Fernando Alonso: F1 master moves on, his legacy assured

McLaren's Fernando Alonso during the press conference for the French Grand Prix in June, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 14 August 2018

Fernando Alonso: F1 master moves on, his legacy assured

  • Fernando Alonso has finally had enough of life in the slow lane with McLaren
  • The 37-year-old, the first Spanish driver to be crowned world champion, has long nurtured a dream to land motorsport's Triple Crown

LONDON: His two world championships now a distant memory, Fernando Alonso has finally had enough of life in the slow lane with McLaren.
The Spaniard is revered as a master of his metier, but his reservoir of patience with an underperforming car has finally hit empty.
The only surprise about Tuesday’s announcement that he was moving on to Indycar from 2019 was that it had not come sooner.
Since his return to ailing McLaren he has displayed great stoicism and humor as the famous British team struggles to produce a car to match the might of Mercedes, Ferrari or Red Bull.
The 37-year-old, the first Spanish driver to be crowned world champion, has long nurtured a dream to emulate the late Graham Hill and land motorsport’s coveted Triple Crown.
And his move to IndyCar in 2019 may well see him realize the ambition.
He has two legs in the bag, the Monaco Grand Prix and this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. That leaves the fabled Indy500 — he led the field on his debut in 2017 before his engine blew.
Born in Oviedo, in the Asturias province of northern Spain, Fernando Alonso Diaz inherited his passion for driving fast cars from his father.
Jose Luis was an amateur kart racer and presented his son with a replica pedal F1 car.
His parents said Alonso showed a competitive spirit at a young age and, like F1 legend Michael Schumacher before him, Alonso embarked on a karting career.
He won three Spanish karting titles before winning the world juniors in 1996.
He eventually graduated to Formula 3000 where he attracted the attention of the Formula One talent-spotters.
Flavio Briatore, the flamboyant Italian playboy became Alonso’s personal manager and guided his career, eventually bringing him to Renault where he claimed the world title for the first time in 2005, at 24 the then-youngest ever champion.
He defended his title the following season, calling on a combination of natural speed and competitive instincts, allied with supreme race-craft and an iron will to win, that invited comparisons with Schumacher.
In 2007 he switched to McLaren, but it proved a fractious time alongside a rookie named Lewis Hamilton.
He jumped stables back to Renault for 2008 and 2009, before Ferrari came calling where he followed in the footsteps of late aristocratic compatriot Alfonso de Portago, who raced for them in the 1950s.
He finished second in the world championship three times for the Italian marque, before rejoining McLaren in 2015.
Whilst leaving the door open for a possible return to F1, Alonso gave every indication in an emotion-charged message on Instagram, that he was bidding F1 goodbye for good.
Written as if to a lover he said: “You were not expecting me and I was not sure if I want to know you.
“When I barely knew how to walk, I ran straight toward the noise, the circuits, without knowing anything about you.
“We had very good times, some unforgettable, others really bad. We have played together against incredible rivals. You played with me and I learned how to play with you too.
“I have seen you changing, sometimes for good and sometimes for — in my opinion — bad.
“I know you love me but be sure, I love you too.”
The winner of 32 Grands Prix typically has promised to see out the 2018 season with “more commitment and passion than ever.”
F1’s loss is Indy’s gain.

Saudi Arabia celebrates 20th year of first Olympic medal win

Updated 28 September 2020

Saudi Arabia celebrates 20th year of first Olympic medal win

  • Hadi Souan scooped silver in Sydney at 29; athlete says success was for whole nation

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s first Olympic medal win 20 years ago inspired a generation of athletes and was a catalyst for the development of sport, according to the president of the Kingdom’s Olympic committee.

Hadi Souan won silver in the 400m hurdles at the Sydney Games in 2000.

The accomplishment was one of many in a long and successful journey for the athlete, who became a board member of the Saudi Arabian Athletics Federation (SAAF), the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee (SAOC) Assembly, a member of the Olympic Council of Asia Athlete Commission, sports and events manager at Qiddiya Investment Company, a member of the Saudi Sports Arbitration Center, and a member of the SAOC’s International Relations Committee.

“Today we celebrate Souan’s achievement, which inspired a generation of Saudi athletes and was a catalyst for the development of sport in the Kingdom,” said the SAOC’s president, Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal. “It gives me great pleasure to see sport thriving in Saudi Arabia. We are committed to ensuring that this trend continues and that the Kingdom’s next generation enjoys the benefits of participating in sport, both in Saudi Arabia and at major global sporting events.”

Souan started out as a footballer but took up athletics in PE class, winning second place in a school championship. He qualified to compete at the Kingdom level and went on to become a national team member in less than a year.

He started with the high jump, then decathlon and finally found himself taking on the 400m hurdles.

He trained under Egyptian coach Mohammed Thu Alfaqqar from 1991, under the Americans until 1994, and under 1968 Olympic gold medalist Lee Evans. But the best place Souan remembers training at was UCLA.

“It is a sport and artistic society indeed,” he said. “We spoke, ate, slept, and even relaxed for sport. These little things and the different sleeping habits here and there made me suffer a bit when I came back from the States, but we got used to it and I knew it made a difference in my lifestyle and mentality-wise.”

Souan also trained the European way in Paris under a Russian coach and France’s Amadou Dia Ba. “Hence I started to learn the difference between European and American schools,” he added. The US schools concentrated on endurance, while the French focused on speed.

He was grateful for the exposure to different cultures while training abroad with elite athletes, especially at a time when there was limited social awareness about the importance of sport.

“When I started training with US 400m hurdler Kevin Young, who clocked an Olympic record of 46.78 seconds at the 1992 Barcelona Games and which remains unbeaten until now, I felt that I could do what he is doing. I only need to be determined, disciplined, and committed and everything from there started to become imaginable. I started to see myself winning and when the time came and toward the end of the race I knew I was getting there but I wasn’t first. First place went to American Angelo Taylor who won in 47.50 seconds, while I did 47.53.”

He remembers the winning moment and never expected how the country would react to his achievement. It was overwhelming. 

He modestly said it was not his success alone, that it was a success for the whole nation and all of his team headed by the former SAAF president Prince Nawaf bin Mohammed, agent Emanuel Hudson, and coach John Smith. They all worked hard to create the right environment for him to deliver the medals.

“We were welcomed by the late King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, by the former president of General Presidency of Youth Welfare Prince Sultan bin Fahd, and everyone was happy and proud of what we did. I knew then that what I was fortunate to do was not simple at all and, luckily, was appreciated. I believe everyone started to look up for Saudis in athletics and watch out for similar future talents.”

The beauty of sport, he added, was its spirit and the values that were learned and developed through years of training, competing, winning and losing. 

“Although Taylor won first place we all, as a sports community, remain friends and also competed afterwards in several matches where he again took first place and I came second again. He came from a distance running race which allowed him to master his skills at the end of the 400m hurdles events, his approach was and still is just amazing.”

Souan won the silver medal aged 29 at his second Olympic appearance, in what he felt was perfect timing as he might not have been as successful at subsequent Games.

“Usually when you get to taste that level of achievement on a global scale you want more, but I knew that it was time to give back now and help my teammate and younger generations taste it at an early age.”

That’s how I got involved in the athletics federation and the Sports Ministry afterwards.”

He said that it did not matter how someone was built, as long as they had the willpower to work on their body and skills in order to become the best they could be in the sport that they liked. He added that parents had greater awareness, as did athletes, and wished that more Saudis could do what he could not.

Although Souan retired as an athlete at the age of 34, after competing in the 2006 Asian Games in Qatar, he was and still is a role model who keeps giving back to his country. Because of his passion for sports he was a physical education teacher and then supervisor at the Ministry of Education. 

“I always felt responsible to keep my record clean because I’ve seen how parents and students used to look up to me so, as an Olympian, I wanted to give a good example.”

In addition to the Olympic silver medal he won, with an Asian record of 47.53 seconds, Souan counts the 2001 Goodwill Games hurdles silver from Brisbane as his most prized possession. 

All told Souan has won 40 gold medals including one from the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, South Korea.