Welcome to D’Marge’s new series called How To Get My Job, a celebration of the world’s most intriguing men with the world’s coolest jobs. In every interview we’ll be asking the hard questions so that you’ll know whether or not you have what it takes to cut it in every man’s dream career.
Fernando Alonso is a man who needs no introduction. Besides being a two-time Formula One World Champion, the 34-year-old Spaniard has had a stellar career racing some of the world’s fastest cars at the pinnacle of motorsport. What most don’t know however is how he got into the extravagant sport, the sacrifices and what it takes to remain at the pointy end of the field year after year. We sat down with Alonso whilst in Melbourne for the launch of the Chandon McLaren-Honda partnership to find out.
“Formula One requires dedication for life.”
Make no mistake, the path to Formula One glory is an arduous journey. Many young kids who have dreamt it rarely make it past the early stages of regular weekend go-kart races where every professional driver had their start. This has a lot to do with the initial cost of investing in the sport with zero help from sponsors. Think purchasing expensive go-karts, tyres, fuel and general maintenance and you’re already out of pocket before you’ve even hit the track.
For Fernando Alonso, he says a lucky break and being born with a talent and determination is what will get you a paid driving seat.
“It’s more or less a long journey,” he says. “You start at go-karts and things normally flow on from the [motorsport] passion of the families and then it becomes reality when you arrive at single seaters and to all the other categories.”
“It’s a passion that we all have, some talent that we’re probably born with and then out of pure dedication, because Formula One requires dedication for life.”
Talent and dedication won’t pay the bills into the years as one progresses through the sport though. Early on in the sport, talented young drivers are either scouted or have to prove themselves to smaller teams before they’re given the chance for a stint behind the wheel. For Fernando Alonso, this unorthodox employment process came by via sheer luck.
“I was very lucky to be honest,” he recalls.
“I didn’t have the resources, I didn’t have the support from a big company or someone behind so I relied completely on the team’s trust in me. It happened from a very young age in go-karts when I had an opportunity to drive for free for a start in the European and world championships. And even at the end I had very little salary in go-karts.”
That same luck would eventually follow Alonso into other junior racing categories before he hit the big time in Formula One.
“I’d say it’s probably harder than what people see from the outside.”
“In other categories and Formula One I have always been very lucky to have all the support of the teams and their sponsors; I never needed to pay anything or do strange agreements,” he says.
Given that getting by and maintaining budgets aren’t as big a priority to Alonso these days, the next question that needs prying when wanting to become a Formula One driver revolves around billable working hours. If you’ve ever wondered what kind of hours Formula One drivers pull then wonder no more.
“I’d say it’s probably harder than what people see from the outside,” says Alonso.
“Because obviously they only see Sunday afternoon the race itself. We work full dedication 365 days a year and we firstly need to train a lot and prepare ourselves physically and mentally to the sport.”
“And then there are other commitments like marketing activities, factory days where we prepare the races at the simulator and then on the weekends we arrive from Wednesday until Sunday afternoon where that is the race and the public thing where there’s a lot going on.”
Alonso pauses for a few seconds.
“It’s okay. It’s our life and we’re used to doing it. But I think the discipline and how professional the sport has become, that requires full dedication.”
For a man who tells us that his first ever road car was an old Renault Megane, it’s surprising to see how far Alonso has moved through the ranks to become a veteran in the world’s fastest sport in 2016. In Formula One circles there exists a stigma whereby drivers who reach the age of thirty get scrutinised on whether or not they can still drive and deliver race wins at the limit.
Fernando Alonso thinks this is bullshit.
“I think it’s about talent. There are some people more prepared at a young age. [There are] people who are 30-years-old and maybe they don’t have the speed but they may have the passion for many years. So I don’t think the age thing is a problem.”
“It’s true, recently Formula One has been going for more young guys and there are younger drivers arriving in the sport and they’ve already prepared and are very dedicated so I don’t think that’s a problem in the future.”
Driving at 300km/h for a day job may sound fun to most, but there’s a lot of inherent risks involved which attributes to the big salaries of most Formula One drivers. Before Alonso encountered his near-death experience at the first round of Formula One 2016 in Melbourne, we eerily posed the question to the man: What was his scariest moment behind the wheel?
“Probably some wet races which requires confidence to drive the car. Visibility is very low behind a car with the spray from the water and tyres. It’s not that scary to some, but we have a lot of respect for the speed and dangers of the sport when you’re at 300km/h and can’t see anything more than 10 metres in front of you. It’s quite a bad feeling to have and probably the scariest moment.”
If after all of this and you’re still convinced you want to risk your life to go racing every second weekend whilst flying around on private jets, then Alonso has some sage advice for you.
“Try to enjoy the sport and activity. There are lots of young kids and people who are dreaming to enter Formula One or other things in life. If they don’t enjoy it at one point, it’s difficult to keep going and to sacrifice what you need to follow your dream.”
“Try not to take it too professionally at the beginning, especially in go-karts and all the categories. Try to have fun, that’s the best advice. I see a lot of parents put a lot of pressure at a very young age where the kids have to deliver and they have to become a champion. That would become impossible on a long term basis.”