Alpine's Fernando Alonso is pictured at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain, on May 6 2021. Picture: REUTERS/ALBERT GEA
Alpine's Fernando Alonso is pictured at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain, on May 6 2021. Picture: REUTERS/ALBERT GEA

London — The days of 140,000 fans cheering Fernando Alonso to a home victory in Spain are long gone but the double Formula One world champion returns this weekend firm in the belief he can drive better than ever.

The 39-year-old is making his first Spanish Grand Prix appearance since 2018, when he was at then struggling McLaren, with his comeback a work in progress after three races for Renault-owned Alpine.

He retired from the opener in Bahrain in March with a brake issue, finished 10th in Imola after Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen was demoted and was eighth in Portugal last weekend.

Much has been made of top drivers struggling this season after switching teams, let alone returning after two years racing elsewhere, but Alonso suggested that has been exaggerated. He said before the season started he felt at his best and he stood by that.

“I am at a point in my life where I feel good and I feel capable of driving better than ever but that doesn’t mean you don’t find difficulties while entering a new adventure,” he told a select group of reporters. “I was the first to admit I was not 100% in Imola and not comfortable and probably underperforming, but it was one race.”

Even then, Alonso was only two-tenths of a second off young French teammate Esteban Ocon.

“At the end of the year, we talk. If I underperform the whole season and everything was more difficult than I expected, maybe there is a point to really discuss and go deep into the questions of why it is more difficult than previously,” he suggested. “But in Bahrain I was happy and probably overperforming ... we need a couple of races for everything to settle down.”

The crowd at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya on Sunday will be restricted to 1,000 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a far cry from the Alonso-mania of old. In 2006 more than 130,000, mostly in the blue and yellow of his home region of Asturias and the Renault livery, watched him become the first Spaniard to win at home and collect the trophy from the king.

In 2007, after his second title with Renault, a record 140,700 attended. In 2013 he won again with Ferrari, still his last victory in Formula One.

“What we saw in the grandstands in 2006 and 2007 will never be seen again. Ever,” said Alonso. “I think 2006 is something I will never experience again in terms of the passion of the people and support from the grandstand.”

The Spanish Grand Prix is out of contract after Sunday’s race but he hopes it will not be a farewell story.

“Honestly I’m not thinking that this is the last one in Spain,” said Alonso, who has also finished second four times in Barcelona and won in Valencia in 2012. “We are a country that has been good for Formula One in the past two decades.”

Reuters

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