Fernando Alonso won't let fractured jaw block F1 comeback — MPH


It'll take more than a cycling injury to stop the irrepressible Fernando Alonso, says Mark Hughes. You won't find a more determined driver on the Formula 1 grid

Fernando Alonso at the 2018 Le Mans 24 Hours

Florent Gooden/DPPI

The injuries incurred by Fernando Alonso in his cycling accident just add to the tenor of uncertainty around the whole Alpine programme created by the recent high level management changes. But there should be no question about Alonso’s commitment to make his comeback season work. Despite the setback. He is probably the most intensely competitive soul out there. This is a guy who spends every waking hour either racing his kart or working on ways of finding an advantage. It’s the guy who was monstrously fast in his ‘demo’ laps of the 2005 Renault in Abu Dhabi in December, who then – having got himself included in the ‘young driver’ test there after the grand prix – lapped the current car faster than it had been qualified by its regulars Daniel Ricciardo or Esteban Ocon. It’s the man who, after injuring his sternum in that horrific end-over-end accident at Melbourne in 2016, was lobbying F1’s medical people that he be allowed in the car in Bahrain two weeks later – by demonstrating his push-up prowess in front of them. When he decides he wants something, the energy he commits to it is bordering on insane.

Recall the 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, where his McLaren took a hit from another car on the opening lap, puncturing his right-rear tyre. With the front right flat-spotting itself into oblivion as a result and then unwrapping itself as he made his way back to the pits, he arrived there on two intact tyres. With the front-right carcass wrapped around the wheelrim, he couldn’t properly steer the car as he arrived in the pitlane and it veered to a glancing blow into the pit wall. He used this hit to help turn the car straight and proceeded up to his box where the tyres were replaced – and he rejoined. The rear floor had a gaping hole in it from the tyre damage, severely compromising its underfloor aerodynamics. He proceeded to drive the car like that to seventh, two places ahead of his team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne and with a fastest race lap a couple of tenths faster.

Fernando Alonso drives his punctured McLaren in the 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku

Baku comeback in 2018 showed the best of Alonso

Dan Istitene/Getty Images

Right there is everything that need be said about both his tenacity and talent. He is fierce; ferocity is his default mindset. This will be expressed just as surely out of the car as in it and what is going to be fascinating about his comeback season is seeing if he can combine that self-motivation with getting the people alongside him to buy into it. Because he’s going to be blunt about any car shortfalls, anything which limits his progress. If anything, with the clock ticking down on the 40-year-old, he’s going to be on even more of a mission than usual.

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If the team buys into his mission, he’s the perfect driver for its challenge in progressing towards the front. His ‘in the bunkers’ mentality can drive it on. The amazing way he has of being able to drive around any car trait, of somehow bullying a tune from even the most uncooperative machine, his uncanny racecraft, the way he has of always putting himself in the right place to pounce or defend will in the meantime tease results beyond the car’s level.

There’s invariably a question around his age and whether his amazing speed is still on tap. But the guy hustling those Renaults – old and new – around in Abu Dhabi a couple of months ago did not look in any way someone having to play themselves back in, tentatively trying to key-in to a dormant skill. He looked like a manically charging hustler, like a young gun just waiting to burst out, to show the world what he was capable of.

It’s going to take more than a nasty blow to the jaw to stop him. He truly is an irresistible force. I’d wager that his cycling accident isn’t going to be the last time he creates big headlines this year.