With Fernando Alonso confirmed to be racing at Dakar—thus taking on yet another impressive challenge in the motorsport world—everyone has been wondering what’s next. Maybe rallying? The two-time Formula One champion is decidedly against the thought of joining the World Rally Championship. And it all comes down to trust.
Alonso identified a key component of rallying that he just doesn’t feel capable of accomplishing in Motorsport Magazine: trusting a co-driver with directions.
From the man himself:
On a proper rally it’s difficult because you need to follow exactly the notes because the corners are coming one after the other but I think in Dakar it’s different. He’s giving you the direction and maybe he doesn’t talk for ten kilometres, because there is no next junction.
In Dakar the driver keeps driving by his eye and his feeling. It’s not following exactly the navigator. I think in that respect, it’s easier than a rally from a drivers’ point of view.
I think the difficulty of that is higher than the Dakar in terms of having the navigator telling you, and you need to trust that the next corner is exactly as he is telling you, while in the [Dakar] car you are still driving; they are only telling you the directions or the gap to follow or other things.
I’m a little more, let’s say, respectful of how big of the change could be for me to do a proper rally or the world rally style.
In circuit racing, drivers are able to memorize a track via constant repetition, but that’s a lot more difficult in a Point-A-to-Point-B rallying event. As such, rally drivers rely heavily on their co-driver to read pace notes and update them on upcoming road conditions. That co-driver needs to be quick and efficient, and the driver has to completely entrust both their lives and their chance at success to the person in the passenger seat.
That kind of trust is really tough to develop. That’s often why rally drivers have lifelong co-drivers (think Sébastien Ogier and Julian Ingrassa, or Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena). If you’re jumping into a rally car for the first time ever after spending your entire life relying on nothing but your own memory, instinct, and occasional radio updates from the pit lane, suddenly relinquishing all your previous control, then it’s totally understandable why you’d hesitate at the whole concept.
It’s interesting to hear Alonso’s take on the whole thing. This is a guy who hasn’t really wavered when it comes to jumping behind the wheel of anything. But knowing that he’d draw the line at rallying really highlights just how different rallying is from other forms of racing.