More than 20 years after his Formula One debut, Fernando Alonso is as hungry as ever ahead of the start of the 2023 season, which gets underway on Friday at the Bahrain Grand Prix.
That desire for success led him to make the seismic decision last year to reject a new contract with Alpine to join Aston Martin, he tells CNN Sport’s Amanda Davies.
“It has to be an ambitious project. It has to be a project that wants to win, a project that will take anything and will do everything to make it happen. And that is what I feel in Aston Martin,” the Spaniard said ahead of the season’s start.
“There is this talent and this hunger for success, success and success.”
Success certainly comes naturally to the 41-year-old Spaniard. Having exploded onto the F1 scene in 2001, he won his first race in 2003 before winning back-to-back championships in 2005 and 2006, becoming the youngest double champion in the sport’s history.
Since then, the winner of 32 races has had legendary battles with some of the best drivers of the last two decades, from Michael Schumacher and Kimi Räikkönen through to Lewis Hamilton and Sebastien Vettel, who Alonso has replaced at Aston Martin after the four-time champion retired from F1.
Aston Martin is Alonso’s fifth team and the first move he has made since he returned to F1 with Alpine in 2021.
The frustration of the 2010s led to the Spaniard calling quits on his F1 career in 2018, retiring after five years without a race win and seemingly disillusioned with the sport.
He competed in the IndyCar Series, Le Mans’ 24-hour race and the Dakar Rally, where he emerged unscathed from a crash in which his Toyota Hilux flew through the air after hitting a sand dune in Saudi Arabia.
Three years later he made his sensational return to F1, but failed to hit the heights of his early career.
After finishing 10th in 2021 and ninth in 2022 with Alpine, Alonso turned down a one-year contract extension to join an Aston Martin team on its way up.
“The investment is there, the new facilities, new wind tunnel coming out. New people, joining the team from different experiences and different backgrounds,” he says of Aston Martin’s “wonderful project.”
The investment is certainly there. Lawrence Stroll, Aston Martin’s boss and the father of Alonso’s new partner, Lance, has put the money where his mouth is.
The team launched its new $200 million factory at Silverstone and broke the bank to bring in the best engineers and talent from other teams to support its new star driver.
With the new investment and Alonso’s terrific performance at pre-season testing – where he came second on the first day of testing in Bahrain – Aston Martin looks set to become the best of the rest this season, behind usual title contenders Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes.
The 2023 season is set to be the biggest yet, but it has got off to a rocky start after drivers complained about new rules introduced by governing body the FIA, restricting them from making “political, religious and personal statements” unless previously approved in writing.
The FIA has since responded by clarifying that drivers will be able to “express their views on any political, religious or personal matter” outside of races, but during races and on the track, any displays must be pre-approved by the governing body or the drivers will face sanctions.
The 2023 season is also set to be the busiest on record, with 23 races over nine months – a decision that some drivers have opposed.
Current back-to-back champion Max Verstappen expressed his discontent with the calendar, previously telling CNN Sport: “The problem is that we are traveling so much and it’s getting more and more … Basically, the question is, is it worth it to spend so much time away from family and friends by chasing more success?”
When asked if drivers have enough say in the future of the sport, Alonso thinks “probably not.”
“But this is maybe not our role on this sport,” he added. “We drive these cars in on Sunday afternoons, but we cannot forget that this is a team sport.
“I think we have the right people leading the sport. We are in good hands with Liberty [Media], with Stefano Domenicali, with the FIA as well. I think we should put trust in our leaders.”
While Alonso admits that it will be “challenging,” he strikes a far more positive tone than many of his fellow drivers.
“I think it’s going to be demanding on teams, mechanics, media, all of us,” he said. “But we love what we do. We have a dream job. We enjoy every second of it.”
Alonso unquestionably loves what he does. Last season, he overtook Kimi Räikkönen to become the first driver in F1 history to start 350 races, and doesn’t look like stopping anytime soon.
He is coy on Aston Martin’s chances of challenging this season, saying that a podium finish is not a “realistic target at the moment,” but if the pre-season omens are anything to go by, that target could rapidly become more reality than fantasy.
Two decades on from his first race win, Alonso looks like he might just be a contender once again.