Alonso 'probably' didn't expect to be in F1 at 40, gets high Vettel praise

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Fernando Alonso admits he "probably" didn't expect to still be competing in Formula 1 as he turns 40 on Thursday.

The double world champion first debuted with Minardi as a baby-faced 19-year-old back in 2001 and is currently in his 18th season on the grid, meaning F1 has been part of almost half his entire life.

Celebrating his birthday ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix, Alonso was asked if that kid who made his mark with the backmarker team two decades ago anticipated he'd still be racing in F1 today.

“No, probably not," he said. “You live only the present, you are not thinking too much about the future at that age, and you are just focused on the race weekend. You’re hardly imagining yourself, more than two or three years in time from that moment.

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“But now, it’s a different thing. I’m more used to the sport, to Formula 1, and all the things that are quite unique here.

“When I came into the sport, I was from a very small town in the north of Spain with no experience, no background, no nothing, and when you arrive into this world and you are shocked for five, six, seven years until you get used to everything.

“Now it’s a little bit different. You know how things are, and you’re enjoying a little bit more yourself.”

After taking a two-year sabbatical to race elsewhere, Alonso has been rolling back the years with his performances in recent races since returning with Alpine in 2021.

“I feel good, I don't feel 40, for sure,” he added.

“It’s the number that is surprising me as well, when I see it, when I see everywhere in the motorhome because the team prepared a really nice decoration on my room and in the lunch area as well.

“It’s a bigger number than what I feel. But yeah, it is the way it is.”

Alongside Alonso in the press conference was one of his biggest rivals in Sebastian Vettel. And while the German ultimately got the better of Fernando both in 2010 and 2012, the respect he has for the Spaniard is clear.

“The first race that Fernando was back this year, we had some wheel to wheel, and I was actually smiling in the cockpit because I'd been looking forward to more of it this year, and I think we had a little," he commented.

“I always enjoy [racing] Fernando. He won here [in Hungary] in 2003, I was in front of the TV and I remember when he won.

"I think his talent is without any doubt, the skills on track are some of the biggest that the sport has seen, and he's done something which I thought was impossible to do, which is beating Michael [Schumacher], because when I grew up, it was like, Michael is the number one and impossible to beat – and Fernando started beating him.

“I think that's an achievement and obviously he's had such a long career, so many different cars, so I consider it a pleasure to race beside him and fight him on the track.”

Vettel himself turned 34 earlier in July, so does he imagine still being in F1 when he turns 40 in 2027?

“No, I don’t think so," said the current Aston Martin driver. “As you asked Fernando, you never know. But right now, I would say no.”