, and at Silverstone on Sunday he drove his 155th F1 grand prix, finishing it a creditable seventh. But Alonso remains one of the greatest drivers of this or any other era, and the fact that he has not been seen on F1 grand prix podiums this year is a consequence of the Aston Martin F1 engineers having to some extent lost their way with the design evolution of their AMR24 car. However, I worked with them in 2021 and 2022, and I rate highly their ability to bounce back.

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I have worked with Alonso, too, in 2015, 2016, and 2017. It is a regret of mine that those three seasons, in which he and I developed a chummy rapport at McLaren, were among the Woking team’s most agonising anni horribiles, and in many ways I would have liked to stay on at Aston Martin for one more season, rather than leaving at the end of 2022, so that I could have worked with him there in 2023, during which year he drove with consistent brilliance.

As I say, I very much hope that Aston Martin’s F1 engineers will dig themselves out of the car-development hole that they currently find themselves in, but Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes all run truly excellent F1 engineering operations, and catching them will be difficult for my old friends at ‘Team Silverstone’, not least because the unrelenting precipitousness of the top four teams’ performance-advancement upcurves makes them dauntingly fast-moving targets. Moreover, although Aston Martin lies a respectable fifth in the constructors’ world championship table on 68 points, it is arithmetically much, much closer in terms of points scored to RB in sixth (on 31 points) and even Haas in seventh (on 27 points) than it is to Mercedes in fourth (on 221 points). No wonder Lawrence Stroll has offered a king’s ransom to Adrian Newey. I have no idea whether or not he will accept it; all I do know is that other teams have made him similarly magnificent offers. Media pundits have recently been fond of saying and writing that the F1 driver market currently hinges on where Carlos Sainz ends up going. So it may – but, in terms of impact on the F1 ecosystem, Sainz’s movements pale by comparison to the repercussions wide and deep that would be provoked by a move by Newey to Aston Martin, Ferrari, or McLaren.

Lewis Hamilton raises British GP trophy after winning 2024 F1 race

Hamilton, 39, “exists to win”


I agree with Steiner about Hamilton’s and Alonso’s physical fitness. Both men remain supremely capable when it comes to tackling the task of racing a modern F1 car on the ragged edge for nigh-on two hours, even in Qatar and Singapore, where heat exhaustion has been a factor for some drivers in recent years: the phrase that springs to mind is ‘as fit as a butcher’s dog’. But I disagree with Steiner about Hamilton’s and Alonso’s mental fitness: the phrase that springs to mind here is ‘as tough as old boots’. I have worked with them both at McLaren, for five years with Lewis and for three years with Fernando. I have never encountered any other drivers anywhere near as competitive as either of them. They both exist to win. As far as Lewis is concerned, I think we saw that on Sunday. Wherever Newey ends up, I dearly hope that Hamilton’s Ferrari and Alonso’s Aston Martin will both be fully competitive next year.

Or, since last week Steiner spoke of 1950s F1, let’s put it this way. The first ever British Grand Prix of F1 world championship status was run on May 13, 1950. The winner was Giuseppe Farina, 43; second was Luigi Fagioli, 51; both of them driving Alfa Romeos. Imagine the roar from the Silverstone crowd if, in 12 months’ time, 75 long years after Farina’s and Fagioli’s success in the same place, 43-year-old Fernando Alonso were to win the British Grand Prix for Aston Martin, hounded all the way by 40-year-old Lewis Hamilton in his Ferrari. Or vice versa. Bring it on!