In a racing world where ageism maintains its absurd chokehold, relatively rustic Fernando Alonso pays once more for being 35 as motorsport journalists peer for grey bristles in his beard and early signs of glaucoma.
One could argue that the success of Max Verstappen, who endured similar scrutiny, is a sign that youth is the key to pace and success. Promise trumps established pace. But what the competitive success of Verstappen has actually done is confirm that there is no optimal age bracket for Formula One drivers. An 18-year-old and a 35-year-old can be equally as competitive and feisty. Fernando Alonso shows no signs of deteriorating into a post-twilight slug, and is instead inspired by other older racers in other series.
“I don’t think that my time in Formula 1 is over. I think I am driving at my best level now, and I have knowledge about the cars and the technical situation that allows me to push the car a little bit more to the limit.
I’m very calm about the situation, I have a contract next year with this team again.
After some years that you are not fighting for the championship but you keep going, going, going, you know, sooner or later you will show your talent – as Valentino is doing now.
That’s a kind of inspiration for us. You need to trust in yourself, and when you have the bike or the car that performs at the best level you will be there.
Because you cannot forget how to ride a bike, or how to drive a car, in two or three years.”
– Fernando Alonso
Practically vintage Valentino Rossi is proof that some competitive racers mature into fuller packages. Maybe Alonso is similar to Rossi and most wines in this sense. His performances this season have matched younger drivers in quicker machinery on occasion, and there is still a sense that Alonso is getting the most out of the improving McLaren. The Spaniard has admitted that his decision to retire will entirely be based on the joy he gets from driving the 2017 McLaren, hinting that he wants a return to a purer form of racing (Don’t we all!?). He added,
“I think that my biggest question is how I enjoy driving next year’s car; if the rules stay as they are now, and I have to save fuel, I have to save tyres, I have to drive 90 per cent and I cannot push in any of the laps, then next year will be my last year.
Not because I’m not competitive, even if I win the championship next year, I stop because I prefer other things more.”
– Fernando Alonso
There will be no hiding places for Honda at Spa this weekend. We will get to see how far the power-unit has come on this high-percentage full-throttle circuit. The constant call for progress will be settled here. McLaren have looked genuinely more competitive recently, and a double-points finish in Spa would be a great way to take the pressure off in the criticism department. As for Alonso, he’s set to finish ahead of at least ten drivers younger than he is, so there’s no need to be concerned with his wrinkles and furrows. They’re only a byproduct of constantly scowling at his critics.