Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Fernando Alonso eyes statement home victory, a decade on from his last triumph

The 41-year-old two-time F1 world champion, reinvigorated at Aston Martin this season, is desperate to be at the top of the podium again ahead of this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix

Kieran Jackson
Friday 02 June 2023 15:53 BST
Alonso welcomes Honda deal, says Aston Martin 'best team in F1'

How different did 2013 really look in the life of Fernando Alonso? Driving a competitive car, buoyed by thousands of Spanish supporters, the two-time Formula One world champion looked – in eagerness bordering on desperation – to haul in the championship lead of a Red Bull driver out in front.

Sound familiar? A decade on, the tune of the day feels decidedly identical.

Yet plenty has happened in the 10 years in between. Alonso has loved, left and fallen back in love with the sport. Red Bull’s champion of the day back then, Sebastian Vettel, would wrap up the 2013 world title, the last of four crowns. By the end of last year the German, six years younger than Alonso no less, retired and vacated an Aston Martin seat swallowed up by the Spaniard. Now Red Bull’s de facto No 1 is Max Verstappen, who incredibly 10 years ago at 15 years of age was just 18 months away from his F1 debut.

Back then, Alonso divebombed his way from fifth on the grid to first at the chequered flag. His second win in Barcelona; his first with Ferrari. The gap to Vettel was closed. But there would be no third title; in fact, from that point on there would be no grand prix wins at all. It remains 32 and counting.

Not long after, Alonso departed Ferrari short of the third world championship he should have claimed. A series of near-misses with the Scuderia were followed by ignominy and embarrassment at his second coming with McLaren, amid engine issues in partnership with Honda. The scale of the downwards spiral, coupled with fruitless fighting at the back of the pack, saw Alonso call it a day himself at the end of 2018.

Two years out was enough of a break, though. Not even impressive showings in IndyCar and Le Mans competed with the adrenaline-fuelled mayhem of F1. Returning with Alpine – the Renault team where he made his name and won his titles in 2005 and 2006 – Alonso was back in the midfield fight. A first podium in seven years was landed in Qatar in 2021. But as Alpine hesitated on a two-year deal last summer, Aston big boss Lawrence Stroll saw an opportunity to replace one multiple world champion with another.

For both parties, and in contrast to so many of Alonso’s team changes in the past, it has proved a fruitful move. The Spaniard is third in the championship and has been on the podium in five of six races. Aston have given Alonso joy at long last. His ecstasy is regularly heard on team radio, with advice to teammate Lance Stroll not uncommon either. Simply, Alonso has a new lease of life, in what are his swansong years.

Which brings us to this weekend and the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. A crowd of 275,000 is expected over the weekend, the majority likely to be sporting the racing green of Aston. A storybook victor is not out of the question, after a missed opportunity last week in Monaco, but Alonso downplayed suggestions his team are in the running.

“I don’t think realistically we can fight for the victory, let’s be clear,” he said. “Red Bull have been very dominant all season long and I don’t see any reason why, in Barcelona, they should not aim for a one-two. But let’s see what we can do.

“Going into [any] race [in my career], I was fighting for whatever position with the mentality of getting that – the maximum from the cars.

Fernando Alonso is eyeing a 33rd F1 victory at the Spanish Grand Prix this weekend (Getty)

“Sometimes it’s P7, sometimes it’s a podium possibility. I know that in Formula One it has been a few years already, since Ferrari times, but in endurance I was going into every race winning the race and the world championship so it’s not that long ago.”

It is a big weekend, too, for Mercedes. While the Silver Arrows brought in their highly anticipated upgrade package in Monaco last week, this traditional testing track will bring a true assessment of its powers. Lewis Hamilton and George Russell wait, after a season and a bit of turmoil, with bated breath.

Of course, there is no doubting the clear frontrunners. Verstappen was brilliant in Monaco; his last-ditch pole lap setting in motion a win come Sunday. The Dutchman is 39 points clear of teammate Sergio Perez in the championship and Red Bull will be eyeing another one-two here, matching last year’s result. Their straight-line speed, too, gives them a huge advantage, particularly in light of organisers ditching the unpopular final chicane, meaning cars will hit the main straight at greater pace.

But Alonso is in with a shout. Aston have, beyond Mercedes and Ferrari, looked like the team capable of bringing the fight to Red Bull. And there is no doubt their protagonist will be desperate to land that long-awaited victory in his homeland. Como 33 has been the phrase of the year, with even national sporting icons like Carlos Alcaraz pitching their support.

Alonso claiming No 33, in Spain, would give F1 its moment of the season so far.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in