Fernando Alonso’s “different vision” towards car setup has helped move the Toyota Gazoo Racing LMP1 program forward, according to Sebastien Buemi.
The two-time Formula One world champion will make his FIA World Endurance Championship debut in this weekend’s Total Six Hours of Spa, sharing a Toyota TS050 Hybrid with Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima.
Alonso has been a major part of Toyota’s winter testing program, being present at each of the three endurance runs before the Prologue test, which he missed because of a clash with the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Buemi says Alonso’s presence has enabled the team to view certain things differently when working on the car.
“He’s given a different vision on some of the things that we have all become used to, like steering wheel settings and ways to set up the car,” Buemi told Sportscar365.
“He’ll suggest, ‘Oh, why don’t you do it like that or like this’ and we will try his suggestions.
“We’re the same people working with the same people we have been with for a while, so sometimes we don’t think about changing some things. Then he comes up with new ideas and feedback which has been good.
“He knows that we need to share the car, we all need to be quick and it all needs to fit for the three of us.
“He is really open and wants to do well – he wants to win. He’s willing to do everything he can to be good.”
Former Toyota LMP1 driver and current team advisor Alex Wurz, who turned laps at the Prologue in Alonso’s absence, echoes some of Buemi’s sentiments about the Spainard being quick to adapt to the WEC package.
Wurz was one of the first people to work with Alonso when he joined the team and was immediately impressed by the Spaniard’s adaptation to the high-powered hybrid.
“Obviously he’s an extremely talented driver who is very eager to learn each and every detail,” Wurz told Sportscar365.
“He asked a lot of questions and every time we’re in the car – if he encounters something new he usually just goes and does it – there are lots of things that come to him naturally.
“But there are also some things that are a bit unnatural in our cars, such as the AWD and hybrid systems.
“The hybrid power we gain is significantly higher than F1 hybrid power because our car is based entirely on the hybrid. It takes a while to get used to, and we had that a bit with Fernando, but his progress rate was very fast.
“Moreover, he will question why we do things a certain way, and this questioning of a developed process is helpful because you try to find the answers, and by doing so you question yourself again.”
Alonso is also facing a stark mental challenge this year, as he balances two world championship roles in a 26-race combined calendar.
His busiest stretch will be in June and July, when he has five consecutive race weekends at the Canadian GP, 24 Hours of Le Mans, French GP, Austrian GP and the British GP.
He also has a tough intercontinental run at the end of the year with back-to-back races in Brazil, China (for WEC) and Abu Dhabi on successive weekends.
According to Buemi, whose 2018 schedule features at least 15 races across LMP1 and the ABB FIA Formula E Championship, the mental challenge associated with operating at a high level off-track is the most taxing part of the act.
“Sitting in the car is the easy part,” he said. “You just put your visor down and you drive, and that’s what people like about it.
“The main things that provide the mental challenge are the marketing, traveling, the organization, logistics etc.
“The hardest thing is basically to combine those things and make sure you’re in a good condition for everything.
“We’ve all been impressed with his preparation and his attitude so I think we’ll have success, which is what counts at the end.”
Davidson: Alonso Becoming “One of the Lads”
Toyota reserve driver Anthony Davidson, whom Alonso replaced in the No. 8 entry, says that he is looking forward to watching Alonso adapt to the WEC environment.
Davidson believes that drivers who have worked exclusively in the unremitting world of Formula One often find that time in sports cars changes their outlook on racing.
“You could see from the first time he arrived on the scene in Bahrain, to where he is now, he’s becoming one of the lads,” said Davidson.
“In F1 it’s an eye for an eye, and it has to be like that. But in sports cars, it’s not like that, so it’s nice watching the realization that there’s a whole different world out there.
“It opens your eyes as a driver when for most of your career you’ve just been blinkered that whole time in tunnel vision towards the ultimate goal of F1, and how ruthless and selfish you have to be.
“It’s a totally different experience here in sports cars.”