Thirteenth place, nearly five hours from victory, doesn’t sound like a memory a multiple world champion would relish.
But despite that being his result, Fernando Alonso rates his 2020 Dakar Rally bid as the most rewarding experience of his two years outside Formula 1.
And that’s quite an accolade considering those two years also included a pair of Le Mans 24 Hours victories, a Daytona 24 Hours win and a World Endurance Championship title.
Asked by Sky Sports F1 as he returned to the grand prix paddock at Imola last weekend what had been the most rewarding part of his recent non-F1 activities, Alonso instantly replied: “Dakar. I think Dakar was, not only the professional side, it was also a personal challenge to race there and I really enjoyed it”.
Alonso had stuck with his WEC employer Toyota for that Dakar bid, which went off-course almost immediately when a crash on stage two cost him three hours.
A multiple roll on the penultimate stage also stymied his comeback drive.
But he did set a second-fastest stage time along the way, with experienced rivals suggesting he had shown huge promise for a beginner at not just the cross-country discipline but rallying itself.
Plus that 13th place was still a better result than he’s had from his Indianapolis 500 bids so far, with the two appearances during his recent time out of F1 producing only a 21st-place this year to follow 2019’s embarrassing failure to qualify. Even his highly-competitive 2017 Indy appearance ended with an engine problem.
Whether Alonso will ever return for another crack at Dakar is currently a moot point.
His new (old) F1 employer Renault has made clear he has to put IndyCar on hold for the two years of his contract, though that clashes directly with the F1 calendar – which Dakar is unlikely to unless there are more extreme logistical twists to come in the COVID era.
Tackling Dakar also meant Alonso has the rare honor of having competed against both Carlos Sainz Sr and Jr.
A close family friend of the Sainz clan, Alonso was also asked whether father or son was tougher to beat.
“I think Carlos Sr is still the toughest one,” Alonso answered, though his response was clouded by Jr’s impending move to the currently struggling Ferrari F1 team.
“In a rally environment, I think Carlos still has something extra and so far, Ferrari doesn’t look that strong, so I still believe that Sr is harder to beat at the moment,” Alonso added.
Carlos Sr celebrated victory in Alonso’s first Dakar, taking a third win in the event and doing so with a third different manufacturer as he triumphed in an X-raid Mini after his previous wins with Volkswagen and Peugeot. He stays on with X-raid for 2021.