After being ‘very scared’ by bike accident, Fernando Alonso back in F1 feeling ‘positive’

Fernando Alonso bike accident
Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images
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MADRID — Fernando Alonso recently drove up behind the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton entering the straightway and quickly pulled to the side to overtake the seven-time world champion.

The move was replayed again and again in Spain and brought some excitement to Formula One fans everywhere.

The old rivals who fought for titles in the past were back at it again.

CHASING EIGHT: Lewis Hamilton aiming for F1 history

It was only preseason testing, though, and it turned out Alonso didn’t even know it was Hamilton – his McLaren teammate in 2007 – who was in front of him when he made the pass at the Bahrain track where the new season will begin this weekend.

Alonso himself was the first to say that moments like those are not likely to happen right away on race day as he returns to F1 after a two-year absence.

“I only saw in the news and the video and everyone excited about the moment,” Alonso said in an interview Thursday with The Associated Press, ahead of Sunday’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.

AUTO-PRIX-F1-BAHRAIN-TEST
Alpine driver Fernando Alonso drives during Formula One preseason testing at the Bahrain International Circuit in the city of Sakhir (MAZEN MAHDI/AFP via Getty Images).

“Obviously it would be nice to be fighting and to have that adrenaline of big fights and win possibilities on Sundays, but let’s take one step at a time,” he said. “Let’s see where we are. We are very motivated. We are very happy with how things went in the tests and we just need to go racing now, which is the main thing for us.”

A few weeks ago, Alonso, 39, feared he wouldn’t be racing at all after breaking his upper jaw in bicycle accident.

“I was very scared,” the Spaniard said. “One month before the first race of the championship you find yourself in the hospital after a bike accident. … And you start thinking if this could delay your comeback and if this will have any consequences on your comeback. But luckily the doctors quickly identified the problem … and immediately said that it was a quick recovery.”

He needed less than two weeks to get back to preparing for his season with Alpine, the rebranded Renault team where the Spaniard won his two F1 titles in 2005 and 2006.

Alonso is returning to F1 after racing in other series and events the last two seasons, including the Dakar Rally and the Indy 500.

“Maybe I was expecting to be a little more stressed, a little bit more anxious about being in the car, but Formula One is so intense that the day before jumping in the car you have so many commitments and activities that the day goes quite quickly,” Alonso said. “But, yes, I’m looking forward so much to being in the car and kicking off the 2021 season.”

He said he will “be up to speed quite quickly” as there were few changes in the series since he left, but acknowledged he likely won’t be contending for victories.

He said he “would love to be in that position of winning straight away” but expects “things quite similar to last year,” with Mercedes and Red Bull dominating at the top again.

“Our aim is to be there taking any opportunity that may come, try to be regular in the points, in the top 10, try to fight for some podiums,” he said.

Because of the few changes from last season, Alonso hopes Alpine will keep Renault’s momentum after a good second half of 2020, when the team became “very strong and more competitive.”

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Fernando Alonso arrives in the paddock for the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix at the Sakhir circuit in Manama. (GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images).

He said his first impressions with the car were good and he ended preseason testing “with a positive feeling.”

“How that translates in terms of competitive level, we don’t know yet,” Alonso said.

Part of the goal this season will be to prepare for next year, when wide-ranging regulation changes could revamp the grid and make it more even.

“I’m confident,” he said. “I think the team knows that one of the biggest challenges into next year is going to be understanding the rules, interpreting the rules in a clever way, and also starting the project as soon as possible. We have to be with one eye on the 2021 season and another eye on the 2022 (season).”

By 2022, Alonso hopes to be fully up to speed, and that his encounters with Hamilton on the track will be more meaningful than the one from a few days ago in Bahrain.

 

Houston Supercross by the numbers: Five riders begin to gap the field

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Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.

Houston Supercross numbers
Cooper Webb’s ability to close races makes him a Houston favorite. – Feld Motor Sports

Despite an accident in his heat in San Diego that sent him to the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ), Sexton recovered to score a top-five that weekend. His podium finish in Anaheim 1 and overall win last week in Anaheim 2 makes him one of the three riders with a perfect top-five record. He is joined by Cooper Webb, who finished second in the first two rounds and fourth last week, and Ken Roczen, whose consistency in the first three races contributed to him grabbing the top spot in this week’s NBC Supercross Power Rankings.

There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.

Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.

Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.

By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.

With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.

This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit.

Jim Pomeroy won the first race in the Astrodome during the inaugural season of 1974 on a 250, which was the premiere class at the time. Houston was one of three races held that year along with events at Daytona International Speedway and the Los Angeles Coliseum. All three venues return in 2023 with the first SuperMotocross championship finale returning to the famed LA Coliseum in September.

Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.

Two privateers have started the season on a high note.

Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.

Michael Mosiman scored his first 250 win last year in San Diego. – Feld Motor Sports

The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.

Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.

In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.

The other 250 riders with 2022 wins this week are Mosiman, who earned his first Supercross win last year in San Diego, and Nate Thrasher, who became the fifth new class winner at Daytona.

Jeremy Martin will attempt to extend a record this week in Houston. His division leading SuperMotocross podiums number 65. He has 26 wins in the combined sessions, which ranks fourth all time.

Last Five Houston Winners

450s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Cooper Webb
2021, Race 2: Eli Tomac
2021, Race 1: Justin Barcia
2020, no race
2019, Cooper Webb
2018, Jason Anderson

250s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Colt Nichols
2021, Race 2: Jett Lawrence
2021, Race 1: Christian Craig
2020, no race
2019, Dylan Ferrandis
2018, Aaron Plessinger

By the Numbers

Anaheim 2
San Diego

More SuperMotocross coverage

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Malcom Stewart out for “extended duration” after knee surgery
Haiden Deegan makes Supercross debut in Houston, Justin Cooper to 450s
Talon Hawkins set to relieve injured Jalek Swoll in Houston
Jalek Swoll out for an indefinite period with broken arm
Ken Roczen urgently needed a change
Chris Blose joins Pro Circuit Kawasaki in 250 East opener
Seth Hammaker to miss Houston with wrist injury
Jo Shimoda joins Seth Hammaker, Austin Forkner on injured list
Injury sidelines Austin Forkner for remainder of 2023 SX
Chase Sexton wins Anaheim 2 in 450s; Levi Kitchen takes 250s
Results and points from Anaheim 2