Four years into his trying second stint at McLaren, Fernando Alonso might have lacked the machinery to win but the desire was patently as strong as ever. Now, having bid farewell to Formula One at the end of last season, the double world champion has no intention of going quietly into the night. By winning the Daytona 24 Hours last weekend the Spaniard proved to be as driven as ever. His talent remains beyond doubt and he could take it to a level unmatched by any other driver.
Speaking to him at last year’s Australian Grand Prix, Alonso dismissed any suggestion that his motivation had diminished. “Every day, every year, every new season is a reset from the last and you are still hungry for success, to do things better and better,” he said.
Last weekend at the endurance classic in Florida, he proved it emphatically. He won this mighty challenge on the banking alongside teammates Kamui Kobayashi, Renger van der Zande and Jordan Taylor for Wayne Taylor Racing. The race was interrupted and then curtailed due to heavy rain but Alonso had without doubt earned his winner’s Rolex.
On his first stint he went from sixth to the lead in the space of 13 laps, in only his third 24-hour race. More was to come – he was soon running two seconds a lap quicker than the opposition, a field of experienced sportscar drivers. When he returned for his second stint in wet conditions, he was a class apart. As the rest of the field struggled for grip, Alonso took just 16 laps to open up a 40-second lead.
Breathtaking stuff, but no less than what might have been expected. He did similar on his way to winning the Le Mans 24 hours at his first attempt last year. At La Sarthe Alonso had put in a stint for Toyota through the night where he was consistently between two and four seconds quicker than anyone else on track. He was untouchable.
That victory, alongside his F1 world championship (or Monaco victory, Alonso meets either criteria) has set him up for the chance to go for motor racing’s triple crown, with a win at the Indy 500 this year. If he does so he will join Graham Hill as the only driver to have achieved the feat but more is within his grasp.
Immediately after Daytona, that fierce competitiveness was already looking for a new outlet. “Right now my full focus is on the Indy 500, but I’m thinking. I’m trying to do something more in different disciplines that are not only circuits,” he told Racer magazine. “But I need to think, I need to plan, I need to make sure that I’m competitive. So I need to be very calm and clever with the decisions with the future. The aim is to do something unprecedented in motorsport.”
Something he could realistically achieve. In the next month Alonso is expected to test the Dakar rally-wining Toyota team car that Nasser al-Attiyah drove to victory for the team in the off-road classic earlier this month. Toyota are understood to be putting plans in place to support him should he choose to enter the rally raid event and Attiyah will help and conduct the test with Alonso.
It is an entirely different discipline and a huge challenge but Alonso is fired up like never before. He is in a position to notch up achievements that will set him apart. The Daytona win makes him only the third F1 champion, after Phil Hill and Mario Andretti, to win an endurance race there – and the first to do so in its 24-hour format. With Le Mans he now has two of endurance racing’s triple crown, and although he will not compete at the Sebring 12 hours this year, which is on the same track and weekend as his World Endurance Championship (WEC) commitments, a win at the race on the old airfield in future is easily within his compass.
As is another world championship. He leads the WEC drivers’ championship with three rounds to go. He could clinch it at the finale with another Le Mans 24 Hours win in June. Then there might be Formula E, which would be ecstatic to take on a driver of his calibre and profile, while at 37 there is still ample time to master more one-offs such as the Nürburgring and Spa 24s. If his spirt of adventure and desire to prove himself remains, why not the classic Pikes Peak hill climb in Colorado or mastering Mount Panorama in Australia’s Bathurst 1000?
Alonso wants to do something unprecedented. Right now he is the only driver of the modern era genuinely in a position to do so and still hungry enough to make it happen.