Fernando Alonso was 16th in Azerbaijan qualifying, but he knew even before the session began that he would be starting Sunday’s Grand Prix from the back of the field thanks to multiple grid penalties - the result of numerous new elements on his McLaren’s Honda power unit. So how will the two-time champion approach the Baku race? And what of the rumours the team could be using a different engine next season?
Q: Fernando, given your 40-place grid penalty for the race, was there anything positive you could take from qualifying? Will the race not be a rather pointless undertaking for you?
Fernando Alonso: Well, fact is that points you only get on Sunday - and from what we have seen so far there are so many uncertainties that the most positive thing I take from today is that tomorrow is when it counts. We always knew that this track will probably not be our best performance of the year because of the level of power that you need here, but nevertheless we did a good preparation for the race. Yes, it will be difficult to start from last position, but be sure that I will try my best.
Q: Is there anything in the car that gives you hope there could be points tomorrow?
FA: What we know is that we don’t have the pace. We have never finished in the top ten so far this year, as our standing shows, and this track is probably the most unlikely shot at a points finish - so we should not dream too much of getting a good result tomorrow. But it’s a long race - very demanding on the concentration. We have seen so many mistakes from experienced drivers in the last two days that a lot is possible. Who is best in avoiding mistakes will have a good race. So we have to stay out of trouble and avoid mistakes - that is our only chance to have a reasonable result.
Q: You are a sportsman. Would you say that you have done your best in qualifying today?
FA: Well, we knew that we would start last, so the paramount endeavour this afternoon was to check the car on low fuel, as the qualifying position was of no importance. We only used one set of tyres in Q1 because we knew that we were not competitive on single-lap pace. I have to say that so far it was a difficult weekend - we have never been in the top ten in any session - so I will take what comes my way. Staying away from the walls will probably be a decisive factor tomorrow - and my plan is to stay away! (Laughs)
Q: When you say that you will take what comes your way, do you still remember with a bit of sadness your strong qualifying result in Indianapolis?
FA: That was a completely different matter. This is Formula 1 and we knew that it was going to be a difficult season again. We are not competitive and the reliability is not strong enough at the moment. We are using too many engines already, which means that also in the next couple of races we will start from the last row. And that will not make things easier. But I am sure there will also come races where we will perform well - similar to what we’ve seen in Monaco where the team was competitive. So I am looking forward to some of the races still to come, to maximize the result there.
In these kind of races, like this one here - where we know that we are not competitive - we have to look to finish the race to get valuable data for the team to continue developing the car. But really, let’s wait until tomorrow. We have seen so many things happening in the free practice sessions – and if we only see half of them tomorrow the race result will be surprising.
Q: How much do you miss winning?
FA: I definitely do miss it. But I am also convinced that the situation will change.
Q: There are quite a number of changes on the car this weekend like a new diffuser and winglets. Are you satisfied with these updates?
FA: The car is good - especially in the corners. When I am behind or in front of somebody I can say that we are as good as the best cars out there. But we do lose 2.5 or 3 seconds on the straights here and that is impossible to compensate for - especially from the position we will start the race. But a weekend like this is very much also a test weekend for us, for all the things that are still in the pipeline. We put new things on the car every day of the weekend and try to learn for better opportunities.
Q: Should we learn in the coming days or weeks that McLaren will use a Mercedes power unit next year, how will that change how you go about deciding your future?
FA: It will change nothing. My decision is not depending on what power unit McLaren will use next year. My decision will be based on if I can win or not next year.