‘It’s amazing’: Ex-F1 champion says this veteran racer is ‘like Verstappen’

Fernando Alonso took his first front row start since 2012 at the Canadian Grand Prix.

1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve has sung Alpine’s Fernando Alonso for his tremendous attitude following a difficult Canadian Grand Prix.

Alonso qualified second alongside polesitter Max Verstappen at the Canadian Grand Prix last time out, but a combination of Safety Car misfortune and engine troubles sent him tumbling down to P7.

He was then given a penalty for excessively weaving to defend from Valtteri Bottas, and he would finish ninth while team-mate Esteban Ocon ended in sixth.

READ: Ex-F1 champion reveals how Verstappen is different to Hamilton, Vettel and Ricciardo

On the face of it, it was not a horrendous day for Alpine, who closed the gap to McLaren to just eight points in the battle for fourth in the Constructors’ Championship, but one wonders what might have been for the double world champion had it not been for the issues he encountered during the race.

That came after the 40-year-old was arguably denied pole position in Australia by an oil seal failure, before a Safety Car denied him in the race, and his hopes of points in Imola were dashed when he was hit on the opening lap by Mick Schumacher, damaging his sidepod.

Despite all of that, Alonso continues to push in the hope that his fortunes will improve – something that impresses Villeneuve greatly.

“It took him a little while to get up to speed in the Alpine and to get the team to work with him, to work in his direction, to develop the car in his direction,” he told the F1 Nation Podcast.

“But he’s been unlucky this year either in strategies, pitstops, cars failing down. 

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“Today, the engine going down as well and that kept him in the back, same thing with the pitstops with the Virtual Safety Car.

“So it seems that he’s carrying some kind of weight with him and every time I talk to him, he says, ‘it just never goes right.’ He’s relentless. He’s like Max [Verstappen], he never gives up anything.

“He is race passionate and he’s a fighter, he just never gives anything up. He’s always hungry for more. It’s amazing.”

Villeneuve called time on his F1 venture in 2006 while driving for Sauber and, after the last of his 23 podiums in 2001, he would score points just 12 more times in five years.

Albeit he sat out most of the 2004 season before partnering Alonso for the final three rounds of the year, but he was no longer operating in a car that could win the championship.

Alonso, at 40 years of age, continues to show immense hunger and desire to remain in the pinnacle of motorsport having managed the 98th podium of his career in Qatar last season.

Had circumstances fallen for him, he might even have notched up 100 by now, but the Spaniard has out-qualified younger team-mate Ocon five times in nine rounds this year, demonstrating his unwavering ability.

Different drivers will choose different stages of their lives to call it a day – Villeneuve was 35 when he left F1 after 12 rounds of the 18-race 2006 season – and the Canadian divulged when the signs start appearing that a driver should hang up the crash helmet.

“Age affects you when you’re not willing to take the risk anymore, you’re not willing to make the sacrifices anymore where you’d rather be at home than taking the risk on the track,” explained Villeneuve.

“And that’s when you start slowing down, that’s when your mind is not on it anymore.

“Physically, in modern days, we eat better, we train, so you don’t get old as quickly and it depends on how much you’ve hurt yourself in your racing career as well.

“But the hunger is still there, so you might lose a tenth or two but that gets overly compensated by experience. 

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“And as you can see now, he’s a very experienced driver, he’s not the youngest on the grid but look what he’s doing against Ocon now. He’s there when it’s needed.”

Alonso has previously stated that he wants another “two or three” years in the pinnacle of motorsport, so he will soon have to start negotiations – if he has not already – over extending his contract with Alpine beyond the end of 2022.