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Alonso - no change as champion 01 Feb 2006

Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault. Renault R26 Launch, Monte Carlo, Monaco, Tuesday 31 January 2006. World ©  Sutton

The coming season will be Fernando Alonso’s first as world champion and last with Renault. Following the launch of the R26 this week, the Spaniard spoke about the pressures of being number one, the challenges posed by the new 2006 regulations, and his thoughts on his move to McLaren for 2007.

Q: Fernando, you enjoyed a fantastic season in 2005 to become the sport’s youngest with world champion, and bring Renault its first world championship as a works team. How can you go any better in 2006?
Fernando Alonso:
For me, 2006 is a new challenge. My character is very competitive, and I want to win no matter what. OK, I was champion last year, but that is finished now. When we get to the first race, it is a new competition. Everything begins again.

Q: You will walk into the paddock in Bahrain as world champion. Do you think it will feel any different to previous years?
FA:
Nothing will change for me, just because I am world champion. I am looking forward to the first race in Bahrain, but that is because it has been five months since the last Grand Prix. I am excited about going racing again!

Q: Will the status of world champion bring you more pressure?
FA:
From my point of view, there will be less pressure. Until last year, you always heard people saying I was one of the young, talented drivers. When that is the opinion, you have to prove you deserve the reputation - and you have to win before it is too late. Now, I have done it and out of 22 drivers, we are only three who have won the championship: Michael (Schumacher), Jacques (Villeneuve) and me. So from that point of view, I think the other nineteen drivers have the pressure.

Q: But you will be the man everybody is trying to beat…
FA:
Of course, and I will be trying to win too. I have number one on the car, and I am in a top team that is very competitive, so that brings with it a level of expectation. Plus, as a world champion, I think I have the responsibility to maintain my level of performance now for the rest of my career. However, I think I can take more pleasure in the job as well. I am going to try and enjoy the experience.

Q: Just before Christmas, you announced you will be leaving Renault at the end of this season. Why did you make that decision?
FA:
This has been my team for five years, and Renault made me world champion at a very young age. On the other side, when I arrived in Formula 1 and spent a year with Minardi, I was fighting with the Renaults - and now we are at the front of the grid. We have helped each other. But I do not think a driver can race all his career for the same team. I am still young and felt I needed a new challenge from 2007. So I made the choice that I think is best, and my career will start a new chapter next season.

Q: Will the fact you are leaving the team distract you during 2006?
FA:
Not at all. Formula 1 is a very complex sport, and we have a very long championship over 19 races. I am a competitor who always gives 100%. In our world, it is impossible to maintain your focus on the job if you are distracted. So, until the Monday after the final race, I am not thinking about anything else. It doesn’t matter which cars I come up against, I will be driving to my maximum for Renault.

Q: You have driven the R26 extensively already. What were you hoping for from the car?
FA:
My hope was to find a car that was similar to the R25 we used last year, which meant I wanted it to be easy to drive, and to handle in a consistent way. That was what I felt the R26 and did some laps. It looks and feels like a very good evolution of last year’s car, with plenty of potential. To be fighting for the title, you need a car that can be quick at every type of circuit, and that can finish races - as we saw last year. That is what we will concentrate on.

Q: 2006 also sees the introduction of V8 engines, with a power loss of around 20%. What are your impressions of the new RS26 V8?
FA:
I believe we are in a good position. The team at Viry has done a fantastic job on the dyno, and the performance so far on the track has been very encouraging. With the first tests, the real concern is reliability - you don’t want to have problems with the engine. We have not had any mechanical problems, so there is a solid foundation. Once you are reliable, pushing more on the performance is not a big problem.

Q: What will be the impact of the change to V8 engines?
FA:
In terms of driving the car, I do not find a big change. We have less power, but when you come to the corner, you still need to be on the limit of the power and the grip -that is where the challenge comes from. However, I do think that the V8 engines will have a big effect on this season. It is an opportunity for all the teams, because everybody starts from zero - nobody is trying to catch up from last year. So the team that develops the best project in every area, with the best team of engineers, will have an advantage at the beginning. I think by the end of the season, all the engines will be very similar. But in the early races, there will be some big gaps, and that could be very important in the context of the championship. I hope we can make a strong start to the year.

Q: There are also major changes to the sporting regulations for the coming season. Firstly, tyre changes will be part of the races again. What is your view?
FA:
I do not have a strong opinion, to be honest, but I am looking forward to having tyre changes again in the races. Race strategy may become more important too, as we have more potential for variation compared to last year. The big job is really for Michelin, I think. The challenge for them is to maintain the very high level we had in 2005, and we are confident they can do it. It is their last year in Formula 1, so they must win. We are here to help them do that, and they are here to help us.

Q: The qualifying format is also very different - your thoughts on this?
FA:
There have been lots of things said, but my opinion is that in the end, it doesn’t change anything for the drivers because we are doing more or less the same job. Last year, we had just one lap and you had to be on the limit, with no mistakes. Now, we will do three or four laps at different moments of the session, but the challenge is basically the same. We will have only one lap when the tyres are in perfect condition, and we still cannot afford any mistakes. It is important for Formula One to change and find the right answer for the spectators, but the drivers have been doing a similar thing for ten years. Qualifying is still a big challenge, where you have to put all your feelings and sensations from practice into a perfect lap. Now, we have to do it three times instead of one, but I think we have the same difficult challenge.

Q: Who do you expect Renault’s main rivals to be in 2006?
FA:
From what we can see at the moment, Ferrari look strong. McLaren will be at the front I am sure. Then, we generally see another surprise. In 2004, that was Honda. In 2005, Toyota were there at the start of the season. I expect at least one of those two to be competitive as well.

Q: Finally, what is your goal for this season?
FA:
At this time of year, it doesn’t mean anything to say you can win the title – but I certainly want to be fighting for it. Renault has the potential, the team has the confidence that we can do it from last year, and the form of the car seems competitive. My goal is to defend the number 1 on the nose of the R26.