Fernando Alonso during the 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports.
Comebacks of sporting greats often follow a script. A hunky-dory picture is painted. There are statements of bravado about being as fit and sharp as before. And why not? It helps with the eyeballs and drives pre-event publicity.
But Fernando Alonso, not one to refrain from bold statements, dropped something philosophical in the lead-up to his return to the track, when he competes in the Bahrain GP on March 28.
“If you take two steps back and look at everything calmly, you appreciate things in a different way,” the Spaniard said in the context of tweaking training methods. Sounds like a handy life lesson too.
The twice world champion, who quit the sport in 2018, turns 40 on July 29. He is therefore also an inspiration to those past their prime years.
“My age? Nonsense. Speed is determined by the watch, not your age,” Alonso said in an interview.
When asked if he still was as good as the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastien Vettel, all three of whom have been world champions, Alonso replied, “No, I’m better”.
Alonso’s words are not mere bluster. In his time away from F1, he competed in other forms of motorsport and won the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2019 on his very first attempt. Though in the category of endurance racing and a different beast from F1, Le Mans is a legendary event immortalised in films such as Ford vs Ferrari and Le Mans.
Alonso, who will race for Alpine (earlier known as Renault), has looked impressive in practice before the Grand Prix. He completed 206 laps in pre-season testing. “What I’ve heard from the team is that he looked like he’d never left F1,” Renault CEO Luca de Meo said.
That workload is not possible without being fit.
“In terms of weight and physical shape, he is back at the level of 2009 to 2011,” Alonso’s physio Edoardo Bendinelli told Spanish sports paper Marca
when the preparation picked up in earnest last year. “We made a training schedule so that he would be as he was at his peak. We compared all the parameters of the past with those of today and have started with the goal of getting back to the level of ten years ago. He wants to have the body and the head to do what he wants with a car.”