Alonso silences F1 sceptics: who dares to question his motivation now?


Life is sweet for Fernando Alonso, sitting third in the F1 World Championship and silencing his most recent doubter — the boss of a crisis-hit Alpine team. Question his motivation and he'll be hell-bent on proving how wrong they were over and over again, writes Mark Hughes

Fernando Alonso with a side glance while wearing Aston Martin F1 race suit

Alonso could well be around for Honda' Aston link-up

Mario Renzi/F1 via Getty Images)

As Fernando Alonso climbed out of his Aston Martin in Miami on Saturday after qualifying it on the front row, just as he’d done in Jeddah, he was asked what it was that was gelling so well between him and his new team. “I think I’ve been always motivated,” he said, “always working hard. I probably didn’t always have the team believing in my performance – my ability to set up the car as well and to move forward. I didn’t change anything but Aston Martin changed everything for me.”

It was such a classic Alonso response, ticking several boxes at once: dissing those (Alpine boss Laurent Rossi) who had not believed in him and making the point that he’d always been performing at this level. Pride and off-the-scale competitive desire.

One thing you need to understand about the psyche of Fernando Alonso is that he is intensely proud of his extraordinary ability. If he senses any lack of appreciation for that, he becomes deeply resentful towards that person and will be hell-bent on proving how wrong they were over and over again. Rossi probably thought he had the upper hand in negotiations last year as they discussed renewing his contract; there were only three teams more competitive and there were no openings for Alonso at any of them. So as Alonso pressed for a three-year deal Rossi baulked. One year plus options, he countered.

Fernando Alonso smiles wearing an Alpine cap in 2022

Alonso outmanoeuvred Alpine when Laurent Rossi expressed concerns about his age

Clive Mason/F1 via Getty Images

When asked about the apparently stalled negotiations Rossi mentioned Alonso’s age and how three years was a long time for a driver already in his 40s. Bad mistake. A bad error of judgement in understanding Alonso’s level and how it was not going to simply switch off once past a certain threshold; a bad misunderstanding of how drivers can be quick well into their 40s so long as the motivation is there; a bad understanding of the extraordinary depth of Alonso’s competitive will even after all these years; a bad understanding of the need for revenge that would be triggered by the perceived disrespect of suggesting Alonso might soon be past it. But worst of all, a bad misjudgement of the driver market.

There very much was a possible alternative. Sebastian Vettel was already openly questioning whether he was going to continue with Aston Martin or retire. Sure, Aston was not as competitive as Alpine last year. But Alonso and Lawrence Stroll go all the way back to Alonso’s Ferrari years when Fernando was helpful in advising a teenage Lance, then in the Ferrari driver academy. It was inconceivable that Alonso and Lawrence would not have at least discussed the possibility of him replacing Vettel. They had. Plus, he had listened very carefully to Lawrence’s plans, the investment, the recruitment of talent from Red Bull and Mercedes. It just sounded so much more dynamic than anything which was happening at Alpine. Vettel announced his retirement on the weekend of the Hungarian Grand Prix. On the Monday after the race Aston announced Alonso would be joining…  Rossi and Alpine were left floundering, triggering the further mess the following day with Oscar Piastri’s non-contract and his departure to McLaren. This is what happens when you under-estimate Alonso.

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His original falling out with Ron Dennis at McLaren in 2007 came during the Monaco weekend as a result of Dennis saying to the media to go easy on Lewis Hamilton after his defeat by Alonso in the race because Ron had needed to ‘control’ Hamilton in the interests of the team. What Ron was referring to was him calling off any competition between his two drivers as soon as Alonso and Hamilton came out of Ste Devote in first and second places. Hamilton was fuelled longer and might have been able to have undercut past Alonso, but wasn’t allowed to use those extra laps to try. Which obviously hacked Hamilton off enormously. But Dennis’s comments about having controlled Hamilton positively enraged Alonso even more – as he took it to mean Ron had ‘allowed’ him to win a race in which he’d otherwise have been beaten. The disrespect Alonso felt from that comment is what broke down their relationship and led to the catastrophic chain of events later that season, culminating in McLaren being stripped of the constructors’ world championship and being fined $100 million. The after-effects of that are still reverberating today, for both McLaren and Alonso. They each were heavily damaged by it.

Now fast-forward to 2016 when a rib injury from a heavy crash in Melbourne caused Alonso to be declared medically unfit to take part in the next race, Bahrain. He was desperately trying to prove to the FIA in Bahrain that he was physically fine and after presenting himself to the race director and stewards proceeded to drop to the floor and perform multiple press-ups. Impressed though they were with the physical prowess and determination, they were more swayed by the x-rays and he was obliged to stand down. Johnny Herbert, in his role of Sky pundit, had questioned whether Alonso’s motivation and ability were at the level of his vintage years. This triggered that infamous Alonso rage when he feels he is not being fully respected. Spotting Herbert doing a piece to camera in the paddock, Alonso interrupted it to remonstrate with him, signing off with, “That’s why you were never a champion,” which seemed a cruel jibe to someone who may well have been a multiple champion were it not for the devastating feet injuries he received even before making F1. Johnny being Johnny, he took it in his stride, but it was another little tell-tale of the intensity of emotion any perceived lack of respect triggers in Alonso.

Fernando Alonso pushes his McLaren into the pitlane at 2015 Hungarian GP

Alonso pushes his McLaren into the Hungaroring pitlane in 2015

Grand Prix Photo

I interviewed him shortly afterwards and asked him about this outburst. “I felt a little bit a lack of professional respect,” he replied, “but also it was because he questioned my motivation. On the very weekend that I am trying to get the FIA allow me to race with cracked ribs and a pneumothorax! In 2014 with an uncompetitive car I made triple the points of Kimi Raikkonen, in 2015 I was pushing the car in Hungary to the pitlane. So say I’m slow, ugly whatever, but not that I’m not motivated. It makes no sense.”

So life is sweet for Alonso right now. Aston Martin has delivered him a car second only to Red Bull, he’s scored podiums in four of the first five races and is currently third in the world championship on 75 points. That Alpine is floundering on 14 points combined for both drivers probably just makes it sweeter for one of his disposition. If you doubt that he can be bothered to harvest any ill-feeling, you need only to listen to his radio message in practice after he was baulked by former team mate Esteban Ocon. “Yeah, it’s practice,” he said. “This is their big moment of the weekend.”

Actually, it wasn’t. The biggest moment of Alpine’s weekend came as Laurent Rossi gave an interview to French TV station Canal-Plus in which he ripped into the competence of his own team, referencing its disastrous Baku and Bahrain weekends. It would be fair to say no-one in the team knew it was coming and that it didn’t go down well. It’s suddenly a team in crisis. Fernando won two world titles with that team – and it provided him the opportunity to come back after his two-year sabbatical from F1. But they were different times, with different people at the helm. People who respected him.


Alonso celebrates another podium place in Miami

Mark Thompson/Getty Images