Alonso's 'rare' longevity inspires admiration from rivals

Fernando Alonso (ESP) Aston Martin F1 Team. 20.04.2024. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 5, Chinese Grand Prix, Shanghai, China, Sprint and Qualifying Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Rew / XPB Images
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With the recent announcement of a new contract at Aston Martin meaning that Fernando Alonso is due to race on until 2026 when he will be 45 has redefined expectations as to what's possible among his current rivals on the grid.

Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel was only 35 when he retired from F1, ironically opening the door for Alonso to replace him at Aston. That now seems absurdly young compared to Alonso who is set to be the oldest F1 driver since Graham Hill in 1975.

Alonso already holds the record for the most Grand Prix races started since his debut in Australia in 201. The number will hit an astonishing 400 by the time the season gets to Qatar, assuming he takes part in all the rounds until then.

"I think it takes a lot of dedication," McLaren driver Lando Norris told the media in China last week when asked about Alonso's formidable endurance. "I don't think anyone thinks Fernando lacks that in any way.

"He's probably one of the oldest guys competing at the top of any sport in the world," he continued. "You're probably never going to potentially see it again within Formula 1.

"If you do, it's going be extremely rare," he said. "He shows that [dedication] with everything that he does in life, whether it's at the track or away from the track, in different sports or whatever.

Norris added that he had "a lot of lot of respect for that kind of thing" but had no idea at this point whether he would have anything like the same long run in F1.

"I have no idea if I'll want to do it in 20 years' time, if I'm still going strong," he suggested. "It depends on what you want to do. Everyone is different. It's rare that you see someone commit for so long in any sport."

(L to R): Lando Norris (GBR) McLaren; Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari; and Esteban Ocon (FRA) Alpine F1 Team, in the FIA Press Conference.
18.04.2024. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 5, Chinese Grand Prix, Shanghai, China, Preparation Day.
-, EMail: © Copyright: XPB Images

Speaking at the same press conference, Alpine driver Esteban Ocon said Alonso's record was "a dream career for any athlete or racing driver.

"I don't know if I would still be racing at his age but, truly, his dedication is something that is an example for all of us," he acknowledged.

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc admitted that it was "difficult to imagine" himself still in F1 in 15 or 18 years time, adding that he had other things he wanted to achieve in the future - like Le Mans, also one of Alonso's accomplishments.

"I would love to be racing still for many years," he said. "As long as I am fully motivated then I will race. And I love what I do, so for now that's what I want to do for the longest time possible."

(L to R): Sergio Perez (MEX) Red Bull Racing celebrates his pole position in qualifying parc ferme with second placed Fernando Alonso (ESP) Aston Martin F1 Team. 06.05.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 5, Miami Grand Prix, Miami, Florida, USA, Qualifying Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images

Red Bull driver Sergio Perez, himself among the older tier of drivers at 34, said that Alonso's longevity in the sport was less to do with physical endurance than it was his mental stamina and drive.

"I have a tremendous amount of respect for Fernando," the Mexican driver said. "Not because he can drive until he’s 45 or 50. It's the level of motivation that he has in the sport after so many years.

"Drivers can go as long as they want. There is not a physical limitation, it's more to do with motivation," he insisted. "There's so many races, Formula 1 really takes a lot out of your life. You give everything to the sport.

"It's something that I have huge respect for, for Fernando."

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