Fernando Alonso: The family ties that bind Ferrari’s F1 star

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Story highlights

The foundation for Fernando Alonso's success stems from his family

The Spaniard remembers with fondness his childhood days of go-karting

Alonso looks forward to starting his own family one day: "It is a goal of life"

But for now the 32-year-old says he wants to win more Formula One titles

CNN  — 

He travels in private jets and is one of the world’s highest-paid athletes, but Fernando Alonso’s humble beginnings are never far away from his thoughts.

He recalls with fondness those childhood days when he used to race go-karts – the precursor to his enormous success on the Formula One circuit – free of any pressure. Back then he didn’t have to worry about points or standings.

His passion for motorsport stemmed from his father Jose Luis, himself a former go-kart driver, and Alonso is also quick to remember the sacrifices his parents made as they drove him around Spain and Europe during his rise through the ranks.

His mother Ana Maria would even make his racing outfits, adjusting the size of his overalls as her son grew up.

“One of the most important things that I received from my parents was to have always this sense of family and to be united,” the Ferrari star – who has an older sister, Lorena – tells CNN’s Human to Hero series.

“You always have little fights with your family, with your sister when you’re a kid, but at the end of the day you must know that family will always be there.”

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Passion drives F1 champ
02:17 - Source: CNN

Alonso admits he wants to have children of his own one day, but for now he is focused on trying to win more titles with arguably the most famous Formula One team in the world, the iconic “rosso corsa” of Ferrari.

Talking to CNN at an exhibition of memorabilia in Madrid documenting his illustrious career, the 32-year-old reflects on his early days in Oviedo – a city in northwest Spain, in the province of Asturias.

“My father was the one to introduce the adrenaline and the passion for racing into the family,” Alonso says.

“The go-kart I had when I was three years old was going very, very slow. Basically my father was walking alongside me to control the steering wheel or if I was doing any funny things.

“The weekends were probably a nightmare for (my parents) because they needed to take the car, they needed to drive maybe 10 hours with me asleep in the back and then have a race somewhere – and then come home because they needed to work and I needed to go to school.”

Alonso showed promise from a young age, but his mother and father made it clear that the priority wasn’t landing trophies.

“First it was to study,” he says. “If I do well, I keep racing in go-karts.

“I needed to do all the exams. I missed a lot of lessons and I needed to recover. I needed to recover in the back of the car reading books, so that was my school probably.”

With his family’s support, Alonso flourished – becoming a megastar who last year was rated 19th in Forbes’ top-earning athletes list on $30 million, and is considered F1’s most marketable driver.

His first “key” moment, he says, was winning the Spanish national championships in 1994.

“I felt that this was a good moment and I would keep this trophy all my life because you never think that you will continue,” says Alonso, a cycling enthusiast, too, who hopes to have his own team.

“I didn’t know if I would race anymore in go-karts or if my family would take me to the next weekend’s race. You never know.

“You just enjoy the present. And maybe that was the nice thing about that period of my career when I was a go-kart driver.

“You enjoy that Sunday. You don’t think anymore because you don’t know if there is something more coming.”

In Alonso’s case, plenty did come.

In 1998, he was runner-up at the European karting championships and two years later finished fourth in Formula 3000.

Alonso made his Formula One debut with Minardi in 2001 but wasn’t thinking of winning that day in Melbourne. He was just happy he didn’t crash.

“We didn’t have any preseason test because the car wasn’t ready,” he recalls. “It was just ready for the first race. They explained briefly what the steering wheel was, the buttons to press.

“There was a panic moment because I did not know what the neutral button was, and I was trying to find it. I had one second or I would crash somewhere.”

Despite not tallying a single point in 2001, Alonso caught the eye and soon moved to Renault, where in 2005 at the age of 24 he became F1’s youngest world champion – a record since beaten by Lewis Hamilton and reigning titleholder Sebastian Vettel.

“When you’re world champion, there are many memories from the past, 20 years in different motorsports,” says Alonso. “You arrive in Formula One, you win the world championship – that’s it. It’s enough for your whole life, probably.

“The satisfaction you have in a few minutes of your life when you become champion, it’s enough to live forever.”

Yet Alonso didn’t stop there. He repeated as world champion to emulate the likes of Ayrton Senna – his hero.

“When I was 10 years old to 15 years old, in my room when I opened the door to get clothes, I had a photo of Ayrton with a car. He was at Suzuka with McLaren and I remember that particular picture every time I open the door of the room.”

After leaving Renault for the first time in 2007, he endured a difficult season with McLaren, clashing with Hamilton and finishing third in the championship.

His problems with the British driver led to accusations that Alonso was difficult to work with, but he insists that reports of tensions with his teammates over the years are “exaggerated.”

“It’s true that you should beat your teammate to have a better reputation or to have a better result in that weekend,” he says.

“But believe me, when we are in a meeting or a debrief after a race, there are zero problems – there are only good things, helpful comments from the other driver.

“All are working together, if we discover something in the setup, immediately the other driver tests to see that positive result and confirm that that will be our standard setup from that moment on.

“So there’s a huge communication and a huge teamwork, despite what you read or what you see from the outside.”

Like everyone else on the circuit, he has lagged behind Vettel since joining Ferrari in 2010, with the Red Bull driver claiming four consecutive titles.

This season Alonso is joined at the Italian team’s Maranello headquarters by Kimi Raikkonen – the last driver to win the championship for the Scuderia back in 2007.

Felipe Massa, the man Raikkonen replaced, said last year he thought the two world champions would “collide” but Alonso has welcomed the Finn.

“I think he’s very talented so that is a huge help and huge motivation for myself first and also for the team because the team knows it has to deliver a good car because Kimi will deliver a good result,” Alonso says. “Myself I know I need to deliver my best.”

And there’s nothing he’d like more than adding to his already impressive collection of racing souvenirs.

“If you ask me this question in 10 years’ time … I will tell you that two championships are more than I could dream of – I never thought I’d become a Formula One driver, I never thought I’d win one grand prix. I’m extremely proud and extremely happy with my career,” Alonso says.

“If you ask me right now … I am hungry for victories, hungry for success – I will tell you that two championships are not enough.”

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