“My name is Fernando. I race karts. I want to be a Formula 1 driver”

Alonso was unable to remember the last 20 years when he came to after his recent crash

Alonso waves to the press as he leaves hospital.
Alonso waves to the press as he leaves hospital.Alejandro García (EFE)

Jaws must have hit the floor when Fernando Alonso came to after his recent accident during testing at the Montmeló circuit in Barcelona. “Who are you? What do you do?” he was asked by doctors when he regained consciousness, as is standard procedure for patients who have suffered a head injury. “My name is Fernando, I race karts and I want to be a Formula 1 driver,” came the response.

While the reply might sound comical now, those who were present in the hospital in the wake of the February 22 accident found nothing to laugh about – before, at least, he was subjected to a battery of tests, all of which ruled out any kind of injury as a result of the heavy impact.

The exact reasons as to why Alonso lost control of his McLaren coming out of the third corner of the circuit are yet to be established. But the impact left his memory limited to 1995: when he came around Alonso couldn’t remember his debut with Minardi (2001), his two championship titles with Renault (2005 and 2006), nor the four Champions League wins of his favorite soccer team, Real Madrid (1998, 2000, 2002 and 2014).

According to McLaren, the decision not to let Alonso compete in the season-opener is purely a precaution

A week later and the Spanish driver had completely recovered, and while he may have to miss the first race of the season, on March 15 in Australia, he has already started to train with a view to the second, on March 29 in Sepang, Malaysia. According to the statement released on Tuesday by his team, McLaren, the decision not to let him compete in the season-opener is purely a precaution. The team said that doctors had advised him not to risk suffering a second blow to the head – although there are doubts among some as to whether this is the full story.

“For the team to cite this reason to justify the kid not racing next weekend makes no sense in this specific case,” explains Dr Rafael Blesa, the director of the neurology department at the Sant Pau Hospital in Barcelona. “Basically because, as they explain, all of the tests that were carried out on him came out OK and show that he has suffered no injuries. In that case, the brain is completely intact, just the same as it was before the accident. In no case would that first jolt have any effect should there be a second.”

Blesa is one of the most respected doctors in his field, and he believes that the memory loss suffered by Alonso is completely normal. “A concussion like that one happens because the brain suffers a blow that affects the neural synapses,” Blesa explains. “When that happens, biochemical substances do not work, meaning that the brain tries to find a memory but fails. Depending on each case, the recovery time can vary. You have to take into account the fact that, within the brain, the circuits that are most sensitive to an impact like his are connected to the memory.”

Within the brain, the circuits that are most sensitive to an impact like his are connected to the memory”

The fact that Alonso will not be in Melbourne is obviously bad news. Although without a doubt, the good news is that, medically speaking, he is ready to get behind the wheel. The concern among his colleagues after the accident was huge, as well as with his medical team. Many of them slept worse and fewer hours than the patient himself, crossing their fingers and hoping that all the tests were positive.

There are still unanswered questions, however, as to the cause of the crash. Team chief Ron Dennis held a press conference in the wake of this incident in order to clear up doubts that it may have been a technical problem that caused the Spaniard to crash, attributing instead the causes to high winds. Were the crash to have been caused by a fault, it would be a disaster for McLaren-Honda, a partnership that is still just starting out, and that has been struggling with the car so far in testing.

In any case, the most logical options in terms of explaining what happened come down to two: that the driver was indisposed and was unable to avoid the wall, or that his car had some kind of problem and sent him careening into it. The person who can best answer the question is Alonso, but first he must remember what happened, and be willing to explain it.

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