Interview - Renaults Fernando Alonso 05 Nov 2003
Renault's Fernando Alonso emerged as one of Formula One racing's rising stars in 2003, becoming the youngest ever driver to take a pole position and a grand prix victory.
Three weeks after the season finale in Japan, in an interview with the Renault team's press office, he spoke frankly about his experiences over the past year, as well as his ambitions for next season.
Q: One year ago, you hadn't yet competed in a single race for a top team. Do you remember what frame of mind you were in at that point?
Fernando Alonso: To be completely honest, I was a little worried. Sure, I had spent a year as test driver, went to all the races in 2002 and attended the technical briefings, but there was still a little doubt. I didn't know how I would perform on the track compared to my rivals. I was confident in my ability, but you never know quite what the car will be like until you get out there. I think we all have some little doubts, to be honest, and that's perfectly normal.
Q: When were you reassured?
FA: As soon as practice began in Melbourne. I felt confident in the car, and it responded well to set-up changes. From that point on, I was putting in good performances. Then I had to get used to the new regulations, tyre choices etc...
Q: What were you feeling at the start of the first race?
FA: Nothing unusual. The track conditions were difficult: I was going to start the race with dry tyres, on a wet track. I was thinking about so many other things that I didn't have time to savour the moment.
Q: For you, when were the key moments of the season?
FA: In terms of the rest of the championship, I think Barcelona was a very important race. That was when I proved that the podium in Malaysia wasn't down to luck. I was competitive with the new Ferrari, and that performance boosted the morale of the entire team. There's no way I can forget Budapest either: for a driver, the first victory is always a special moment. I had just experienced two very difficult Grands Prix at Silverstone, where the traction control failed, and Hockenheim when I had tyre problems. Actually, after that, the race was almost too easy! Then I would have to mention Suzuka. The R23B proved competitive on every type of circuit, and I was lying second, two seconds behind Rubens Barrichello, with one less pit-stop to make...
Q: How would you describe the 2003 championship?
FA: From the team's point of view, it was clearly fantastic, but on the other hand, it was also very challenging. To get to the level of the top teams, we had to give 100% in every domain. Sometimes, Ferrari, Williams and McLaren could get away with not being on top form in certain areas: we didn't have that luxury. However those demands allowed us to learn a lot of things ahead of next year. We are used to pushing to the limit now.
Q: Did the tyres play a decisive role?
FA: Without a shadow of a doubt. The tyres produced by Michelin allowed us to opt for more aggressive strategies on a number of occasions. The characteristics of the R23, which looked after its tyres very well, were also a big advantage.
Q: Is your relationship with team-mate Jarno Trulli as good as ever?
FA: Yes! We still get on very well. Jarno is a good guy, he doesn't play games, and is extremely dedicated to his racing. I have learnt from him, and he answered all my questions: I owe him a lot. Our performances on track are very similar, and the good relationship we have is a definite bonus for the team.
Q: You were in the spotlight this year, and had to deal with the international press, rumours and politics. How did you cope with these new demands?
FA: It's true that the good results brought some additional pressure. You need to learn how to judge every single word you say, but it's not too difficult. The main thing is to make sure you're quick on the track!
Q: Will you be taking some holiday before Melbourne?
FA: I'm not planning to at the moment. I will be at home in Oxford until winter testing starts at the end of November.