Pedro de la Rosa is aware of compatriot Fernando Alonso higher than most. He first raced towards him in System 1 in 2001, briefly shared a storage with him when Alonso examined for Jaguar in 2002, then was a team-mate as McLaren take a look at driver in 2007. Now, they’re once more working collectively at Aston Martin, the place de la Rosa lately took up an ambassadorial function.
Like Alonso, de la Rosa is one among solely eight drivers within the final three and a half many years to race in F1 when in his 40s. Mixed along with his familiarity with Alonso, this implies he’s well-placed to elucidate why Alonso stays formidable in F1 on the age of 41.
De la Rosa suggests “Fernando is just not regular” within the motivation he has to compete given he doesn’t imagine that it’s often bodily deterioration that results in drivers retiring. As a substitute, he sees angle as the important thing differentiator permitting the sacrifices required to proceed at an age the place most have retired. That was hammered residence by witnessing Alonso’s strategy to his first Aston Martin take a look at in Abu Dhabi final November.
De la Rosa didn’t retire from F1 till he was 40 on the finish of his ultimate season with HRT in 2012, and solely then due to a scarcity of alternative on the finish of a grand prix profession that was unfulfilled. Whereas he had a stop-start F1 profession of 104 race begins from 1999-2012, solely finishing a full season in 4 of these years, de la Rosa means that had been he in Alonso’s state of affairs with a lot success beneath his belt, he would have retired by now.
“I for positive would have referred to as it a day at one level if I had been within the automotive as recurrently as he has,” says de la Rosa when requested by The Race whether or not he was stunned Alonso continues to be going given his file.
“My profession was a bit particular as a result of I’ve been in and out, in and out and each time you’re out, you need to come again. Additionally, you will have a break, so it offers you extra oxygen or vitality to come back again.
“In his case, it’s totally different. However Fernando is just not regular, he’s a motivated man. When he’s not within the race automotive on a weekend, he calls me and desires to organise a 24-hour race. So, I inform him, ‘Man you’ve simply completed the season, everybody needs to go on vacation’ and he needs to go racing once more, in December.
“In order that’s Fernando. The sweetness about him is that he’s totally different and that he doesn’t appear to have had sufficient of motor racing.”
De la Rosa describes Alonso as having the identical strategy now as once they labored collectively at McLaren greater than 15 years in the past.
He cites this as important to his success at an unusually superior age for an F1 driver.
“What I’m actually stunned about with him is that he was doing the [Aston Martin] seat becoming and his smile, his angle, his motivation is precisely the identical as the primary time I labored with him again in McLaren in 2007,” says de la Rosa. “Precisely the identical strategy, precisely the identical every part: preparation, motivation, angle, expectations. He’s a pure born racer.
“And his motivation is identical or greater than 15 years in the past. That is what impresses me most about Fernando as a result of we are able to argue about his velocity and every part however the motivation, angle is what actually is the most important differentiator in any sportsman, particularly at this age.
“The most important problem in any racing driver, the factor that makes you click on and say, ‘I have to retire or it’s not secure anymore or I’m not having fun with it anymore’, is the actual fact of travelling and by no means being at residence. That is the most important downside for guys like Fernando, myself.
“Taking a look at Fernando, taking a look at his eyes talking with him doing the seat becoming right here within the storage. You assume, ‘I don’t know what number of extra years this man can proceed’ as a result of he’s the identical Fernando that did the seat becoming at Minardi 20, 25 years in the past or no matter.”
De la Rosa was 28 when he made his F1 debut with Arrows in 1999 after an extended junior profession throughout which he gained the 1992 British System Renault crown (towards a discipline together with Christian Horner) and the Japanese F3 and System Nippon titles in 1997-98. He peaked with second place for McLaren within the 2006 Hungarian GP, however was usually restricted to occasional eye-catching performances in uncompetitive vehicles and scored factors solely 12 occasions – beginning with sixth place on debut.
Alonso grew to become the third-youngest driver to start out a world championship race when he made his first look within the 2001 Australian GP on the age of 19 years and 128 days. He nonetheless stands because the seventh-youngest driver to start out a race regardless of the proliferation of younger upstarts in F1, with Max Verstappen now holding the file, but exhibits each signal of constant into his mid-40s given he’s beneath contract to Aston Martin for at the least one other two years.
De la Rosa cites Alonso’s instance as vital for proving “in order for you you possibly can prolong your profession as a lot as that” at a time when drivers really feel like they’re leaving it late in the event that they haven’t made it to F1 by their early 20s.
Whereas de la Rosa, who turns 52 subsequent month, recognises the indicators of bodily decline since his profession ended, he didn’t expertise it whereas racing in F1 – apart from a slight lack of edge on eyesight on the finish of his profession.
Like Alonso, who recurrently stresses the worth of expertise and stated in 2021 that “if I race now towards myself of 23, I’ll beat him with one hand”, de la Rosa believes expertise should not be underestimated.
“I don’t assume my efficiency declined,” says de la Rosa, when requested by The Race about his ultimate season in 2012. “I didn’t really feel like I used to be going any slower. In truth, I felt that have was giving me that further so I used to be a bit extra full.
“I needed to retire as a result of no workforce needed me, it is a totally different matter, however in what I felt in my previous few years was that my eyesight was dangerous, or was getting worse. It was not 100%, perhaps it was 98%. It was not an enormous deal, however I might really feel that that was the one the one issue. However then I raced with [contact] lenses, so I don’t assume that that was an enormous downside.
“At Le Mans, you possibly can argue that it is likely to be a bit tougher however in System 1 I had no downside in anyway. We’re not speaking about shedding 10% of my eyesight, it was like, ‘Possibly I’m shedding a bit the sting right here’ so I appropriate that and raced in my final 12 months with HRT utilizing contact lenses.
“I had no issues. Bodily, yearly you do the V02-max take a look at, you undergo the traditional exams and I used to be very near my greatest, if not generally higher. So I didn’t really feel a decline in my efficiency.
“I don’t understand how lengthy you possibly can go till you begin feeling that, nevertheless it must be so progressive and gradual. I don’t assume motorsport is like another sport in the truth that in tennis or in soccer if you begin ageing you begin all of the sudden struggling accidents and then you definitely can’t take a look at or prepare.
“You then begin stepping into this circle of auto destruction as a result of you must play a recreation and haven’t been capable of prepare, you don’t carry out, you get injured once more. However in motor racing, in case your efficiency stage is just not 100% and declining with age, it declines at a really sluggish charge, which is tough to detect as properly.”
Alonso has regularly dismissed strategies age has had a damaging impression, constantly arguing he’s performing in addition to he was throughout his well-known 2012 championship bid with Ferrari.
De la Rosa additionally sees Alonso’s strengths in proof on monitor. He cites how rapidly he can discover the restrict in various situations as one thing that continues to face out. And whereas qualifying is mostly thought to be not being Alonso’s strongest swimsuit (insofar as he’s ‘solely’ a powerful qualifier however a superb racer), de la Rosa suggests he would stand out extra had been qualifying a one-shot format.
“The issue he has is that he all the time will get to the restrict of the automotive or the situations immediately, whereas many different drivers progressively construct up the velocity,” says de la Rosa.
“In Q1 he’s already delivering the utmost quantity of situations. So if you get to Q3, a variety of drivers simply progressively construct up, they hold pushing, experiencing a bit pushing the restrict after which they match him on the finish.
“However the variations that he will get from lap one and everybody wants much more new units of tyres to get there. If qualifying was only one lap straight from the field in Q1, I feel that Fernando would stand out a bit extra.”
That talent pertains to what de la Rosa regards as the important thing standout high quality of an incredible driver – adaptability. Alonso is a driver famed for his improvisational driving type, which means he’s been fast throughout a variety of eras and automotive traits.
“Adaptability,” says de la Rosa of the important thing differentiator between the good and the great. “You exit within the morning, the monitor situations are good, you set fast laptimes, then they degrade.
“Nevertheless it’s the truth that each time you set a brand new set of tyres or a used set of tyres, the great driver will want one lap and also you assume, ‘OK, the following one I can brake right here’ or it’s too late. The monitor has modified, tyres have degraded, you will have much less gas within the automotive, no matter.
“It’s simply the sense that the grip is there. It’s tough to elucidate, however they know the place the grip is with out making too many errors, as a result of you possibly can go over the restrict.
“Then when it begins raining or you will have entrance graining or when the monitor is drying, it’s unbelievable how these drivers know the place the grip is and make the hole greater to the remainder of the sector.
“The issue is that the following lap or the following 10 seconds the monitor is a bit totally different. So it’s tough to guage from the skin as a result of the monitor evolves greater than the standard distinction between them.”