Pedro de la Rosa is not surprised that his once rival and now good mate Fernando Alonso is the star attraction of this year’s Formula 1 World Championship battle, because the great Spaniard will drive anything as hard as he can, for as long as possible too!
After too long without a competitive car, the 41-year-old is relishing his first season as an Aston Martin driver who has produced a very handy car for what might be Alonso’s final curtain call on his incredible two-decade-long career.
With two podiums in two races, and easily the Best of the Rest behind the dominant Red Bull team, the season ahead has great promise for Alonso, no Grand Prix victories since 2013 and no F1 title since his last in 2006, that could change.
De la Rosa, ten years Alonso’s senior, is a familiar face in his fellow Spaniard’s corner over the years, the pair were on the F1 grid in 2001. They also worked together when Pedro raced for Jaguar in 2002, and Alonso tested for the team during a gap year, before he joined Renault full-time in 2003.
The pair also contest the annual Dubai Kartdrome 24 Hours, where Alonso pays for his team to enter, then gets involved with not only driving but also strategy and all that needs doing at the event, which attracts many big names and specialist endurance teams, each December.
Pedro: Fernando is a fighter, he enjoys having the pressure to deliver
In an interview with RN365, De la Rosa recalled when he first became aware of Alonso, over two decades ago: “When I really felt that he was special was when I was racing a Jaguar and in 2001, I had a problem in qualifying and I had to start from the back.
“He was driving that Minardi and I remember getting onto his tail and looking at how the car was behaving in the corners, and how he was driving on the knife edge. I realised: Wow, this guy is super good! I mean, the car was super slow as well.
“But I could tell that the driver was doing something special. He was rotating the car on the entry of the corners in a very special manner. So then I overtook him and I looked and it was Fernando’s helmet. Then I realized ‘Wow, this guy!’ So he’s as good as everyone is saying.”
So good that not long after Alonso ended the great Michael Schumacher and Ferrari turn of the century five-year reign of F1, the man from Oviedo winning back-to-back F1 drivers’ championships in 2005 and 2006, before the title taps ran dry.
Asked to describe Alonso, Pedro said: “He’s a fighter, he enjoys having the pressure to deliver, he loves racing. And no matter where or what he drives, he always give it gives it 100%. His motivation will never decrease.”
On Sunday in Jeddah, on the occasion of his 358th Grand Prix start, Alonso scored his 100th podium, and despite 32 of those being victories he has never been able to add a third F1 title to the two he already has. Why?
“The last 10 years he’s been driving cars that are not competitive. That’s the reality, but his motivation is kept high with driving those cars, and this is what is different from any other driver. He loves car racing. It doesn’t really matter if it’s F1, WEC, Dakar or whatever.
“Every year we enter a [Dubai Kartdrome] 24-hour kart race together. We look at the regulations and we always say: Ok what is the minimum time a driver has to do? Let’s say it’s four hours… All of the team will do four hours and he will do eight, the maximum available!”
When does he expect Alonso to quit racing, De la Rosa ventured: “I can’t imagine him ever stopping racing. As long as he is competitive, or he feels competitive, then he will race. I don’t feel that he’s peaking or he’s going down. And I am of the opinion that if he is not driving in F1, he will be driving something else.”
Round 3 of the 2023 F1 World Championship, the Australian Grand Prix takes place in Melbourne next weekend; it will be Alonso’s 359th GP start. He won the race at Albert Park once, in 2006, the occasion of his tenth F1 victory at the time.