In 2018, after 17 seasons of dedicating his life to Formula 1, Fernando Alonso had enough.
With two world titles and 32 Grand Prix victories, he walked away, albeit unfulfilled. It had been 12 years since he was crowned champion and five since he had won a race.
“When I finished, it was on a low, and I didn’t want that because my performance, my competitiveness, was as high as ever back then, but people didn’t see it,” Alonso of Aston Martin said in an interview. “Now, I’m proving I’m still fast, at whatever age — that’s part of the comeback story. Winning the 33rd Grand Prix or fighting for a championship would add even more drama to the story.”
After all, he was away from the sport for two years, 2019 and 2020, but during that time he continued to race and rediscovered the joy of winning. He became World Endurance Champion with Toyota, took the checkered flag in the 24 Hours of Daytona, and he won one of the most prestigious races in the world, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Twice.
Despite his strong start this season, it has been 10 years since Alonso, 41, last won a Grand Prix. Max Verstappen of Red Bull, the reigning two-time champion who leads this year’s title race, would like to see Alonso win again.
“I think Fernando should have won a lot more races than he has done,” Verstappen said. “I think he deserves a lot more. So I would be quite happy to see him win number 33. But in a way, I would also like to see him win more, so we’ll see in the coming races.”
Alonso returned to Formula 1 in 2021 with Alpine with moderate success, but midway through last year, his star rose after Sebastian Vettel of Aston Martin, a four-time champion, announced he was retiring. Alonso, an old friend of Lawrence Stroll, the team owner, quickly agreed to a deal.
“I received a phone call from Lawrence asking if I was already committed to Alpine,” Alonso said. “I said not yet. My conversations with Alpine were quite advanced, but I didn’t have anything on paper.
“He said if I send you something on paper today, you will consider it. He sent it, I was happy, and as I had nothing from the other side, it was an easy decision. Everything was quicker thanks to that relationship over the years.”
In an interview, Stroll said he was determined to get Alonso for several reasons. “He is clearly one of the greatest drivers to ever be in Formula 1, and his motivation has never been higher.
“When I spoke to him, he said, ‘Listen, I can bring something to this team in my last few years I’m going to drive and hopefully have some sort of role within Aston Martin for many years to come after when I stop driving.’ When he said that, I did not need a lot of convincing.”
The agreement was built on a friendship forged when Alonso first met Stroll and his then 12-year-old son, Lance, at a go-karting event in Canada in 2011.
Lance Stroll was a member of the Ferrari Driver Academy and Alonso was in his second season of five with the team. Now they are teammates at Aston Martin.
“I wouldn’t say we had a relationship back when I was 12,” the younger Stroll said. “I was just a fanboy. But yeah, there’s a great dynamic in the team at the moment. I definitely enjoy working alongside him. He’s incredibly talented, knowledgeable, experienced and hungry to get the most out of himself every day.”
Alonso said he remembered first meeting his teammate, saying it’s “fun to look back on now. I also remember in my last year with Ferrari in 2014, I stayed at Lawrence’s house in north Canada, after the race in Montreal. I was there training for a week.
“I’ve also visited Lawrence in Monaco on his yacht in the past, and we have had dinner, so we have this kind of relationship, and we have always been in contact.”
Alonso said it made it easy for him and Stroll to turn their friendship into “a professional partnership.”
Stroll purchased the team in 2018 when it was known as Force India, rebranding it as Racing Point. Two and a half years later, he bought a major stake in the Aston Martin car company, allowing him to return the brand to Formula 1 in 2021 after a 61-year absence.
That year, he said he expected the team to challenge for the world title in five years, helped by the construction of a new factory and wind tunnel at a cost of “over $250 million,” he said. Staff has increased from “350 people to about 780 today.”
Moving into the factory is imminent. The wind tunnel, which will allow the team to aerodynamically test a scale model of a Formula 1 car, will open next spring.
With Alonso’s performance, the results are ahead of forecast with the team in second place for the constructors’ title.
“When we signed that agreement last year in early August, Fernando didn’t know the car was going to be as quick as this,” Lawrence Stroll said. “But he did know about all the passion I’ve put in, the great people I’ve hired, the great facilities I was building, and he wanted to be a part of it. He believed.”
Alonso has been surprised by how quickly he has achieved results. “I trusted the project and felt it was a nice adventure for me at the end of my career, to start with a team that has so much enthusiasm and good prospects,” he said.
“But I thought it would take time to reach a certain level,” he added, “that maybe in 2024 we can fight for podiums. I was not expecting the car would deliver the kind of performance we have now.”
A second retirement and a role with Aston Martin beyond that are far from his thoughts. Alonso is having too much fun again. “I’m aware of my age,” he said. “I know I will not be here for the next 10 years, or whatever, so maybe when I stop racing, I will be linked to the team somehow.”
He is hopeful that when that day comes again, his wait for win number 33 will be over.
“Winning a championship would be a perfect thing,” Alonso said. “If I win another championship all these years since my previous one, that would be unprecedented, that kind of distance between two championships. That is my goal at the moment.
“Or the legacy that I want to leave in this sport, of someone who loves it so much that I kept racing for many years, keeping the level as high as possible. That would prove a point, something that was a part of my comeback.”
The team owner is unsurprised that although Alonso is in his 40s, his desire and fitness are strong.
“These guys are gladiators,” Stroll said. “The conditioning he has kept himself in physically and mentally and his motivation levels are higher than ever. He’s absolutely determined to win. The guy is just a big motivation ball. He’s picking everybody up, saying ‘Come on, we’re going to win.’”
Another win, another title are motivations, but he has another desire. “I want to have a family,” said Alonso, who is divorced and has no children. “This is my biggest dream in life. I’ve still not succeeded in that because of my way of living. That’s something that when I stop racing, where I will find my happiness.”