When two-time World Champion Fernando Alonso announced he would return to F1 with the Alpine team in 2021, it sent a sense of mixed feelings and curiosity in the motorsports world.
On the one hand, Alonso’s decision was welcomed with admiration, and on the other side, there was a sense of bewilderment as to why he would return to F1 with a team that was not in the top three. However, at the beginning of the season, the Spanish driver revealed that one of the main reasons he decided to return to F1 was because of the new regulations.
So far the new 2022 regulations have changed the ranking of the top three teams Ferrari, Red Bull, and Mercedes. While Ferrari currently leads both the constructors’ and driver's championships, after eight years of Mercedes dominance, the Brackley-based team trails behind Red Bull in both standings.
Ahead of his home race in Spain, Alonso, no stranger to speaking his mind opened up to the BBC in an interview and discussed a wide range of topics including former teammate Lewis Hamilton, frustrations with the new era of regulations, and his future plans.
After only one top ten finish in five races, Alonso is enduring a challenging start to the 2022 season with Alpine’s A522 challenger. Under the new regulations, Hamilton, who was also the Spainard’s teammate in 2007 with McLaren, shares a similar struggle with the Mercedes W13 and finds himself battling for positions in the midfield.
Alonso vocalized his opinion on the issues that he faces with the new regulations and on Hamilton’s recent problems with car performance on track.
"This is the nature of the sport," Alonso says. "Sometimes you have a better car, sometimes you have not such a good car and you still need to fight and make some progress.
"This year we see that the driver is very important in F1 but not crucial.
"Lewis is driving as good as he has been the last eight years. He was dominating the sport and breaking all the records and 100-and-something pole positions. And now he is doing a mega lap - as he said in Australia or somewhere like that - and he is one second behind. So, yeah - welcome."
The Alpine driver also expressed a straightforward and realistic attitude about his success in F1 while comparing himself to Hamilton.
"This is F1," he says. "It is not going to be a fair sport in terms of numbers. This is a team sport more than anything and we tend to forget this, especially when we have success. We are so happy for what we are achieving that even if we try to share with the team, all the headlines are for the driver.
"It happened to me when I won the two championships [in 2005 and 2006 with Renault]. I was beating Michael Schumacher. This was a big topic, but my car was more reliable at that time and had very good performance and you cannot praise enough that package because the headlines will still be the driver. And with Lewis it's the same.
"To have more than 100 pole positions in F1 is something unthinkable. You need to have the best car and package for many, many years.
"We were doing magic laps sometimes and we were P15, and how do you explain that to people? It will be impossible.
"He deserves everything he's achieved in the past but this year is a good reminder that in all those records and numbers there is a big part on what you have in your hands as a package in the car."
In addition to not having a competitive car to fight against the top teams Ferrari and Red Bull, Hamilton has been out scored by his teammate George Russell four out of the five races.
When Alonso was asked about if whether or not he is surprised about Russell’s close race results to Hamilton, he said: "Yes and no. George has been very fast in the last few years and I think everyone was expecting him to be a tough competitor for Lewis.
"But I still believe Lewis will eventually finish the championship in front. This is just a five-race championship, but eventually when things are more tricky or [there are] difficult situations, Lewis will still have more experience and maybe more talent."
The last time Alonso claimed a victory in F1 was in 2013 at the Spainish Grand Prix with Ferrari. The 40 year old who will turn 41 later this year, reflected on his time with the Marnello based team.
Alonso spent four years with Ferrari from 2010 to 2014 and he says that period: "has been rough times, with uncompetitive seasons fighting for midfield positions, difficult years".
"I am a very competitive person, and if you are not winning, you definitely miss that feeling and there is some frustration building always during the season," he adds.
While Alonso won his two world championship titles with Renault in 2005 and 2006, he admitted that despite having the strong desire to win a third title, he knows it can be a long shot under the current F1 conditions.
"It is different, for sure," Alonso replies. "Those years in Ferrari, they were a lot of pressure. We were very close a couple of times and those missed opportunities were quite heavy on the shoulders of everyone.
"The atmosphere in the team was not happy enough at one moment and I decided to stop the relationship there, even if I had two more years' contract, because it was the best for both parties.
"Now, I still want the third championship so bad, but at the same time I understand how the sport works right now and you have only one car or maximum two when you can fight for the championship.
"You try to build with the team that car, and that process is interesting - how to grow up together with the team, the facilities in the factory and all the resources just to be one of those two teams that can fight for the championship."
Despite Alonso’s expectations for closer competition on track with the teams under the new regulations, he still considers his return to F1 a “comeback.”
"I would say it was a good comeback for me personally," Alonso says. "I felt good. I felt competitive, which is never a guarantee” he said.
"Everybody expected [me] to be fast, but after two years out of the sport, anything could happen."
"Maybe the first five races of last year were rough for me and I was not super-competitive at first. But after that I am proud of what we achieved, and this year we have been more competitive than last year, but we didn't score so many points yet because a lot of things were going on in the first five races.
"The rules? Probably I was expecting a little bit more from them, to have more balance between the teams, more possibilities for different teams to perform well. There are still only two teams that can win races.
"But I have to say that those two teams were good enough to achieve those results. There was a reshuffle on everything on performance and they did a better job than others so at least they took that opportunity and it seems we didn't take that opportunity fully."
With the retirement of Kimi Raikkonen last year, Alonso has now taken over the title of the oldest driver in F1. The 2019 Le Mans winner, insists that age is not a factor fur motorsport and believes that he is still as good on the track as he was in his mid-twenties.
“Age is not a factor in motorsport," he says. "In other sports it is different. You have to rely on your physical condition and things like that, but in motorsport I would [rather] have one new front or rear wing than three years less than I have. That would give me more performance for sure.
"The two years out of the sport was enough to completely reset my mind and also the physical condition and be happy training and preparing the races. I am as good as when I was 25 or 30.”
Alonso also reveals that as a driver he possesses a different mindset on track when he is in championship fighting mode as opposed to battling in the midfield.
"It could be a fair observation," Alonso says. "When you are fighting for the championship, you have a sixth sense of things that are going around you and you take care of things.
"When you are fighting for seventh and eighth, sometimes you go into different moods or different manoeuvres that are way more risky.
"When you have to fight every single millisecond on every corner and you are fighting against some of the circumstances of that race, you don't have maybe the package that allows you to drive 99% and thinking on 360-degrees picture on that race.
"Maybe you are more prone to make mistakes. But I don't think I did too many mistakes so far, and Miami it was the circumstances also not helping.
"And in terms of the speed, I could be happier maybe in a couple more races but we are working on that."
In addition to the A522’s race pace, Alonso admits there are areas that need improvement with his driving such as race starts,
"My thing, the driving side," he says. "There are things we are still improving. The starts, I am still not fully comfortable with the system and the procedure we have; sometimes I make mistakes.
"There are things I need to improve myself and also together with the team working in things that can help me get that consistency back."
After his turbulent period with McLaren from 2015 to 2018 that eventually led to his retirement from F1, Alonso embraced his racer spirit and pursued other iconic racing adventures in IndyCar for the Indy 500, the 24 Hour of Le Mans, and participated in the Dakar Rally.
Alonso looked back on his past decisions in his racing career up until now and claims that the winning outcome would have not changed for him unless he was offered a ride with Mercedes.
"If you do something at one point in life it is because you felt it was right and, thanks to that decision, other opportunities came," Alonso says.
"So if I was to stay in different teams for longer, or whatever, I don't think I could have a shot of winning because the sport was very dominated by one team and in that team I didn't have the possibility to go.
"I never spoke with Mercedes. So apart from that, to finish second in a red car or an orange car or a blue car, it doesn't change much. You are second anyway.
"At least all the decisions made me try and fulfill a lot of dreams, like the 24 Hours of Le Mans, or try the Indy 500. So I am happy where I am now."
Although the season has presented unforeseen obstacles with the new regulations, Alonso remains adamant about staying in F1 and continuing his work with Alpine.
"We didn't talk officially," Alonso says. "We just had a couple of coffees. But, yeah, I think the possibility will be there” he said.
"The motivation is still there to win and to close that gap [to the front] even if we know how extremely difficult it is going to be.
"We know there are a couple of things we can do. This first year of the new regulations you learn a lot from other cars and other philosophies, so there are a lot of shortcuts in performance you can find very easily.
"Next year or the next two years I would love to continue and keep driving because I feel at my best right now and it would be wrong to watch F1 from home and from the living room while I still feel 100% of my abilities.
"When I feel it is not that way, I will be the first to raise my hand and stop because F1 is very demanding; you have to sacrifice a lot of things in life to keep racing. But at the moment it is still worth doing it."