Exclusive interview - Renaults Fernando Alonso 29 Feb 2008
A two-times world champion is used to winning races. So it will be interesting to see how Renaults Fernando Alonso copes during the season ahead, when the podium may - at least at first - be beyond his reach.
With fifth place widely predicted as the best-case scenario for the French team, Alonso will have to adjust. The self-assured Spaniard, however, is confident his racing credentials will see him through
Q: Fernando, you have traded a competitive car for an environment that is dear to your heart. With only days to go until the Melbourne race, what thoughts are crossing your mind?
Fernando Alonso: It was a difficult season last year, but the car was competitive and I was able to fight for the championship. That is all that any driver wants, so there are no regrets. Being back at Renault I feel very comfortable. There are a lot of good feelings, happy memories and a positive feeling for the future. Of course, there have been changes to the team I left in 2006, but I still know most of the team and their approach to racing has not changed. I think we have everything we need for success, and the team knows how to win because we have done this in the past. If anything the team is even stronger now as there have been improvements in many areas. Melbourne is only two weeks away, but we have had a busy winter testing and improving the car. Everyone in the team is working hard and I am looking forward to seeing how things stand when we arrive in Australia, which is a circuit that holds good memories for me. We all want to win, and we are all giving everything that we can to try and do that. This is always our approach to Formula One.
Q: You left the R26 - your world championship-winning car - in 2006 and returned in January to the R28. What were your first impressions of the 07 development work carried out by the team?
FA: In my first test with the team in January I was driving the R27 and the car felt okay; easy to drive with a good balance. Of course, this was my first run in a car without the driver aids. Then, a week later, I started to work with the R28 and it was clear that the team had taken a step forward with the new car. It is well known that the team had problems with the wind tunnel at the beginning of 2007, but those difficulties have been solved now, and I would say that the biggest improvement with the R28 is with the aerodynamics, which is a key area to improve performance.
Q: You are used to winning races and you had your share of trophies last year. Are you ready for a season without the occasional Sunday afternoon champagne shower?
FA: I am a racer and so my goal is to win races. I have been fortunate in my career to have had some quick cars and to be able to fight for podiums, wins and championships. This was the case with Renault in the past, and last year too. However, you have to be realistic, and sometimes you cannot always win; sometimes you have to be happy with knowing that you have given your best and done the maximum with the car. But at the moment we are not thinking like this - the team is working hard, pushing the development of the car and I hope that we will be able to fight for many podiums and even race wins.
Q: If it works out that Ferrari, McLaren and BMW Sauber are the top-three teams at the start of the season, where do you see Renault?
FA: That is the question that everyone is asking, but it is difficult to know just from testing. All I know is that we have kept to our testing programme and focused on improving our performance. I hope that we can fight for podiums and be part of the top teams, but there is a big gap that we still need to close. Of the other teams, I think Williams and Red Bull Racing look strong, so I think it will be a competitive year, which will be good for the fans.
Q: How long do you expect it will be before the R28 can catch up? You cannot possibly be satisfied fighting for seventh position
FA: All the teams are working 24 hours a day, so it is difficult to make up this gap. We cannot work longer so we need to be clever with the time available and to do things in the right way. It is not an easy process, but I hope that we will soon make up this gap.
Q: What do you believe are the weak spots of the car? The transition from Michelin to Bridgestone tyres should be solved by now
FA: I dont think there are any weak spots with the new car as it has improved in all areas, and for sure the team is used to the Bridgestone tyres, so this is not an issue. The main changes are with the aerodynamics, which were the weak points last year, but those problems are behind us. The team has also worked hard to improve the front of the car, using a new design philosophy for the front wing and suspension, and so we are still learning about that, but this is normal for a new car.
Q: You have been quoted as saying that at the moment it might even be hard to reach Q3. Is that really what you are expecting? In 2007 it happened four times, that both Renaults were stopped in Q2 - in Malaysia at the beginning of the season, and then at the final three races
FA: Reaching Q3 will be our target, but for sure it will be competitive as all the teams are close in terms of performance, just like last year.
Q: You have a new team mate. A rookie again! How well do you know him already and how are you getting along?
FA: I am still getting to know Nelson (Piquet Jr), but so far our relationship is good and we are working well together. Hes seems to be a normal guy who is happy to be racing in Formula One. Of course, he is a rookie and so he is still getting used to Formula One and he knows he has a lot to learn in a short time. But he is quick and the team knows this already as he was testing for them last year. We have the same targets and we will both work hard to develop the car as much as possible to take the team forwards.