Giancarlo Minardi has known Fernando Alonso since the Aston Martin driver was 18 years old when the Spaniard burst onto the scene, now nearly a quarter century later – on the occasion of the great Spaniard’s 100th podium – the former Formula 1 team owner reflects on a remarkable journey.
Alonso’s shares have skyrocketed as for once he has his timing spot on, defecting from Alpine (team of his two titles) for one last hurrah with Aston Martin.
And what a curtain call it is turning out to be as Lawrence Stroll’s mega team found the ‘Magic Switch’ over the winter by turning the awkward and slow AMR22, into a sleek (only bettered by the Red Bull RB19) challenger that has seen Alonso claim two podiums in the first two races of the 2023 F1 season, and a contender for wins should the pace-setters tangle up.
RacingNews365 spoke to 75-year-old Minardi after Sunday’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix where his former driver: “My first experience with Fernando Alonso? Then he was only eighteen years old! By now he’s almost 42! Now we are talking about a man! Whereas back then he was just a boy.”
“There is little to say about him except that he does a great job. It is unprecedented that he has always been so motivated throughout his career. He chose the move to Aston Martin because he believed in the project and he is showing it right now.”
Minardi: Physically Fernando is still in top form
“You wouldn’t tell he’s almost 42. His overtaking during the Bahrain Grand Prix, on Lewis Hamilton, was amazing. I compare it to Gilles Villeneuve fighting with Rene Arnoux and Ayrton Senna along with Alain Prost.
“It was great to see how Alonso did that in Bahrain. A duel between two champions with a lot of respect for each other. You saw that in the fight as well.”
Alonso made his F1 debut for Minardi at the 2001 Australian Grand Prix at the age of 19, it proved to be a season of learning. Notably, on the grid that year was none other than Jos Verstappen, father of Max Verstappen!
Managed by Renault F1 team boss Flavio Briatore at the time, the Spaniard took a gap year in 2002, committed to an intensive testing program that saw him drive an equivalent of a Grand Prix season over the course of a week of testing. And he tested as much as he could, aka all the time available
Primed and fully prepped, with massive F1 mileage under his belt, Alonso suited up in Renault colours in 2003, finishing sixth in the F1 drivers standings that year, fourth in 2004 before bringing an end to Michael Schumacher’s five-year dominance for Ferrari to an end.
Alonso won his two F1 titles, back-to-back in 2005 and 2006, for Renault; although he never again attained those heights, but came very close with Ferrari in 2010, and was runner-up in 2012 and 2013 with the Reds.
A forgettable spell with a return to McLaren, the illustrious Woking outfit at their lowest point in history, meant half a decade of frustration and pain for Alonso who never had the car to compete with the front runners.
Minardi: Aston Martin has built a very good car
Alonso departed in 2018, spent two years in WEC, winning that title an the Le Mans 24 Hours to boot, with Toyota before he returned with Alpine for what many felt would be his last hurrah, but again his skills were unseen by the masses, as he toiled in the midfield.
Then that sudden hop, skip and jump to Aston Martin, who got their maths together with their 2023 car, allowing Alonso to show why he has for so long insisted he’s still in the best form of his life, but much wiser than ever before.
Minardi added: “Like everyone else, I can’t believe Alonso is still driving at the top in F1. When I first saw him in action at a young age, I knew immediately that he was going to be a big one in F1. He now has a good car in his hands again and can indeed go for many podiums this year, it seems now.
“During the first few weeks, it looked good and the team also got it right. Don’t forget that that team has already produced good results in its previous guises as Force India and Racing Point, and already finished fourth in the constructors’ championship once.
“So there is a good basis for this year. With [Lance] Stroll also getting good results after his bike accident, it shows that Aston Martin has built a very good car,” explained Minardi.
Aston are second in the 2023 F1 constructors’ standings after two rounds on 38 points, this time last year Lawrence Stroll’s team had yet to score a point.