The Spanish Grand Prix is approaching. The atmosphere is heating up, getting more and more caliente. The stakes are high, the tension rises. With not just one but two competitive local heroes – one of them riding quite high at the moment – the passion is building up and Sunday, in all of its poetry, cannot come soon enough. If we’re delighted in seeing Fernando Alonso fighting at the front, just imagine what might be going through the minds of the Spanish people who grew up with him as their national hero…
Spain is where Fernando took his last victory. Time has frozen since then: even the slightest mention of number 33 is frightening. Nobody wants to get their hopes up too high, no one wants to see the number 33 on the top step of the podium in any capacity… unless it’s for Alonso’s thirty-third race win.
Oftentimes we find ourselves identifying with a typically Spanish trait: that Latin fire that lights up the soul and brings warmth, making life that much more intense. And just like the Spaniards, we too are eager for that long-awaited win. So we wondered: with two drivers to cheer for, and with great hope of hearing their national anthem being played not just before the Grand Prix but after the race as well, how do Spanish people experience Formula 1?
Palpable excitement on the grandstands – and at home
There was a time when Formula 1 didn’t have a big following in Spain. It might sound strange but, in order to find a sold-out Montmelò circuit for the first time, you had to wait until 2005/2006. Grandstands covered in blue, a museum in honor of Fernando Alonso with racesuits, helmets and gloves telling his F1 story up until that point… It’s thanks to him that the Spanish people, particularly in the Asturias, have gotten into the sport – and that passion is still alive to this day. In some cases, it runs in the family:
«I remember watching Formula 1 with my dad, back when the TV coverage was free in Spain, and hearing him say “This bastard’s good” – especially in his Ferrari years, when he didn’t have a winning car but could still make his look like one»
It creates memories, moments of sharing:
«One year my father took me to Oviedo to celebrate the World Championship. He also built me some models of F1 cars, like the 2010 Ferrari»
And it’s destined to live on, whether it be through family gatherings to watch the Grand Prix or through the friendships this sport has contributed to create. A passion that brings people together, that makes them happy.
«I’m sure that I’ll still be watching F1 in fifty years, because it’s something that makes my Sundays happier».
Fernando, a man of the people
Maybe it’s because he’s from the Asturias, or maybe it’s the fact that he’s an exceptional driver, but the support for Alonso is huge.
«If Fernando Alonso doesn’t have any fans it’s because I’m not in this world anymore»
An unreal support, almost a form of gratitude. Just like we, young Italians, grew up watching Schumacher triumph in his red Ferrari suit, Spaniards have done the same with Fernando, through all his ups and downs. Nando is a man of the people: during both times of joy and struggle, the neo-Alonsistas have always shown him love and affection. And they’ll be ready to do so even more during the race weekend, when the blue tide will take over the grandstands.
A dive into the past, a sudden return to the years of prime Alonso. Fernando has always been capable of proving his worth both in competitive cars – the few ones he’s driven, at least – and uncompetitive ones: and even as a 41-year-old, he’s still doing it. He still has that thrill to race that often fades with age.
In the eyes of the Spanish people he is one of the best drivers in Formula 1 history – an opinion that may come across as controversial. After all, he’s only won two world titles: how could you possibly rank him among the greatest? Well, he would have four if Ferrari had given him a more competitive car in 2010 and 2012. Make that five, if he had scored one more point in 2007. His talent is flattering cars that are not in a position to win. But his departure from Ferrari in 2014 remains a career choice that some people haven’t forgiven him for.
And what about Carlos Sainz?
The majority of the support for the younger of the two Spaniards comes from his native area. A few people might have turned their nose up at Sainz’s arrival at Ferrari – perhaps due to Alonso’s past experience with the Scuderia – but, on the other hand, this career move has greatly increased the awareness of Carlos’ talent. He may not be the most supported driver, but he’s very well respected and encouraged nonetheless, and his achievements are something to be proud of.
Sainz is a tough opponent, there’s no doubt about it. Not in the same league as Alonso, but still widely regarded as a respectable second-tier driver. Strategy is his strongest point: he knows how to take advantage of other cars’ failures and misfortunes. From the McLaren years to his current stint with Ferrari, he has never given up; and at Monaco and Silverstone, in 2022, he showed just that.
Of course Carlos can’t quite compete with Fernando at the moment: comparisons between the two might just add more pressure on the former’s shoulders and even make him a target of undeserved hate. But on a good day, Sainz can beat anyone – so rule out car number 55 at your great peril.
The atmosphere is caliente. Spain holds out hope and dreams of history. Of glory.
Our biggest thanks go to all the Spanish people that have shared their emotions, thoughts and memories with us.
Original article (Italian) – Anna Botton
Translation – Claudio Scalia