Fernando Alonso Q&A: title is the only target for '09 20 Jan 2009
Nothing less than the title will do for Fernando Alonso this season. After a solid fitness programme over the winter, losing a few kilos to compensate for the extra weight of KERS, the Spaniard is ready to rumble. And if the new Renault R29 delivers what it promises, then he should indeed be among the three or four drivers fighting for the 2009 drivers crown
Q: Fernando, what is your first impression of the new car?
Fernando Alonso: Well, I think like all the 2009 cars it is a little bit strange to look at. The rear and front wings are a little bit strange. But I'm happy. I like the car. Obviously it doesn't matter if it looks nice or not - it just has to be fast and this we will find out in three or four weeks. At the moment I'm happy with the car and with the work of the team. So far we are all optimistic.
Q: Are you happier than at this point last year?
FA: Yes, definitely happier. Much more happy this year and much more optimistic! Because I think the rule changes are a big opportunity, if we do a good job, to fight for the championship. Last year even with the standard electronics, with no traction control and all these things, we already knew that the cars that fought for the title in 2007 were good enough to fight for the championship in 2008, because they had an advantage that they had built over the years. This year is not like that anymore. Everybody is starting from zero and if we do a good job we can be up with them. This is what we hope at the moment - and that is our aim.
Q: Are you confident that you can be one of the drivers fighting for the title this year?
FA: Yes. At the moment I think Flavio (Briatore) and me and the whole team is really optimistic and I think there is only one target for us for this 2009 championship: winning the drivers championship and winning the constructors championship. Both championships are the target! Everybody is focused on this and all the results that we have from the wind tunnel, the engine dyno, everything is more optimistic than we expected. The results are better than we predicted - so everybody is quite motivated. But you never know. You need a few factors to be champion at the end of the year - but hopefully for the first race we will be able to fight for the podium - at least.
Q: There are so many new things that there is the danger that somebody does a much better job than anybody else and finds a big advantage over the others
FA: It's a concern for everybody. I'm sure that every launch of every car has been looked at with much more scrutiny than in the past. Every time we see a new car we try to look and see if someone has something completely different, or another philosophy or understanding of the 2009 rules. But so far I think we have not seen anything special and I'm sure you agree with this. None of the cars have anything that the others don't have - so maybe it can be a good championship. It's really open and there is a high possibility that more than two teams will be winning races.
Q: How far did your negotiations with Honda go and how surprised were you about their exit?
FA: I was surprised. The negotiations were not too intense because I was in a really good moment with Renault when I spoke with them. In fact I was convinced 99.9 percent that I would stay at Renault. And I was surprised when Honda said bye bye. You can expect that from a small team - maybe Force India or Toro Rosso - but not a big manufacturer like Honda. It was a surprise and sad news as well because Honda has been in F1 for so many years. But to be honest after Honda left the teams agreed many more things in one month than in the past three or four years. They are very concerned now about the costs and F1 seems more united - so the bad made the good!
Q: With the new regulations, how much more difficult do you think it will be for Lewis Hamilton to retain his title than when you won your back-to-back championships?
FA: Maybe it is more difficult because all the cars are mixed as we all start from zero. And if you carry the same regulations for two or three years it is very unlikely that the cars that win championships will lose their advantage, as they can keep this advantage probably for years. So it is easier to win back-to-back championships when the regulations stay the same. But if a team discovers something different, maybe they can win three or four races in a row and the championship becomes much easier after that. If that is the case with McLaren it can be easier for Lewis because he can have an advantage in one part of the season. So you never know. I think we need to wait and see.
Q: Do you think he has more or less pressure as world champion?
FA: I guess it is less. To be honest when you win the championship you will be Formula One world champion forever and you can enjoy racing more. You can make a mistake in one race and you know the championship is very long. When you are waiting for your first championship there is a little bit more stress because you don't want to lose the opportunity. Once you have the championship I think there is less pressure.
Q: Renault were struggling last year with a lack of power, but the team has been allowed to make minor changes to the engine for 2009. Are you confident that you will now be level with the other front-running teams?
FA: I hope so. We have been able to unfreeze the engine a little bit, because we knew last year we were down on power. This year at the moment we don't know. Hopefully we are at the same level as everybody - and hopefully better!
Q: How nervous are you about the risks of KERS?
FA: I know that there is a possible danger, but I dont think too much about it. I'm not a great fan of KERS so far because all the teams have had problems with it. I know it is quite expensive and with the economic situation we have now, maybe it was not the perfect time to introduce KERS. But nevertheless we need to develop a system that is safe enough for mechanics and drivers - and that is good enough to finish the race with no problems. We cannot have any retirements from KERS, otherwise it will be a drama. And we have to develop this system in the five tests we have now in the winter. Because after that it is done! There is no testing anymore during the season, so it's not an easy job. But for now we dont have any problems.
Q: Do you think you have more of an advantage over your team mate now because of your experience - given that there is no testing during the season?
FA: I don't think it changes too much for any driver or for any team. The only thing that will change compared to previous seasons is the winter testing. Now if you don't have everything under control in the last tests of the winter there's no time anymore to do anything. If KERS is still not working in the last test it is better if you remove KERS and don't race with it. You cannot arrive on Friday in Malaysia or Bahrain and think of a new solution for KERS. It's too late. That is the only change I see in terms of testing regulations.
Q: What is your thought on Bernie Ecclestones medal idea?
FA: I have no strong opinion on that. For us it is the same. I am used to the points and I see points as a little easier to understand for the spectators. Maybe points are good enough.
Q: Flavio said that he seldom agreed with Ron Dennis but that he respects him. What are your feelings about Dennis stepping down as team principal of McLaren?
FA: Well, I think we are not best friends, but I think there is respect for each other. He has been in Formula One so many years with a successful team and it is not easy to have all this pressure and stay at the top. We didn't have a perfect end to our relationship but we know how much he has done for Formula One. When I was young I remember McLaren and I had great respect for him. There are not many people like Ron in Formula One anymore. Now you have new teams, rich people that come and buy into F1 - or manufacturers. Ron did it like in the old days: one guy developing and growing up with the team, making a Formula One team successful and winning championships. I wish him the best for his new life.
Q: How important will the Friday be at Grands Prix this season, given the ban on testing during the season?
FA: I am worried that we dont run too much on Fridays. Anything that you need to test on Friday seems to be more of a panic move because Fridays are just to check the car, check that everything works and to finalize your set-up. I dont think that Friday will become a testing day and with the rule for the engines my guess is only very few laps on Friday.
Q: How much weight did you have to lose to compensate for the extra weight of KERS?
FA: Something - no Christmas this year!
Q: There has been long standing speculation about your future with Ferrari. Do you see your long-term F1 future away from Renault?
FA: I have been answering this question for four or five years. Hopefully this year I can be more relaxed about this question and if we are winning races and if we are fighting for the championship maybe we forget about Ferrari. That's my aim, because I'm really concentrated on 2009. I am more motivated than ever and more prepared than ever: physically and mentally. With all these changes I'm really looking forward to sitting in the car. And when we talk about 2010, or 11 or 12, is really a difficult question to answer. I'm not looking that far ahead.
Q: So what is the target for 2009?
FA: One target: winning the championship. If we dont win the championship, this would be a disappointment. Obviously if after three or four races you are nowhere then you have to change your targets, but now in January you have to be really, really optimistic - and we are now.