Feliz cumpleaños Champion! Formula 1 legend Fernando Alonso turned 40 today, having made his F1 debut at the 2001 Australian Grand Prix, aged 20.
Since then the racer from Oviedo has thrilled motorsport fans throughout that time; long that journey he has made 321 F1 starts, finishing on the podium 97 times, on 32 of those occasions as a winner, with two titles won in 2005 and 2006 when he ended the reign of the great Michael Schumacher.
No stranger to controversies, Alonso has nevertheless earned the deserved respect of rivals, pundits and fans in the two decades which has seen him grab more than a fair share of headlines.
Today he is the second oldest driver on the current F1 grid, only 41-year-old Kimi Raikkonen – who also made his F1 debut in Melbourne in 2001 – is older than the Spaniard.
So… Fernando Alonso turns 40 today. Many happy returns. Pic: when he & Kimi Räikkönen arrived on the #F1 scene in 2001, shy, talented & fresh-faced, I certainly didn’t expect them both still to be here 20 years later, but so it is. pic.twitter.com/f7tnIM7N8d
— Matt Bishop 🏳️🌈 (@TheBishF1) July 29, 2021
Speaking to reporters, in Hungary today, Alonso said: “I don’t feel 40 for sure. It’s the number, but it’s surprising me as well when I see it everywhere. In the motorhome even, because the team prepared a very nice decoration in my room and in the lunch area as well. It’s a bigger number than what I feel, but it’s the way it is.”
Hungaroring happens to be a fitting venue for the occasion as, in 2003, he powered to his first F1 victory here at 22 years of age. Asked if he ever dreamt he would still be racing at the highest level two decades after his debut, Alonso replied: “You live only the present, you’re not thinking too much about the future at that age.
“You’re just focused on the race weekend. You can’t imagine yourself more than two or three years in time from that moment. Now it’s a different thing, I’m more used to the sport, to Formula 1 and the things that are quite unique here.
“When I came into the sport, I was from a very small town in the north of Spain with no experience, no background, no nothing and then you arrive into this world and you’re shocked for five, six, seven years until you are used to everything.
“Now it’s a little bit different. You know how things are and you’re enjoying a little bit more,” explained Alonso.
Appropriately, on Thursday in Budapest, seated in the press conference next to him was Sebastian Vettel who was full of praise for his great rival: “The first race that Fernando was back this year, we had some wheel to wheel, and I was actually smiling in the cockpit because I’d been looking forward to more of it this year, and I think we had a little.”
Vettel, who was 16 when Alonso won his first Grand Prix, added: “I always enjoy Fernando. He won here in 2003… I was in front of the TV and I remember when he won. I think his talent is without doubt, the skills on track one of the biggest that the sport has seen.
“He’s also done something which I thought was impossible to do, which is beating Michael, because when I grew up, it was like, Michael is the number one and impossible to beat – and Fernando started beating him.
“I think that’s an achievement and obviously he’s had such a long career, so many different cars, so I consider it a pleasure to race beside him and fight him on the track,” added Vettel who denied Alonso more titles in 2010, 2012 and 2013 – the Spaniard runner-up in those epic title battles. (Additional reporting by Agnes Carlier)
— Alpine F1 Team (@AlpineF1Team) July 29, 2021
Happy 40th Birthday to our two-time champ @alo_oficial 🎉🙌
— Formula 1 (@F1) July 29, 2021
Buon compleanno @alo_oficial 🎂
— Scuderia Ferrari (@ScuderiaFerrari) July 29, 2021
Happy birthday, @alo_oficial! 🥳🎈
Have a great day, Fernando! pic.twitter.com/okh3QQpgc9
— McLaren (@McLarenF1) July 29, 2021