The secret to Fernando Alonso’s success is quite simple.

“It’s 100 per cent plus extra,” he says with a smile. “Everyone in this sport is doing their best, but to win you have to go just a little bit further. When I was younger this was sometimes difficult to process. Now I select what I focus on.”

Formula 1 is not the kind of sport that operates below the parapet. Far from it. Sexy, luxurious, fast, transformative and often transgressive, motorsport defines what it means to be competitive in the modern world. Powered by fuel, money, power and ego (as well as by genuine technological and automotive wizardry), and mediated by an industry that still reveres the sport’s ability to shock as well as inspire awe, Formula 1 might just be sport’s greatest soap opera.

And whatever it does, it does at the very highest level. This is because the people involved – whether they be proprietors, technicians, drivers, sponsors or actual spectators (the lifeblood of the sport) – usually operate at the very highest levels themselves.

Like Fernando Alonso, a man who is one of the most famous bold-face names in an industry awash with them.

Last August, the two-time F1 world champion announced that he would leave Alpine (the team formerly known as Renault) at the end of the season to join the Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant Formula One® Team. The 41-yearold champion would be replacing the retiring Sebastian Vettel, while opening up a seat at Alpine. Alonso not only wanted a multi-year deal – something his previous employers were apparently reluctant to grant him – but also wanted his switch to the Aston Martin Formula 1 team to eventually turn into an executive non-racing role once he finally stops driving.

In the motorsport world, this was seismic news, something very few could see coming, and proof that the seasoned Spanish champion – along with the two world championships he won in 2005 and 2006, by the end of last season he had already secured 32 wins, 98 podiums, 22 pole positions, 2061 points, and 355 starts – was as pumped and as hungry as ever. The Spaniard spent 2019 and 2020 pursuing a variety of other motorsports, while his ability to succeed was never in doubt:  Alonso won the 24 Hours of Le Mans twice, in 2018 and 2019, and the FIA World Endurance Championship in 2018–2019. He also won the Daytona 24 before finally deciding to return to F1. “I think I proved to myself that I’m a complete driver, not just a motorsport driver,” he says, proud of how he changed during his sabbatical, “being out of my comfort zone, learning from scratch, without five-star hotels.” And it was this return that reenergised his thirst, his innate hunger, and his untrammelled desire to scale the very top once more.

He remains the only Spanish Formula 1 driver to have won the World Championship, and he wants to do it again. With a new team that has some serious firepower behind it, he thinks he can do it.

The oldest driver on the grid joins 24-year-old Canadian Lance Stroll, who is about to begin his fifth full season with the team. Lance, who has already racked up three podium finishes, made his F1 debut with Williams back in 2017 and joined Racing Point in 2019, before it was rebranded to Aston Martin for the 2021 Formula 1 season following his father Lawrence Stroll’s investment in the iconic brand.

As the new season starts, there is much excitement about Alonso’s arrival, and the driver has no qualms about espousing his passion for his new position. As one of the most experienced drivers in the business, there is a real sense that he has finally found his home.

“Aston Martin is probably the team in Formula 1 that is investing more and is invested in winning in the short to medium term,” he says, unable to disguise his excitement. “With the new facilities, with the new people joining the team in the last two years, there is this feeling that sooner or later Aston Martin will succeed in Formula 1. So, it was a very active project to join. And it’s the brand itself. It is one of the most iconic car companies in the world, and I am privileged to be part of it.”

His deal will afford him the luxury of being able to continue to build the team as well as oversee the development of what is already proving to be a sensational car. In this way he can help shape the team, both now and in the future.

“At this stage in my career I wanted something that could be a long-term proposition that could not only use my experience and my knowledge of many years in Formula 1 but also to have some kind of legacy when I stop racing and be linked to something as important as Aston Martin.

“I’ve known Lawrence now for 14 years, and I love his passion, and I love his way of seeing racing. All the success that he has had in other areas of his life, he has had this vision. I have a lot of trust in this project because of him and his belief, and of course because of the team we have now. Also, the facilities we are building are magnificent. So, we have all the ingredients to build success in the short to medium term. I think the future is very bright for the team, and we just need to make sure that we all work hard and make this a success as soon as possible.”

This success seems assured; it just depends when. Building a new team with a relatively new marque depends on many things. And while the salient ingredients are hardly trade secrets – the to-do list will always include a car, a driver and an awful lot of investment – without a vision, and the ability to turn that vision into a reality while inspiring a team to deliver it, you are nothing. Personality and cash will get you so far, as will driving ability and technological splash, but without the secret sauce you may as well be playing Hot Wheels or Scalextric. Passion is what is needed, along with entrepreneurial elan, and a bulletproof desire to win. Alonso knows all about this. Having suffered the vagaries of an industry that tends to only celebrate success, he understands that, in order to win, everything must not just go according to plan, but also exceed expectations.

And a lot of Aston’s success is going to come down to Lawrence Stroll himself.

“As well as his history of running big companies, and his litany of success, he has a successful track record, so he is in a perfect position to steer this Formula 1 team,” says Alonso. “You need to be able to manage a lot of people and a lot of interesting characters. There are a lot of egos in Formula 1, and these need to be managed too. You also have to believe that you can do things differently as well as do things better than the others. You need to be able to put all these things together and work as a team. Given his background, I think Lawrence is unique, and we are very lucky to have him leading us. This leadership is very different from other teams. Like I said, I trust him. Everything else he has done has been a success, so why not Aston Martin?”

Formula 1 has witnessed some extraordinary events in the last few seasons, and with renewed media attention the interest in the sport – with television finally getting to grips with the theatre of the sport – has reached a kind of global fever pitch. How does Alonso think that the new season is going to differ from what came before?

“This is going to be a fascinating season for many, many reasons, not least the new regulations that began last year. All the teams have learned from each other and got closer and closer, so because of that we will probably see more action on track. The sport is also full of a new generation of spectators. Every race, every country is going to be fascinating. There are going to be a lot more races than in the past. I think the sport is on a high and we are all benefitting from this. Personally, I am looking forward to learning from the new people on the team. There will be new philosophies of racing, new philosophies regarding setting up the car, new strategies… all of this is very exciting. In Formula 1 you have the most talented designers and strategists in the world, and it is a privilege to work with them. I’m discovering so much. The Aston Martin team has been doing extraordinarily well in the last four or five years and I know that is going to continue. They were always one of the most efficient teams with the way they dealt with the budget and now they have an amazing opportunity to be even better.”

Alonso still hasn’t lost his wanderlust and is keen to travel the world again.

“Every new country we visit is a revelation, and I know there are talks about racing in South Africa and in South America, and both these things will be very, very exciting. We are a moving parade. The action on the track is guaranteed, the personalities are guaranteed, so it’s all about where we drive. “I think everyone is looking forward to Las Vegas this season. It’s the penultimate race and it’s going to be a strip circuit, so it’s going to be very exciting. Also, the sport is growing so much in the US that the response to the race is going to be fantastic.”

He will also be spending more and more time in the UK, but even though he isn’t a big fan of the British weather – seriously, who is? – he enjoys the camaraderie as well as the expertise to be found among the Aston Martin crew.

And how does he retain his competitive spirit?

“The world has changed, and we now live in a digital world, although you can feel the spirit of the company when you spend time there,” he says. “After the pandemic we now work in a slightly different way, but it has brought some progress, I think. We do things differently now, and some of the learnings after Covid have been helpful. Video conferencing has certainly made communication much easier, especially as we are a truly global sport. Digital platforms have also made it easier to interact with the spectators at race meetings. And audiences are growing all the time.”

“It’s very simple. I’m a very competitive person and I hate losing. Every day is a new challenge. It doesn’t matter if it’s motorsport or playing tennis. I have to win. That hasn’t changed from day one. As soon as one race finishes, I am thinking about the next. It’s constant. How to improve the car, how to drive better, how to win. On Sunday nights I always replay the race and come to the conclusion that I could have done it differently. It’s a never-ending struggle for perfection. That has been my life.”

And how has his ambition changed over the years?

“You become more aware of things the older you become. You are more mature. You know how the sport works. You understand the limitations. Formula 1 is a unique sport in that regard. That first race is all important as the grid will see minimal changes over the course of a season, so you have to be prepared. If you are between positions six and ten you will more or less be there for the following ten months. And that’s quite hard for a sportsman. You have to remain motivated and have to be ready for any eventuality.

“Waiting for the season to start is always a special time of the year, as you obviously have to prepare physically, and this year I changed a few things in my preparation. It’s not the same as when you are forty compared to twenty, so you have to accommodate. You have to take care of your food, you have to take care of the sports you play, and you have to be ready for this gruelling calendar. We all change with time, even though I have kept the same trainers and physios that I have had all my career. Mentally, the biggest challenge is obviously the length of the season. It’s impossible to be 100 per cent all the time because of the length of the season; the important thing is to stay at 95 per cent all the time.”

As for this season’s new car, it’s fair to say that Alonso is a little bit in love. “It’s beautiful,” he says, with another smile.

“I think we will have the most beautiful car on the grid. It’s also fast, and there have been quite a few changes since last year’s car. Ninety-five per cent of the car is new. Ninety-five per cent. This is quite amazing, as the entire team has been working on this since April 2022. This is basically the first project of the new Aston Martin. It is the baseline for the next four, five years, and we all have a lot of hope for it. There is more optimism among the team than in any team I have worked with before. “Oh, and did I mention that it’s beautiful?”

Watch Fernando Alonso drive ‘The Perfect Lap’ in the Aston Martin DBX707: