Fernando Alonso: Aston Martin driver on ‘the dark side’, Max Verstappen and Alpine
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.”
In the most recent episode of Netflix’s Drive To Survive, which is widely credited with transforming Formula 1’s popularity in recent years, Alonso made a comment that prompted his statement.
As a two-time world champion and one of F1’s most celebrated and fascinating figures, Alonso is “on the dark side” of the character board.
He is explaining what he meant, and how he feels about the way he is viewed, to me in his Aston Martin team’s HQ at the Belgian Grand Prix.
He says, “I feel fine.”. This doesn’t bother him.
People still want you and are still interested in how many years you have left on your contract, since they may be interested in hiring you in the future.
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
In his comments to Netflix, Alonso touched on a theme he has sometimes explored in the past few years – that he is treated differently as an outsider in a fundamentally British society. He is often portrayed as the villain, partly because they are true, but also because they are true.
“This has always been the way it is,” he says. We are just a small country from the south of Europe, and we just take everything that is not right and let it slide. I am maybe Spanish and Latin. I didn’t have much support or we don’t have the media train to take everything out. We are just a small country from the south of Europe and we just take everything that is not right and we are okay.”
Perhaps he does mind, or at least did once. Perhaps he doesn’t think it’s okay. There is a possibility that he has just learned to live with it.
A number of controversies have surrounded him over the years, without a doubt.
In 2007, he was penalized for blocking McLaren teammate Lewis Hamilton in the pit lane, and fell out with his team bosses after asking for his favor.
Others have also occurred. For example, he shouted “GP2 engine” over the radio at the 2015 Japanese Grand Prix due to frustration with the performance and reliability of McLaren’s Honda engine. An honor and face-oriented company’s home race may not be the best choice.
The truth is, there are always two sides to every story. It was Hamilton who pulled a fast one on Alonso in Hungary.
The GP2 engine remark came towards the end of a season in which Honda’s F1 fallibilities had made the company look like a laughingstock. As the adrenaline heightened in a race situation, his patience finally snapped after making several positive comments.
There is no reason for Alonso to be tarred with the same brush as other drivers who make negative comments about their competitors, do questionable things, and sound off on the radio.
Considering all this, he could be forgiven for not being able to grasp why his return to the front with Aston Martin this year has been so acclaimed.
Are you misunderstood by him?
In some episodes, things have been discussed and published that could lead to misunderstandings, he says. It was the same thing in 2007, the Hungary thing. No one heard my version, or the truth, or the facts.”
What is that?
He says he never holds anyone, referring to preventing Hamilton from doing a final qualifying lap. As it was qualifying, I was given old tyres.
In the radio transcript and in the decision from the stewards, it says that I was penalized for an article that didn’t exist. They put the penalty but clarified it wasn’t 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.
The version of events narrated by Alonso is not widely accepted.
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.
Does the radio transcript exist? It’s probably somewhere, but McLaren people’s memories of the incident are only about the countdown, the team urging him to leave, and the radio silence.
Is McLaren protesting him? He wasn’t officially reported to the FIA, but several senior team members certainly complained. While Alonso was penalized for his actions – a matter in which many believed the stewards should not have intervened – Hamilton did not receive any punishment for his actions.
In a series of articles I published five years ago about Alonso’s career, I spoke to a number of people involved in key episodes.
Inevitably, one thing became clear. There could be no definitive truth – everyone’s memory was different. Perhaps the best way to think about Alonso’s statements is that they are his truths.
That’s as good a way as any to understand Alonso. Despite his passion, he does not compromise on his truth. He often cannot resist the temptation to express it. Moreover, he has a rare talent for expressing his opinions in a powerful and vivid manner in a few words.
Modern life depends on headlines, and Alonso’s words and actions often provide them – sometimes consciously, sometimes unintentionally. Because he is such a high-profile name, they resonate.
“I think you will get some of these episodes when you are 20 years old in any sport.” he says.
“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.
“I think I’ve found myself in these situations sometimes.”