Alonso backs Sainz to reach F1 despite Toro Rosso snub

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Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso has backed fellow Spaniard Carlos Sainz Jr. to reach Formula 1 despite being rejected by Toro Rosso for a race seat in 2015.

The Spanish youngster currently leads the Formula Renault 3.5 championship – one of F1’s feeder series – and looks set to win the title, following in the footsteps of Kevin Magnussen.

He was expected to replace Jean-Eric Vergne at Toro Rosso in 2015, being the most senior and established Red Bull junior driver, but was snubbed in favor of 16-year-old Max Verstappen. The Dutchman will become the youngest ever F1 driver when he makes his debut next March.

Speaking in Belgium ahead of this weekend’s race, Alonso admitted that he was surprised not to see Sainz get the nod, but is confident that his compatriot will reach F1.

“Obviously I was thinking and many people thought that he would be with Toro Rosso next year,” Alonso explained. “He will arrive in Formula 1 sooner or later. He has the talent, he has the mentality, he has the right approach.

“He is 19 – now that seems old. 19 years old, leading the World Series, winning in all the championships that he’s raced before. He will arrive.”

Verstappen’s rapid promotion has certainly ruffled some feathers in Formula 1, sparking a debate over whether or not he is too young to race. For Alonso, putting in a driver at such a young age has both its pros and cons.

“There is a lot of experience that you get with the years, the championships on your shoulders,” Alonso said. “Sometimes arriving in too early is a good thing, sometimes arriving too early is a bad thing, because you don’t have the experience sometimes to cope with some of the demands that Formula 1 has.

“Red Bull has what it wants because everybody today asks about Verstappen, which is good coverage in the media.”

Would Alonso have been ready at 17? “Probably I was not ready,” he admitted.

Hunter and Jett Lawrence walk a delicate balance between winning races and favoring the fans

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ANAHEIM, California – Hunter and Jett Lawrence are two of the most popular riders on the Monster Energy Supercross circuit, with fan bases that established and grew immediately when they came to America to ride for HRC Honda. Connecting with those fans came naturally for the charming Australian brothers, but it has not come without cost.

“It’s cool they’re there and it’s one of the things we try to do is give the fan that interaction,” Hunter told NBC Sports during Supercross Media Sessions ahead of the 2023 season. “It’s why we do ride days, meet-and-greets, press conferences  – all that stuff, because it’s exciting for them. We are trying to bridge the gap so they get personal interaction. Because that’s all they’re after. It’s all about getting that fan to think, ‘I know that guy. I didn’t meet him, but I get him. I get his humor.’ ”

There is no artifice in either brother. Their fan appeal is directly attributable to who they are at their core. And it’s that very genuineness that has throngs of fans standing outside their hauler, waiting for just a moment of their time.

“It’s about being yourself – talking to people,” Hunter said. “It’s not like I turn it on or turn it off; it’s just about being yourself. This is who we are, this is who you get and this is how it will be. You can’t portray something you’re not. If you keep saying you’re an orange, but apples keep popping out, it’s only a matter of time [until they figure it out].”

The key word is ‘throngs’, however. One person wanting just a few moments of time is incidental. Dozens are an entirely different matter.

“It’s tough in Supercross because it’s such a long day,” Hunter said. “The recovery side of it’s tough to do everything. We get stuck outside the grid; we can’t be there for like 10 minutes. We’re stuck there for like an hour. It gets overwhelming at times.

“You feel bad because you want to sign everything, but you’re still here for a job. Every race day is like that. We do the best we can, but there are so many people who wait out front. They’re screaming for you. Even when we’re coming off the sessions, they’re already yelling before you put your bike on the stands. You don’t even get time to take you helmet off.”

It can be a double-edged sword. Personality is only one part of the equation. A much bigger part of the brothers’ fan appeal comes because of their success. Hunter finished second in the last two Supercross 250 West title battles and third in the past two Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championships.

Jett won the last three titles he competed for, including last year’s 250 East Supercross Championship and the last two Motocross contests.

“I think they expect me to have nothing else to do on a Saturday and that I have unlimited energy,” Jett said. “But, I’m trying to recover for the next race.”

It’s a matter of timing. Jett has gained a reputation last year for handing out hundreds of donuts before the races during Red Bull fan appreciation sessions. And after the race, once the business at hand has been settled, Jett is equally available to the fans.

“After the race it’s fine; I’ll stay behind.” Jett said. “My job is done on the racing side of things, but until that last moto is done, my main thing is dirt bikes. The fans come along with it. The fans are part of the job, but main job at hand is the racing side of things. After the race, I’ll stay there for an hour or so. It’s a lot calmer.”