As Formula 1’s most experienced ever driver, Fernando Alonso prepares to embark on the 20th campaign of his F1 career in 2023.
This year, he will race in British Racing Green for the first time with Aston Martin – a team with lofty ambitions for its future and in the middle of building a major, state-of-the-art new team headquarters at its Silverstone base.
At the launch of the team’s new AMR23, Alonso spoke to media including RaceFans about his ambitions for the new season, how Aston Martin compare to previous teams he’s joined and on working alongside the sons or daughters of team personnel he worked with early in his career…
Q: What is the mood like in Aston Martin ahead of the start of the new season?
FA: Obviously it’s a new, fresh approach for many things. New people have joined the team. A lot of talent in the design office, the technical department. Obviously the new factory is nearly ready – only a few months left until the team moves there – a new driver, so everything feels like new energy.
I see people very motivated. A lot of work has been done on this car and finally, we will see today and I can’t wait for Bahrain and everyone is very excited about this project.
Q: How confident are you that the team can take a step forward in performance in the short term?
FA: This team has been always outstanding in terms of delivering results for the possibilities that they had and the facilities that were maybe not of a top team. Right now, this is just the opposite project. We are just witnesses to the growth of the team. They’ve nearly doubled the personnel in the last 24 months.
This is year three of Aston Martin and I think there is a lot of things going on right now with these new people that joined the team and new ideas. On the new factory, new wind tunnel, for sure it will take time – this is more a long term benefit that you will see. But in the short term, you will see also with the new car that there are a lot of things that are already visible on how the team can can grow up quickly. So let’s see.
There are a lot of things right in Formula 1. There are no shortcuts. You need the investment. You need the talent in the factory. This project is very ambitious at the moment and has a lot of things to prove, but a lot of things to go through in the next few years. I know that my time is not unlimited behind the wheel, but I will try to make it as short as possible, this process, and help the team as much as I can.
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Q: What would amount to a ‘good’ season for you this year?
FA: I think we have to have the feet on the ground. We have to understand that there are no miracles in Formula 1 from one year to the next. Only a few months since Abu Dhabi. There is a big gap to recover from the top teams. We definitely have to, if possible, lead that midfield. Get closer to the top three teams.
The most important thing for me this year is just to make sure that this car and this baseline is the one that will develop the future Aston Martin cars. I think last year the package had some difficulties, as we all saw from the outside, and I think the team went through a few things during the season and they improved a lot at the end of the year. So those difficulties, for sure, are very good when you understand them and you can program something from from that car.
I think this is the real first car with this new set of regulations that hopefully Aston Martin can develop in the future. So that will be, for me, the biggest thing this year – that we can develop throughout the season and we can finish 2023 knowing that this is a car and a baseline for future Aston Martin cars.
Q: How is coming to Aston Martin different to other teams that you have joined in the past?
FA: I think now these days, Formula 1 is a little bit different. We don’t have the freedom to develop the car in many different ways. There are a lot of restrictions on the regulations. There is less creativity, so it’s all about details. It’s all about quality on every aspect of the car, hard work.
I think there is some of the background of this team coming from the previous names that this factory had, everyone here is humble. Everyone here is hungry for success. Maybe they didn’t experience fighting for wins regularly or championships or podiums every weekend, but they trust themselves, they have self-confidence and they know that they can achieve that. But they never did yet
So this is a very different compared to any other team that I joined in the last few occasions, where maybe they had success in the past and they were just in a comfortable position. They were just fourth and they were happy with fourth. They were fifth if they were happy with fifth. If we were seventh, there was a celebration. Here, there are no celebrations until we win. And this is very appealing.
Q: In what way is the launch of the team’s new car special to you? Why do you seem happier than you were last year?
FA: Because I’m very demanding on everything that I do. I expect a lot from people that I work with. I give my 100% and I expect the same from the people that I work with. Since the first day in Aston Martin, I felt exactly the same values from the people around me.
Obviously, we have the leadership of Lawrence [Stroll], who I’ve known for many years now. He’s had a lot of success in many different things and many different projects in his life and there is no doubt that Formula 1 will not be different. He will succeed sooner or later. So that’s something that is very motivating.
The new people that joined the team – Dan Fallows, Eric [Blandin] – the best people from each of the competitors, Aston Martin went there and took them and convinced them. So there is something for sure going on in this team that makes things special. As I said before, you need the investment and you need the talent in Formula 1. We have the investment, we have the facilities and we have the talent. So it’s just a matter of time. Unfortunately I am not 20, but I will do my best to help the team.
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Q: Talking of personnel, how many of the key personnel at Aston Martin have you worked with before?
Obviously I know a few people. Every time I join a team, there are always some familiar faces that I worked with in different teams. Now, with time, I’m getting older, so they are younger and younger. So I don’t know many of them or I now work with the son of someone that has been working with me! So that’s quite sad in a way.
My front mechanic, he’s 19, so the other day he was telling me that he went to Silverstone in 2006 or something like that and he was just a baby when he was just attending the grand prix. I think there are few people that, believe it or not, they’ve been working in Ferrari in 2014, in McLaren in 2017, in Alpine last year and are now at Aston Martin. So we changed four of the last teams more or less together in different years, but we seem to meet always.
Q: Do you still have hopes of winning races and even a third world championship with this team?
FA: I do believe that is a possibility. I don’t think this year – I’m honest on that. I have, as I say, my feet on the ground. I cannot say to anyone that we will be fighting for victory this year – I will lie if I say that. But, at the same time, we want to have a good car to start with and to work and develop that car throughout the season. And maybe in the second part of the year, we can get closer – if there is an opportunity, there is changeable conditions, there is something that when the opportunity comes, we will not miss that opportunity.
But in the beginning, I expect some difficult races until we find where the car operates, which setup window we have to work with. The first five races or six races in Alpine, I was struggling a lot to feel the front end, different power steering settings, all these things. This year we have only one day-and-a-half testing in Bahrain, so I’m aware that I will not be 100% in Bahrain, not in Jeddah – maybe not in Australia. So that’s a little bit unfair. I think, as I’ve said in previous winters as well, this is the only sport in the world that you do one day-and-a-half of practice and then you play a world championship. There is no other sport in the world.
Also I think with Lance I have that benchmark in a way. After a few years in the team I know what is 100%, so I can get closer to that in the first moments, and let’s see. I think we have more possibilities to fight for wins and podiums next year if we have a good baseline this year. What we have this year, will not be our normal position is what I believe.
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