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Fernando Alonso Q&A: Big gains ‘very realistic’ for McLaren in 2016

23 Oct 2015

Fernando Alonso has a new-spec Honda engine this weekend in Austin, and McLaren team mate Jenson Button hopes for progress’s sake he uses it to ‘annihilate’ him. But whilst the rain thwarted the Spaniard’s plans to properly evaluate the new unit on Friday, he’s already focused on what can be achieved not just this weekend, but over the winter too…

Q: Fernando, what are your expectations for this weekend with the new engine? There has been a lot of fuss over it in the last few days…

Fernando Alonso: The good thing is that the data has shown that the improvement is as expected, which is very good news for us. The concept of the engine and how it is being built is a little bit different to the previous one. I hope that we can use this knowledge here and exploit the performance increase. Of course with the predicted weather conditions there will be a question mark if we can maximise the improvement and translate this to the Circuit of The Americas as well. Whatever comes out here we cannot be sure if under the given weather conditions if we are able to read the right message out of the data, as we might not know whether it is that very conditions that shape any of the results. Also we have some new aero-dynamic updates here that are very interesting, so there are a lot of things to discover this weekend. Considering that we will have rather little time to run the car here, we will have to guess quite a few things and pick up the best out of this. Overall I am very happy with the direction that we are taking. More important than doing well here is the philosophy of the new engine, which will hopefully, set the foundation for next years as well.

Q: Would you say that the wet conditions help engines that have less power?

FA: Generally you can say that wet conditions would suit engines better that have less power, but for us the difficulty will be to be able to take out valuable information, as one lap will not be the same as the one before under these conditions. I have witnessed that in the Friday morning practice session. Every one of my eighteen laps was a different adventure. Nevertheless this should be a good opportunity for us, although for sure there will be many things that are a bit out of control. Also there are some cars that have historically performed very well in wet conditions, such as Toro Rosso and Red Bull Racing, which have performed extremely well in 2006, 2007 and 2008. So we will see how the McLarens are performing under these very wet conditions. It is the very first time that these conditions are also happening in practice and tomorrow in qualifying – and probably in the race as the forecast goes for heavy rain until Sunday evening.

Q: What has changed within your life between your first driver’s championship title win and now?

FA: I guess a lot, but not really big things I’d say. Probably things that you do not notice on purpose, but for sure things that any person undergoes between the age of 23 until 34. You are more mature, and you have different people around you that you have found on the way; people that give you more positive energy. In terms of driving or motivation I personally think that it has not changed a bit from back then.

Q: How will you approach the upcoming Mexican Grand Prix, also as a Spanish speaking person?

FA: I guess like any other new Grand Prix. Maybe it will be easier to check into the hotel. I have been to Mexico before, but only for a few hours to represent my former team. So it will really feel like I am going there for the first time, and I am really looking forward to this.

Q: It looks like the FIA’s engine token system will also remain for the 2016 season. Is this something that will be good for McLaren and Honda from your point of view?

FA: I think this is good for the sport, and of course something that Honda has been pushing for all year long. So this would be very good news for us, and also for Renault and Ferrari I guess. For me this is more logical and I am happy about this decision.

Q: What changes have you noticed with McLaren that are different to when you were last there in 2007?

FA: Many changes I have to say. The team is much more open now, as well as much more international than back then. There are engineers from many different countries now, and also the team has taken in people from other teams over the last three to four years. You will find former team members of Red Bull, Ferrari and Force India working now at McLaren, as opposed to before where the team consisted more of people that have won many races with McLaren before as they kept the winning team together. I see the team now very happy and relaxed. Everyone is spending time together at the dinners or barbeques. Despite the level of performance where we are now, the team is very united. Once, when we will be back on the winning path, this will be even better with this amazing atmosphere.

Q: How big does the performance step have to be for next year for you to be able to say that you are going into the right direction?

FA: Two and a half seconds, and then we would be able to win races in the next season. This is very realistic, but for sure we will have to work very hard on this with high discipline all winter long - and all united. In the new era of Formula One racing everything is a package, and not anymore only focused on one thing like the engine, the aerodynamics or the mechanical side of the car. Everything needs to be combined to have the perfect car, and we have understood that very concept and are working extremely hard to close that very big gap. Also we are working hard on the reliability side, as we cannot forget that we have used eleven engines so far. We are working in the right direction, although winning is a totally different story. Winning right now would mean beating Mercedes, and even very big teams with everything in place cannot do this. So the task will be very big, and we are ready to try at least.