It was the year 2002, and Niki Lauda knocked on Fernando Alonso’s door: he wanted him to try out one of the Jaguar team cars, which he was driving at the time.
Now that Fernando Alonso is about to start a new adventure in Formula 1 with Aston Martin, it is a good time to remember that the Asturian driver has already driven (and surprised) at the wheel of a green single-seater. It was no more and no less than 20 years ago, and Pedro de la Rosa was also there to see it.
It was 2002, a year in which Fernando Alonso had gone from running for Minardi to sitting on the bench for Renault, where Jenson Button and Jarno Trulli competed. Fernando, who had already signed a contract with Flavio Briatore as manager, was looking forward to the moment to compete again; It should have been in 2003, but you couldn’t turn down any opportunity that appeared.
It was then that Niki Lauda suddenly knocked on Fernando Alonso’s door. The Austrian, who at that time was the director of the Jaguar team, offered the Spaniard to test the R3, a car that had only scored points in the first of the seven races held so far.
Eddie Irvine, one of the team’s starters, had finished fourth in Australia, but the statistics have a ‘trick’, since only eight cars finished. The other driver, De la Rosa, was eighth… but at that time only the first six scored points.
In his desire to test young talents who could take a seat in the team, Lauda put Alonso in one of the R3s during one of the three days of tests that were held at the end of May at the Silverstone Circuit. In addition to Alonso, the team’s starters, Irvine and De la Rosa, and two youngsters, André Lotterer and James Courtney, also shot.
Alonso, who is used to getting the most out of every opportunity, made a meteoric adaptation to the Jaguar. After completing a total of 57 laps of the iconic British circuit, Fernando finished the day third, with a time of 1:22.784, with which he beat Irvine by three tenths and De la Rosa by one.
Although the work plans of the starters were different, since they were focused on the development of the car and the engine, Alonso’s performance from the first minute was very remarkable.
“The more F1 cars I try, the better,” Alonso said after that test. “This is the fifth or sixth F1 that I’ve ridden in and I’ve been good at it. Having achieved the third best time with sixteen cars on the track with a car that is usually one of the last, is something to be happy about. It’s an injection of moral and good for image”.
“If (Jaguar) wants me, it’s good for me. In the past, other teams have been interested in me. What’s different, this time is that I’ve gotten into the car and that’s why this commotion has started. I don’t think it will affect to my future. I only think about Renault”, he sentenced.
Fernando surprised not only every member of the Jaguar F1 team, but also Briatore, who did not let him escape for 2003. In July, the Renault team announced that Alonso would compete with the diamond team, a move that would mark his sporting career, since with them he would achieve his first victory (Hungarian GP 2003) and his two world titles.
Alonso’s return to the track in 2003 was not always clear, since after the first months of 2002, the British press assumed that Button would be renewed, but Briatore decided not to. Jenson, despite this, was quick to find a team and continued to be present on the grid, joining BAR-Honda.
“I had the British press against them because they thought Jenson was a great driver. And he was very good, but I felt that Fernando was a new Schumacher,” Briatore recalled some time ago on the official F1 podcast, Beyond the Grid.
“At that moment, I only had one option, not to renew Jenson and put Fernando in the car… but there were British (employees) in the team and Jenson was the new star for them,” he added.
For 2003, Jaguar terminated De la Rosa’s contract and opted for Mark Webber and Antonio Pizzonia as starters, although it was the late Justin Wilson who finished the season at the wheel of the R4, replacing the Italian. Only a year later, at the end of 2004, the purchase of the Jaguar team (the brand was owned by Ford at that time) by Red Bull in exchange for only one dollar was announced.
Fernando Alonso’s test with Jaguar was another of those samples of quality from the Asturian who, although they may have gone unnoticed, were also key at the beginning of his F1 career. The suit he used in the test is on display at the Circuit Museum in Oviedo, and is therefore one of the most curious pieces in the collection.