David Coulthard has revealed what he believes to be the key reason why Fernando Alonso hasn’t lost any of his skill in his time away from Formula 1.
Alonso has made an appearance on the podium four times out of five races so far in the 2023 season and currently sits third, ahead of Lewis Hamilton, in the Drivers’ Championship.
The 40-year-old Aston Martin driver made a dramatic switch from Alpine in time for the 2023 season, a time when the Silverstone-based squad achieved a leap in performance, reigniting his career almost two decades on from his world titles with Renault in 2005 and 2006.
Despite his age, Alonso is continuing to keep pace with the much younger drivers around him while making minimal mistakes, doing what Michael Schumacher was unable to do when he returned to F1 with Mercedes in 2010.
“When Alonso stepped away from Formula 1 the first time, he went straight into sports cars, IndyCar, he did the Dakar, he’s got a kart track and you see him out testing his karts at his facility in Spain,” Coulthard said on the Formula For Success podcast.
“So the uninterrupted being in the mode of being a racing driver, and all of the things that keeps sharp in your mind. There’s the expression, ‘Don’t let the old man in’.
Two-time champion Alonso left F1 in 2018 after four seasons of battling with an underperforming McLaren. He made appearances with McLaren in 2019 as a brand ambassador but when that contract ended he was insistent that his break from F1 wasn’t the end.
Two years later, Alonso returned to the F1 grid with Alpine alongside Esteban Ocon before confirming his move to Aston Martin at the end of 2022, after two seasons with the Enstone-based team.
“If you let the old man or the old woman in that, ultimately, is what you end up becoming. But, if you fight against that and you keep a young spirit for as long as nature will allow.
“I think, in comparison to Michael, who stopped and no longer was racing, then went and played in motorbikes and then had a crash and broke a vertebra, and then came back to Formula 1 three years after he’d originally stopped – he could still go through the motions. “
Schumacher had retired from F1 at the peak of his career in 2006 but returned in 2010 with Mercedes. Over three seasons, Schumacher had shown flashes of brilliance but made a number of memorable mistakes.
“He was still an incredible individual, but he just wasn’t as good as he had been before he was in his 40s and the clock had moved.
“So I think it was that uninterrupted nature of Fernando’s time away from F1, as we saw with Kimi Raikkonen [who sat out 2010 and ’11] as well – he went away rallying.”
Coulthard compared the two multiple World Champions and said that there is a key difference which led to the success of Alonso’s F1 comeback unlike Schumacher’s.
“When Alonso stepped away from Formula 1 the first time, he went straight into sports cars, IndyCar, he did the Dakar, he’s got a kart track and you see him out testing his karts at his facility in Spain,” Coulthard said.