The Fernando Alonso who returns to Formula 1 with Renault in 2021 will be a grand prix veteran with sportscar, rally raid and esports experiences to his name.
Most recently though he’s been heavily involved in virtual racing having taken part in both the The Race All-Star Series Powered by ROKiT Phones and the Virtual 24 Hours of Le Mans.
While Alonso’s two years out of F1 raise questions about how he’ll find his return with Renault, his dedication to esports and the successes he’s had there over the past few weeks present a case that he’s lost none of his speed or motivation.
He was a late addition to the Legends Trophy category in the All-Star Series, meaning he had far less experience with rFactor 2 than the other drivers in the category.
His first race was in the middle of the second season, yet in qualifying at Zandvoort he was only 0.264 seconds behind pole sitter Jan Magnussen and lined up fourth on the grid.
What followed were two very haphazard races and he failed to finish both of them.
A mere seven days later he became a frontrunner in the Indianapolis 500-themed event, winning the first race, as well as the reversed-grid race despite starting it from 21st place.
The following week the Legends returned to racing with the Brabham BT44B classic F1 car at Silverstone.
It was another clean sweep of race victories for Alonso including a reversed-grid win from the back.
What’s more astonishing than his four race wins in a row is the fact he was one of the quickest from the outset.
“I had the rig like 12 hours before the [Zandvoort] race so it was a little bit of a mess and the car is tricky and difficult to drive for the first time.” Alonso said after his first All-Star victory at Silversone.
“Obviously Silverstone I know very well and that was an advantage for me as well for this weekend.”
One week later he made it five All-Star wins in a row as he was victorious at Monaco with former F1 driver and Miami’s Fastest Gamer winner Juan Pablo Montoya in second, but 10 seconds behind the Spaniard.
Alonso pulled out an average of a second a lap over Montoya despite minimal preparation.
When asked how much practice he did for the Monaco round of the Triple Crown season in the All-Star Series, Alonso said: “I think I did half an hour yesterday and one hour today.
“I’ve been concentrating more on the Le Mans 24 Virtual. I’ve tried to do a little bit in both, but not much here in Monaco.”
Alonso’s run in the Virtual 24 Hours of Le Mans was curtailed early on due to a glitch when a penalty was assigned to him, leaving him unable to refuel in the pits or continue in the race.
His car later rejoined the race thanks to a red flag, albeit several laps down on the leaders, a fact which masked how competitive the team of Fernando Alonso and Rubens Barrichello along with sim racers Olli Pahkala and Jarl Teien were.
“Fernando did, he reckoned, over 2000 kilometers of testing in the two weeks.” said Paul Crawford, the Team Manager of the FA/RB Allinsports team.
“He was very dedicated and we had a WhatsApp group and a Discord channel that we shared setups on, I think we got to version 18 of the setup, they eventually stuck with version 16B which they decided amongst them was the best for the race.
“We won the practice race by five and a half minutes and everything went exactly to plan, obviously it didn’t quite materialise like that in the main race but it shows the preparation was there and it wasn’t that side of things that messed us up ultimately.
“He was very self-motivated to put in the time and effort and he didn’t need any form of ‘right come on we need you to do a test session’.
“It was always, we’d wake up in the morning and there’d be another message saying ‘I’ve done another triple stint and I’ve found this out, we should try this’.
“One of the best things was just how committed he was to it.”
When the team got back into the race, Alonso proved just how competitive he was in a field comprised of real world drivers and some of the fastest sim racers on rFactor 2.
The team ended the race eight laps down on the winners, but Alonso’s fastest lap was the ninth best in the entire race and the only real world driver to beat him was Mike Epps – who has become a star of the sim world in recent months.
That personal feat is testament, not only to his speed in the sim and how quickly he got used to it, but also his dedication to something which he was a relative novice at just weeks earlier.
“It is very impressive but the amount of hours and testing he put into it, and also the pace he showed in the Legends Trophy,” Crawford said.
“I know that’s against other legends who aren’t sim drivers but, he’s consistently been a second or more ahead of everyone else in that.
“He is very quick and he did pick it up very very quickly.
“It is very impressive, but I don’t necessarily think it’s surprising, especially in the real world driver ranking.
“I would say that he could hold his own against sim drivers on a car and a track that suits him.”