Fernando Alonso: F1 Champion, Daytona racer, magician..?
Every now and then, and always unexpectedly, I am witness to a special and memorable moment at our motorsport events. These might involve a car or a motorcycle, but more often they involve a driver or a rider.
Fernando Alonso is much in the news at the moment. Last summer he came close to winning the Indy 500 in the middle of a miserable season with McLaren-Honda.
Last weekend he was at Daytona, driving for Zak Brown's United Autosports team in his first experience of a 24-hour race. This summer he will be at Le Mans with Toyota, all this being part of his mission to win motor racing's Triple Crown. Having won the World Championship twice he needs to add Indianapolis and Le Mans before he retires.
When Fernando came to the Festival of Speed with the Renault F1 team he could do no wrong, many predicting that the Spaniard would go on to win many more championships. I was intrigued to meet him.
While the engineers from Viry Chatillon played tunes with the engine maps on the Renault (they'd loaded the Marseillaise in advance and mapped God Save the Queen at the Festival) Fernando was kicking his heels. I suggested that I take him on a tour of Goodwood House and when we arrived in the Ballroom he produced a pack of cards.
"I show you some tricks," he said, immediately looking happier and more relaxed.
I was not aware of his prowess as a magician, having learnt the skills from his Father, but I was about to be as impressed as all the mechanics, drivers and journalists who have seen this talent in the F1 paddock. Fernando loves to drive, racing karts in his spare time, and he lives to race, but when he does eventually retire he has a great second career up his sleeve.
He was never going to win at Daytona, the Ligier was not a winning car, but he qualified brilliantly, and it was valuable experience ahead of Le Mans. When the F1 season starts he will, at last, have a competitive Renault engine in the back of what has been a very effective McLaren chassis. His two World Championships were won with Renault so there is a spring in the step of the man who many consider the best on the grid.
Of course, I am hoping we will see Fernando back at the Festival of Speed in our 25th anniversary year. Time to talk to McLaren.