"He was the computer. I would have a dinner with him, if the car wasn't handling well on the Friday, and would explain to him what it was doing at different parts of the track. He would go back to the garage, and call the mechanics. And by Saturday morning the car would be fantastic. Only Colin Chapman could do that. Of all the engineers I worked with, all the team managers, Colin was a genius who had the intuition to do it."
The speaker is Emerson Fittipaldi, for 32 years the youngest Formula One champion the world has ever seen. On Sunday he finally surrendered that accolade to a young Spaniard from Oviedo who, at 24 years and two months is a year and eight months younger than the famous Brazilian was when he won his first of two titles in 1972.
Back then Fittipaldi relied as much on Chapman, the genius design engineer, as newly crowned Fernando Alonso now does on men such as Renault engineers Bob Bell, Tim Densham and Pat Symonds. The Brazilian and the Spaniard have that in common, as well as their youth at the time of their greatest success and the fact that they blazed a trail for their fellow countrymen. And just as Fittipaldi was a charismatic breath of fresh air for Formula One, so Alonso will make a great champion. He has just ushered in the new era which has seen Michael Schumacher finally eclipsed after five years on top.
Symonds, who has worked with both Schumacher and Alonso, is full of praise for the Spaniard. "He is really excellent. I have worked with many champions before and he has many of the same characteristics. I think the thing that is surprising and what is a real compliment to him is that one forgets his age, because the maturity he shows is well beyond it. It is like dealing with a guy who has a destiny.
"He knows that destiny and is totally comfortable with it. He is a very intelligent guy, he is particularly good at reading a race, looking after equipment, in the same way that Michael is. He knows when to go fast and when to reel it back a bit. He has a very good understanding of the tactics and what needs to be done in a race. And he enjoys it. I think that is always refreshing."
Symonds worked at Renault when it was called Benetton in the Nineties, first with triple champion Nelson Piquet then with Michael Schumacher who won titles in 1994 and 1995 with the team. While clearly anxious to avoid direct comparison between Piquet, Schumacher and Alonso he added: "When you look at these people, a year in Formula One is along time and 10 years is an eternity. It's sometimes a little difficult to draw comparisons in every area and what we require of a driver technically these days is slightly different to what we wanted 10 years ago and very different to what we wanted 20 years ago.
"So I think you have to look a little bit outside the technical aspect and look at the human aspect of these people.
"I think champion drivers are just like champions in any sport. They have this incredible self-esteem, self confidence and this ability to set themselves targets. They are realistic but difficult to achieve targets but they achieve them time and time again and that is what I see with Fernando."
Symonds might have been describing Fittipaldi, who also shares with Alonso a genuine respect for his competition. "It was fantastic for me and for him, the competition," Alonso said of rival Kimi Raikkonen. "I think, thanks to Kimi, this world title is much better for me because Michael had some problems with the Ferrari this year and to beat the McLarens and especially Kimi this year was extremely difficult. "
"He definitely deserves it," Raikkonen said. "Whoever has the most points at the end of the season or before the end of the season deserves it and I don't have anything bad to say about it. For him and for Renault it was a good year."
One crown prince is now a king, and the future of Formula One is all the better for it.Reuse content