Tuesday 25 February 2014

The Fernando Alonso Collection - a fitting celebration

To be honest I didn't know what to expect; indeed I was a little worried. I'd organised a city break to Madrid, an idea originating around a desire to visit the new Fernando Alonso Collection and which rather grew from there.

Why the worry? Well for all of the publicity that it has got, to me the risks of the collection falling short of expectations seemed plentiful: that it could be half-hearted; thrown together. That it would be tucked away and hardly-visited. But it turned out that I was worrying over nothing - it could not have been further from these things.

The Fernando Alonso Collection is a triumph. It's an extensive collection with everything imaginable and more from Alonso's career and life present. It's equally apparent from your visit that Fernando Alonso's involvement in its creation has been a close one and clearly been a labour of love. And the Madrid public have responded in kind if the abuzzed mass of people that were in attendance when I visited is any sort of guide.

After a brief sojourn with Alonso's trophy for finishing second in the 2013 championship, the collection starts in the 'KM 0' section, devoted to the Spaniard's karting days. Each kart is there (one, prophetically, numbered 14), along with a range of overalls and trophies. The footage of Alonso's freshman years at this stage - working feverishly around his machine; raising his arm in salute of victory; the features and mannerisms that he would retain into adulthood recognisable - is wonderful, and certainly is something I'd never seen before. And the narrative of someone from an atypical background and from a country with little F1 heritage determinedly seeking to progress - extolling the virtues of sacrifice and industry as he did so - is a compelling one.

Perhaps best of all is where it all started out for Alonso, with his kart - built by his father for his sister but commandeered by her much more infatuated younger sibling of only three years of age - complete with attachments to the pedals so that his three-year old legs could reach. Also there is his diminutive set of overalls made for him by his mother (see above left), as well as his first racing licence, including a photo in which he hasn't changed a bit...

The collection then moves onto Alonso's car racing career. What strikes most from perusing the collection is its sheer comprehensiveness, everything is there it seems: every kart, every car - one from Formula Nissan, one from F3000, one too from each and every season in F1 right from his Minardi debut in 2001 - every set of overalls, gloves, helmet, just about every trophy from wins, podium visits and championship finishes too. His two F1 world championship trophies are also here, along with those from his other occasions finishing in the top three in the final table. And the trophies are not just those won in motorsport, a variety of other - often unexpected - awards are present and in many ways they are the more captivating: Oviedo sportsperson of the year award (which he seemed to win just about every year), the Spanish Legion of Honour, even a memento from miners in Nicolasa, among many others.

Also present are a collection of helmets swapped with Alonso's on-track rivals, many of which are signed and have hand written messages and tributes from the drivers in question. It includes one from the great Michael Schumacher that will not leave you unaffected. There is also an interactive display in the form of a track containing several video clips, photos and statistics from throughout his career. In addition there is an 'F1 experiences' section about assorted aspects of the sport like the Pirelli tyres, aerodynamics and safety. It also contains a Renault V10 engine, that you can listen to at full cry proceeding around Monza. On top of these is a separate audiovisual experience that seeks to convey the sights and sounds of F1 via large displays. And to finish the exhibition off there is a 'thank you' mural made up of fans' photos as well as an opportunity to record a video message for the man himself.

The narrative given alongside the collection is rather light touch, designed more for a mass audience rather than the obsessive. It also rather daintily dances around controversies such as Singapore-gate (though the trophy from that win is present) as well as the goings-on of 2007 at McLaren; though if you expected the Fernando Alonso Collection to contain Fernando Alonso Hatchet Jobs then you may be slightly misguided - it would have been rather incongruous with what is unashamedly a celebration.

What shines through at every turn of your visit is the sheer passion and uninhibited affection in putting the collection together, a transparent desire to go the extra mile and make sure the details are attended to, which given the close involvement of Alonso in the exhibition should not be a surprise. And best of all it is a highly fitting tribute to the man himself, an eloquent case for his supreme achievements, as well as of his remarkable personality and forceful deportment that made it all possible. It would be difficult to step away from this collection without your view of Fernando Alonso enhanced.

You've probably worked out by now that I heartily recommend a visit, and while you're at it I also recommend that you make it part of a more general visit to the charming city of Madrid, a city perhaps under-discovered as a tourist destination. You'll have to hurry though, as the plan is that the Fernando Alonso Collection will be there only until 4th May this year. One can only hope that other drivers, of past and present, choose subsequently to follow Fernando Alonso's lead.

All of my photos from my visit are on my Facebook page here

More details on the collection can be found on its website here.

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