Sport Motorsport ‘She locked herself in the toilet’: The dark side of Formula One

‘She locked herself in the toilet’: The dark side of Formula One

stoffel and fernando
Stoffel Vandoorne (left) and Fernando Alonso (right) both admit they try not to think about the dangers of Formula One racing. Photo: Getty
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It is the most taboo thought a Formula One driver can have.

No matter the risks, no matter the speeds, there’s one thing the sport’s stars just can’t think about: crashing.

And though the new ‘halo’ design on cars – implemented to help drivers prevent impacts that could not be survived by helmet alone – has Formula One fans talking about safety and accidents, the stars themselves are focused elsewhere.

If it sounds difficult, it’s because it is. But there’s simply no other way of driving, McLaren’s Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne told The New Daily on the eve of the Australian Grand Prix launch on Sunday.

“Never any fear or any worry,” said Alonso, who survived a frightening incident in Melbourne just two years ago.

“Not now, because I have more experience, or at the beginning … I never had that feeling of danger.

“It’s true, sometimes you have accidents, big ones, and you realise it’s still very dangerous.

“But next time you get back in the car, you completely forget.”

At 36, dual world champion Alonso is closing in on 300 Grand Prix starts and has seen just about any and every scenario the sport can offer.

It is a very different tale for the 25-year-old Vandoorne, who admitted how worried his family is when he gets behind the wheel.

“My mum and family are quite concerned,” he said.

“I remember my mum used to come to a race and not even look … she used to lock herself in the toilet because she was too scared to watch.

“Now she watches the race and tries to enjoy the moment … the sport will always have a touch of danger.

“We saw the crash Fernando had here two years ago.

“The halo device is meant to improve safety, but it will always have some aspect of danger. But it’s not something we’re thinking about.”

australian grand prix 2018
The wreckage of Fernando Alonso’s car in Melbourne in 2016. Photo: Getty

The duo also shared their thoughts on Daniel Ricciardo, the 28-year-old Australian who has been driving for Red Bull since 2014.

“I think he’s one of the greatest drivers we have now on the grid,” Alonso said.

“Daniel is not only a good driver he’s also a good character. I like him. He’s a funny guy inside the very strict F1 environment. After the race he is even more fun – it’s good to have him, I consider him a friend.”

Vandoorne had similarly high praise: “I know Daniel quite well, we’ve had a couple of parties together. He’s a happy face in the paddock, he’s one of the good guys around, everyone likes him and he’s a cool dude to hang out with.”

The bubbly Ricciardo is clearly an anomaly in the world of racing where Vandoorne admitted that, despite working in teams, “drivers don’t really hang out with each other a lot”.

“There’s not really any time, and it’s a very individual sport – very competitive, everyone wants to be the best and beat each other.”

Indeed, the drivers revealed their intense pre-season training, which for Alonso can involve up to four hours of exercise a day, combining cycling with strength exercises in the gym.

Alonso messes with Vandoorne’s focus during a simulator drive in Melbourne ahead of the grand prix. Photo: Ryan Wheatley/Chandon

“The G-forces are quite high on the corners, you need to be quite strong on the upper half of your body,” he explained.

“Your neck and head is moving and after 1½ hours of driving you need the strength there.”

Vandoorne concurred: “The weirdest part to train is the neck muscles – we have this harness which we tie to a cable machine – it feels so unnatural!”

As such, both drivers spend their rare days off relaxing.

For Vandoorne, that involves a night “chilling at home” with pizza and a Netflix series: “I just finished Suits and I’m watching The Blacklist.”

Alonso’s rest days, meanwhile, are occupied by chores and family time.

“I sleep as much as I can, unpack, wash my stuff, pack again and get ready for the next trip. I try to spend time with my family every three to four weeks and that charges my batteries. They’re in Spain and I’m living in Switzerland and it’s 1½ hours by plane,” he said.

But days off are hard to come by.

“[After the Grand Prix] I catch a plane back home because two or three days after that race I will have another test or sponsor commitment or something, so there’s not time to think much about that,” Alonso said.

“The calendar from now to November is more or less set. We know where we are every day of the year.”

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