Baku: Spanish Formula One veteran Fernando Alonso arrives in town for this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix with the glow of a man very much in love.
Not perhaps with Taylor Swift, he good naturedly refused repeated opportunities on Thursday to confirm (or deny) rumours he was dating the American singer — but with an old flame — Formula One.
“It’s happy days,” beamed the 41-year-old at his new team Aston Martin’s temporary weekend ‘cabin’ on the shores of the Caspian Sea in Baku.
“This season has been surprisingly good to be honest. We thought to have a decent car but not to challenge Mercedes and Ferrari, that was a surprise for us.”
So good in fact Alonso, the 2005 and 2006 world champion, has enjoyed a run of three consecutive podiums for the first time since 2013.
That is in part down to the investment and belief of the owner of Aston Martin, Lawrence Stroll, and in part due to Alonso’s rekindled mojo for the sport.
After a two-year timeout from F1, and an unspectacular return at Alpine, his former Renault team, Alonso jumped on board Stroll’s project over a frantic weekend of telephone calls last summer.
Fight for world championships
A 48-hour engagement has produced a happy marriage, with Alonso third in the driver’s championship and Aston Martin second only to Red Bull in the constructors’ ahead of the fourth leg of the season on the streets of the Azerbaijani capital.
And now the prospect of a 33rd win, but first for 10 years in the Indian Summer of his career, is based on far more than the ramblings of a not-so-old man from Oviedo.
“The aim is for the team to fight for world championships,” said Alonso.
“I don’t think we have an option in 2023 because of Red Bull but in 2024 you never know, you saw the step we made up this winter so why not another step next winter.”
Much has been made of the ageing idol returning for one last grand hoorah — but Alonso isn’t having any of that.
To make his point he lists the notable successes he enjoyed away from the track which perhaps did not receive the merit they deserved.
They include winning the 2018-2019 Le Mans 24 Hour Race, the pinnacle of endurance racing, a tilt at the IndyCar Series, and lining up in the most gruelling event on motorsport’s calendar — the Dakar Rally.
“They really put you out of your comfort zone and push you to a higher level.
“It did help, the time out, maybe not so much in the driving style but in mentality and approach, the motivation,” he said.
“When you are 18 years in F1 it’s not that you lose motivation, I always had motivation, but I was tired of travelling, I was tired of the routine, repeating the same things, so the two years out of the sport were very refreshing, charging my batteries.
“Maybe I’m driving similar but mentally I’m much more fresh, happy to come to the circuit early, happy to keep chatting with engineers, PR stuff, events, sponsors, I have full batteries now, while in 2018 I was empty.”
When asked to compare his driving now to the championship winning years, he answers without the slightest hesitation: “I’m much better now, 100 per cent.”