On the eve of this weekend's Hungarian Grand Prix – the race in which he broke his F1 duck eight years ago – a philosophical Fernando Alonso has mused that Michael Schumacher's record of seven drivers' crowns in the top flight 'will stay for many, many years'.
During Schumacher's original stint in F1, Alonso was one of only three drivers – alongside Mika Hakkinen and Jacques Villeneuve – to defeat him in a straight title duel, spoiling his retirement party by triumphing in the German legend's final two seasons before he initially hung up his helmet at the end of 2006.
In evidence of just how tough it is to consistently remain on top in the sport, however, whilst he has since found himself in the battle for glory twice more – in 2007 with McLaren-Mercedes and last year with Ferrari – on both occasions, Alonso was denied in the very last race of the campaign.
The Spaniard celebrated his 30th birthday today (Friday) at the Hungaroring, and to-date, he has claimed two titles, 27 grand prix victories, 20 pole positions, 19 fastest laps and 68 podium finishes. At the same age, Schumacher had similarly tallied two championships as well as 33 wins, 20 poles, 34 fastest laps and 65 podiums.
The similarities are striking – but when it is put to Alonso that he could eventually go on to match Schumacher's extraordinary run of success in the sport, he is quick to downplay his chances, stressing that he has been 'extremely lucky' to have done as well as he has done so far.
“I never thought I would have two world championships at 30, to be honest, because I know how difficult it is to win in F1, how difficult it is to succeed in this sport,” confessed the birthday boy – second-quickest at the end of Friday practice in Budapest – quoted by Sky Sports
. “These days, F1 is so competitive, so close. It is very difficult to see a dominant period as Ferrari had with Michael (from 2000 to 2004), so seven [titles] will be a record that will stay for many, many years.
“I am extremely lucky to have all the wins I have now, and I am not thinking at the moment of winning seven world titles as him when I am 42. I had the possibility in 2007 and missed out by one point; I also had the possibility last year, but just missed out in the final race in Abu Dhabi.
“To go into the last race fighting for the championship on four occasions, winning two, losing two, I think it is fair. If it was three-one [against], then maybe that is not fair. If there is hopefully a fifth time one day that I am fighting for the championship, we will see if I can win it.”
If he is to overcome the odds and do battle for the laurels for a fifth time in F1 2011, Alonso knows he has a mountain to climb, languishing as he presently does a gaping 86 points adrift of runaway Red Bull Racing pace-setter Sebastian Vettel in the standings with nine races remaining. He also reiterated that he will need his former employer McLaren's help to take points off the German, conceding: “To be honest, we do need their support. We prefer a strong McLaren car, and if both Ferraris can be on the podium and the third car is a McLaren, we will be very happy.”