"I knew he was going to be fast" – Pedro de la Rosa on the real Fernando Alonso
Rivals. Team-mates. Friends. Pedro de la Rosa and Fernando Alonso's relationship spans decades. The pair have teamed up once again at AMF1 and after Fernando's landmark 100th podium at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Pedro reveals who the real Fernando Alonso is and what sets him apart.
Few know Fernando better than Pedro. Having first met in the early nineties, the pair go back a long way. From early on-track battles and a wet test day at Silverstone with another team in green to teaming up at McLaren, Ferrari and now AMF1, their relationship has grown from rival racers to close confidants.
Almost 20 years to the day he scored his first Formula One podium, Fernando landed his 100th at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix and became only the sixth driver in history to do so. We sat down with AMF1 Team Ambassador Pedro for a fascinating insight into the mind of the two-time World Champion and the newest addition to the '100 F1 podiums club'.
"People don't know who the real Fernando is. They see that he's extremely committed and focused but what they don't see, what they don't realise, is how easy-going he is. He has a huge sense of humour and doesn't take himself too seriously. It's one of his strengths – he doesn't feel pressure.
"When other drivers are nervous about what's to come, Fernando isn't. You'll be with him moments before he's about to race and he'll be smiling, laughing and joking. He's like a kid about to go to the park with his mates to play football – you wouldn't think he's about to drive an F1 car. He stays relaxed and that's partly why, after all these years, he's still able to compete at such a high level.
"He was just a kid, the first time I met him. He was rising through the karting ranks, and I had just won the British Formula Renault Championship, and we were in a press conference in Spain. I'd never heard of him before. I knew he was one of the new generation of drivers who were coming through, but he was so young and shy. He was finding it difficult to express how he felt and talk about his racing and I remember thinking, 'He might be very talented, but he's got a lot to learn.'
"Barcelona, 2001, the Spanish Grand Prix, that's when I realised he was different from other drivers. I was at Jaguar, he was at Minardi. I had a problem in qualifying so started from the back of the grid. Fernando, in a much less competitive car, was a couple of positions ahead and we fought in the opening laps. His car had no grip whatsoever – it was undriveable – but somehow, he was fighting while driving on an absolute knife edge. The way he was balancing the car through the corner I remember thinking, 'Wow, this guy is really good.'
"I knew he was going to be fast straight away when he tested with Jaguar a year later. He was so fast on a drying track – he's always fast on a drying track – that's what stood out that day. He came back to the pits at one point and the tyres were destroyed, they were graining, but he was still massively fast. It even took me a while to match his times – and this was only his first time in the car. His feedback was spot on, too. Everything we had said needed improving about the car, he identified in just a few laps.
"His natural talent is insane. It's coupled with a fierce determination and commitment – an intense focus. But it's his adaptability that sets him apart. Whatever you throw at him, the condition of the tyres, the type of car, the nature of the track, he will quickly be on the limit.
"There are many World Champions who lose their edge when they no longer have a competitive car. Fernando is not like that. He's maintained his level and his motivation. To have achieved as many F1 podiums as he has and to still have that same hunger as when he first started, despite not having a competitive car for so many years, is something I really admire about him.
"It would be a dream come true to see Fernando crowned World Champion again. He deserves it. Anything you do in life, if you give your best, sooner or later you will be rewarded – and Fernando has given his best for decades. When you consider the journey he's been on, everything he's put in and everything he's been through, winning the World Championship again would be a fitting finale to a remarkable F1 career."
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