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UNDERCUT | Fernando Alonso: "I have sacrificed a lot for F1, but I have no regrets"

As the dust settles on Fernando's 20th Formula One season and first with Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant F1 Team, the Spaniard takes off his armour and opens up about the sacrifices he's made, the secret to longevity in the sport and why 2023 was one of his best seasons.

Aston Martin F1

Fernando Alonso does exactly what you expect Fernando Alonso to do... but more of it. You know he's going to bring experience; you know he's going to drive hard; you know he's going to push the team forward; but back at the beginning of 2023, perhaps few in the team realised just how much experience Fernando would bring, how hard he would drive and how much he would demand of the team in return.

The enormous hype surrounding Fernando's arrival and the level of expectation, if anything, low-balled the Fernando effect. For those at Silverstone who hadn't worked with him before, 2023 was nothing short of a revelation.

With fourth place in the Drivers' Championship secured and eight podiums in the bank, we caught up with Fernando to find out what he thinks of his first year in green.

Raw. Unfiltered. Intimate. A disarmingly honest Fernando reflects on 2023 and more in our latest UNDERCUT interview...

So, Fernando, what do you make of 2023?

It was an incredible season. And, probably 12 months ago, 10 months ago even, when we launched the car, we were not expecting to be in this position. It has been an incredible journey.

From a driver's point of view, it’s been a pleasure to see the determination and the focus in the performance that we witnessed this year from Aston Martin.

The AMR23 was fast straight away but it is a very demanding sport, very competitive, so we had to keep developing the car and keep focusing on the performance. It was a very intense season.

Fernando enjoying more than ever
I feel like I'm enjoying it maybe more than ever, and I go to the races with a different spirit.
Fernando Alonso

When the AMR23 hit the track in Bahrain, many people were surprised by its level of competitiveness. Were you?

Yes! There were moments during the pre-season test when I thought it was too good to be true. And then we had the first race, we were as competitive as the test suggested, and we finished on the podium.

I had that feeling inside that there was an opportunity for me and the team to do something big together. The project felt like it was coming alive. It was magic.

You've made some career moves in the past that haven't always yielded the success you would have hoped or expected. Were you relieved?

I was super happy. I felt very lucky with the decision. In Formula One, you never have a crystal ball to anticipate what is going to happen the following year – but when you make the decision, change teams, and then suddenly you're fighting for podiums, this is one of the best feelings.

Are you happier now than at any other point in your career? At times this season, it did feel like you were enjoying it a little more than in the past...

I feel like I'm enjoying it maybe more than ever, and I go to the races with a different spirit. A lot of that is to do with the team. It's very young, very enthusiastic, and there's a lot of good energy in the garage and back at Silverstone. The new campus provides a lot of motivation – it's a real statement about the ambition of the team.

Also, thanks to my experience, I know what is important and what is less important, and I know where to expend my energy and where to save it. It's important to be able to focus on performance on Sunday but also to ensure there is a good team spirit and good morale in the garage. I'm enjoying every part of the job.

You made your F1 debut in 2001. Where do you find the motivation after all these years? How do you remain so focused?

Well, I had these two years out of the sport in 2019-20. I think it reset everything. I recharged the batteries, and I came back in 2021 with fresh motivation and that's still fresh right now. I think without that break, it would be difficult to keep up the motivation and the training and everything else.

I'm a very competitive person. I like to set goals and targets. Ultimately, I want to win, we all do, but even when that seems unlikely, I set personal challenges: maybe finishing in the top five is possible, maybe a podium. That provides plenty of motivation.

There must be sacrifices involved in that?

Of course. You make sacrifices, and sometimes you're aware of those when you're making them and sometimes you don't realise until five years later. That might be things you'd like to do, or family and friends you don't see as often as you would like.

I'm a very family-oriented person. I love to spend time with my family. At this time of my life, I thought I'd already have a family and kids, all these kinds of things, and I found myself at 42 without any kids yet. At the same time, I'm doing what I love to do. I'm doing what I'm the best at doing – and I've never tried anything other than motorsport. So, when I look in the mirror in the morning, I'm happy with who I am and what I'm doing.

I have sacrificed a lot for F1, but I have no regrets.

Team Principal Mike Krack spoke to us a while ago about the level of focus you had in Monaco, where we perhaps had our best shot at victory this year. He claimed he had never seen anyone so determined. How do you reach that level?

You focus more on some details. You try to make sure everything is absolutely spot on certain weekends because you smell that opportunity – you know that there is a chance to do something extra – but that level of intensity is impossible to keep for more than a few days. It will just destroy your energy. I try to do it every weekend; sometimes you have more focus, sometimes a little bit less.

In Monaco, I perhaps gave it a little bit extra – but you can't do that all the time. F1 is an intense environment in which we work. There are a lot of commitments, off track as well as on. Experience helps me regulate that – to know what's important and what's less important.

Fernando everything easier image
Everything will just be easier. We can focus more on performance and preparation for the first couple of races.
Fernando Alonso

Is carefully managing your time the key to your longevity in the sport?

Yes. 100 per cent. When you're young, you make some mistakes: you try to do everything, you try to be everywhere, but you can't do that and then perform at your maximum and be 100 per cent when the time comes to drive the car. Now, I think I regulate more than ever. I know what affects me, what drains my battery, and I try to be as efficient as possible.

We live a very different life Monday to Thursday and then Thursday to Sunday. It's like there is a completely different person inside your body and mind. I can relax and be like a normal 42-year-old man at the start of the week, and then Thursday to Sunday, be a totally focused driver.

The team had a dip in form in the middle of the year. How does that affect your motivation? Do you need to recalibrate when that happens?

I don't think it's a secret to say that those times are always tough. There isn't a magic recipe for keeping the motivation high and being happy. This is a sport where there are always frustrations, bad times, low times, and people sometimes struggle to hide their disappointment – and there's nothing wrong with that. It's just part of the sport and part of life.

The important thing during the low weekends was to understand what the problem was – go deep into the analysis of the car, of what we could have done differently if we repeated the weekend. These kinds of things, those exercises, made the team stronger and it was good learning for the future.

We were taking positives out of those difficult weekends. It was nice to see the team united in that objective.

What are your ambitions for 2024? Has the success of 2023 changed your expectations for next year?

I don't think it's going to change much because there are too many unknowns every season – anything can happen in Formula One. When we hit the track in winter testing or race one next year, I think we will see how things are and be very open with whatever targets we set for the championship. We will hopefully be competitive again, fighting for regular points and podiums, hopefully for our first win – that would be the dream – but we cannot underestimate the challenge.

We exceeded expectations this year because expectations were low. That's why this season feels amazing. If we set expectations too high – unrealistically high – there's a danger of the opposite happening.

Fernando Connecting with car
There are a couple of moments in your life, in your career, where you connect with the car in a different way.
Fernando Alonso

What will you and the team do differently to unlock more performance in 2024?

This being my second year with the team will help. I don't need to do many of the things I had to do at the start of this year: I don't need to put names to all the faces; I don't need to do seat fittings, learn the terminology and do all of the other accommodations that have to happen when you're a new driver in a team.

Everything will just be easier. We can focus more on performance and preparation for the first couple of races right from day one. We also have a very strong baseline to work with from 2023. When we arrive at a race, the work we do will be an optimisation of what we did this year. The 2022 car was perhaps not good enough as a reference for us this year, and on many weekends, we were starting from zero. 2024, it should be easier in terms of preparation, and we can focus more on detail.

You've described 2023 and 2012 as your best seasons. Why?

There are a couple of moments in your life, in your career, where you connect with the car in a different way. It is difficult to explain, but you are at one with the car, you trust the car, you are doing things that initially you thought were not possible: overtaking, or just going through a corner in a way that didn't sound logical when you first thought about it.

And then you find yourself doing impossible things with the car on a regular basis. In every practice, in every qualifying session and race. Some of the performances this year, like those in 2012, were in that sort of mystical region, where you can do things that you think are contrary to the laws of physics.

That's what makes years like 2023 even more important, even more special, in my life.

YOU. US. TOGETHER.

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