Reflecting on what was inarguably the most difficult, strained and painful season of his F1 career to-date, Fernando Alonso has revealed that he 'grew up' both personally and professionally during his time at McLaren-Mercedes alongside Lewis Hamilton back in 2007 – and three years on, he believes he is entering a far more tranquil and happy period, now that he has fulfilled his father's prophecy in achieving the ultimate goal in the sport.
“My father always told me this would happen,” the Spaniard told British newspaper The Guardian
. “He said, 'If you race for Ferrari then you can retire – your life is complete'. After I won my two championships for Renault I said, 'I'm happy now – my career is complete', and he said, 'No, no, if you drive for Ferrari people will forget the championships – they will remember you as a Ferrari driver'. I said, 'Okay, Papa, we'll see'. Now I think he was right. Ferrari gives you a special feeling.”
Arriving at McLaren as the reigning double F1 World Champion, Alonso had expectations of being treated as the Woking-based outfit's number one driver to befit such a status, but he rapidly discovered – much to his evident chagrin – that ambitious young rookie team-mate Lewis Hamilton and the team management had other ideas, very much adhering to their unchanging policy of equality of opportunity between the two drivers.
What followed were seven months of bitter and acrimonious infighting, very public spats and even threats of blackmail [see separate story – click here
], the end result of which was that neither Alonso nor Hamilton succeeded in clinching the crown that was there for the taking, instead focussing too much upon their fraught internecine duel and failing to notice Ferrari rival Kimi Raikkonen sneaking surreptitiously up behind them and diving out of the shadows to snatch the coveted trophy away from their grasp at the close.
Uncomfortable an experience as that undeniably was, the Oviedo native insists that it helped to improve him as a driver and to mentally condition him for anything that F1 might choose to throw at him. Good training, one might argue, for his 2010 arrival at a team historically famous for its internal pressure cauldron, intense, merciless media glare and maelstrom of politics and polemics – as well as for the increased attention the generally shy and reserved 28-year-old will doubtless receive all around the globe now that he is behind the wheel of one of the scarlet cars.
Some 36,000 avid fans turned out to watch the 21-time grand prix-winner in testing at Valencia earlier this month – more, astonishingly, than attended last year's Turkish Grand Prix in Istanbul. And this for a nation that prior to Alonso's success in the top flight, had barely even given the sport so much as a second glance.
“2007 was very difficult, but I learnt a lot personally,” the Asturian candidly underlined. “At the time, McLaren and Ferrari were fighting each other and it was very close. In the end I think we had the better car, but we finished second and third. Unfortunately, we did something wrong.
“It was good for my career to take that step of joining [McLaren] and growing up. I learned how to work with a team and also to ¬withstand the media pressure. The difficulties I had were coming from the team and the media. Now I am much more prepared for everything in Formula 1 – and in life as well.
“It was a hard battle when I started [as a Spaniard in F1] – there was nothing. When I raced at Minardi in my first year (2001), my family had to watch me on German TV. In Spain there were no TV rights for Formula 1. Now I think the attention on me here will go up even more – but the biggest difficulty will be outside Spain. When I race in Australia or Korea or Japan I know it will be a big change for me, because Ferrari fans are worldwide. It's very nice if you win but it's not so good if you lose. All this is part of being a Ferrari driver.”