Aston Martin driver on ‘the dark side’, Max Verstappen and Alpine
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Fernando Alonso talks about perception and reality, the difference between his public image and how he views himself.

It’s a great show, he says, on and off track. And you have to play a character, you know? Whatever is assigned to you.

In every race, in every debate, in every polemic, there is always a good power and a bad power, good guys and bad guys.

People in general, the media or whatever, put me always on the bad side. Like if I had done something wrong.”

Alonso’s observation was prompted by a remark he made in Netflix’s Drive To Survive – a series widely hailed as the key to Formula 1’s recent popularity surge.

Two-time world champion Alonso says in an episode that, on F1’s character board, he is “on the dark side”.

In the Aston Martin team headquarters at the Belgian Grand Prix, he explains what he meant, and how he feels about how he is perceived.

“I feel fine,” he says. “I don’t mind. I feel good.”.

You need to know how many years are left on your contract because you may get interest in driving in the future if people still want you.”.

Regardless of what’s happening outside, this circus is just a part of who we are.”

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‘No one heard my version,’ I said

As an outsider in a primarily British environment, Alonso is treated differently, which is why his comments to Netflix made an impression. It is also because they are true – he is often painted as a villain.

“This has always been the way it is,” he says. It may be that I am Spanish and Latin. I did not have much support, or we don’t have that media train that can take everything out. We are a small country from the south of Europe and we just take what is not right.”

Perhaps, really, he does mind, or at least he did once. There is a possibility that he doesn’t think it’s OK. There is also a possibility that he has just learned to live with it.

A number of controversies have surrounded him over the years, without a doubt.

During the 2007 Hungarian Grand Prix, he was penalised for blocking McLaren teammate Lewis Hamilton in the pit lane, then fell out with his team bosses for asking for favors.

Others have also occurred. At the Japanese Grand Prix in 2015, he shouted “GP2 engine” over the radio due to his frustrations with McLaren’s Honda engine’s performance and reliability. An honor and face-oriented culture is not conducive to a company competing at their home race.

There is always more to the story than meets the eye. It was Hamilton who pulled a fast one on Alonso in Hungary, which led to Alonso’s actions.

Honda’s fallibilities in F1 had made it close to a laughing stock by the end of the season when it made the GP2 engine remark. In the heightened adrenaline of a race situation, his patience finally snapped after he made plenty of positive comments.

Alonso could argue that other drivers make critical comments about rivals, do questionable things, and sound off on the radio, but are not tarred with the same brush.

His return to the front with Aston Martin this year has received such transparent acclaim, despite all this, that he might not quite comprehend why.

How does he feel about being misunderstood?

In some episodes, things have been discussed and published that could lead to misunderstandings, he says. As you said, 2007 was the Hungary situation. No one heard my version or the truth.

Can you tell me what that is?

As for preventing Hamilton from doing a final qualifying lap, he says, “I never hold anyone.”. “All they did was give me old tires during qualifying.”.

“There is the radio transcript, the stewards’ decision, where it is written that they penalized me for an article that did not exist. They just put the penalty but clarified that it was not for any article.”

When you put all these things together and you don’t see the facts, it is obviously difficult to clarify some misunderstandings. And that was my team that protested against me for the first time in the history of the sport.

I cannot recall Alonso ever discussing the Hungary 2007 controversy publicly. He said a lot that needs to be analyzed, but it is clear that further questions won’t be welcomed.

It would be fair to say that Alonso’s version of events is not the accepted one.

Has McLaren fitted used tyres to his car? It can’t be ruled out, but the TV pictures from the time don’t look like it, and afterwards he set the pole.

Did you get a transcript from the radio? It’s probably somewhere, but McLaren’s memories of the incident only include the countdown to when he should have left, the team urging him to leave, and radio silence.

How did McLaren react to his protest? FIA was notified about his actions but not officially. In other words, Alonso was penalized for a matter in which the stewards should not have intervened, while Hamilton was not penalized for his actions which provoked him.

I wrote a series of articles five years ago, when Alonso was about to retire from F1, trying to establish the true story of key moments in his career.

It soon became apparent that something was very wrong. Having a definitive truth was impossible – everyone’s memory varied. Alonso’s truth may, for now, be the way to think about what he says.

Alonso can be understood in that way as well as any other. With passion and without compromise, he lives his truth. The temptation to put it across often gets the better of him. Moreover, he has an exceptional ability to express his opinion powerfully and vividly in just a few words.

Modern life depends on headlines, and Alonso’s words and actions often provide them – sometimes consciously, sometimes unintentionally. They resonate because he has such a high profile.

I believe you’ll get some of these episodes when you’re 20 years old and competing at a competitive level in any sport.

“With all respect for any other football players, perhaps the right midfielder of one small team gets some episodes and nobody knows anything about him if we go to tennis, or football, or whatever. Ronaldo, Messi, or other big players sometimes get yellow cards or red cards or [say something in] whatever interviews. This is a big deal.

“So sometimes I found myself in those situations.”