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Fernando Alonso Q&A: McLaren's Q1 woes will be over soon

28 Mar 2015

McLaren qualified at the rear end of the grid for the second straight race in Malaysia, with only Marussia's presence saving Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button from propping up the field. But while the result might not be better than Australia, Alonso says the team has come on leaps and bounds - and that early qualifying exits will soon be a thing of the past...

Q: Fernando, how is it to be back in the car?

Fernando Alonso: It feels great! After all that time in the gym and in the simulator lately it's great to be back. Nothing beats to be in the car. I enjoy it driving here even if the conditions are a bit extreme. Physically it is very demanding. I am probably not one hundred percent fit after four weeks out of the car – but it is enough to enjoy. In fact today was my third day of testing: I had one good day in Barcelona with 63 laps, yesterday 45 laps, and today 21 including qualifying. All the other days before were in the range of seven, eight, or nine laps, and that hardly counts. The weekend so far is a huge step forward for us.

Q: Is the performance of the car as you expected?

FA: Much better. We had a lot of issues in the winter with days where I could only do a handful of laps so running in the double digits without any issues is indeed a big step forward. On top of that no unwelcome surprises - everything went as we had predicted. In Melbourne we were 4.6 seconds behind the polesitter, and here it is something of 2.6 seconds before the rain shower. That means a two second gain within two weeks - that is a big step forward. 

Q: The car has a new front wing – how does that work?

FA: There is a lot going on in with the car right now. Big steps on the aerodynamic side – then a better understanding of the power unit and the interaction with everything in the car – so every lap that we do is a learning curve for us. In terms of sheer driving I feel great: the car is easy to drive and gives you confidence to push to the limit. On Friday we had some minor issues with braking, with front and rear locking, but we have that under control. So right now I have to say the curve is pointing north. So we should have a good race.

Q: Did you really expect to start from the penultimate row of the grid? The view must be a novelty for you…

FA: Well, after Australia we knew more or less where we are – and as I said we feel that we are much better here than where we thought we would be after Melbourne. We are making the right calls and for sure I will not have to quit after Q1 for long! 

Q: What are the targets then in the race? Finishing in the points?

FA: We don't have any clear target and from where we start it is pretty illusive to think about points. For us there is so much we have to learn to be able to make progress in all areas – in aerodynamics, braking system and the power unit - so every lap is important for us this weekend. This is a long term [project] that in the end sees us beating Mercedes – and for that you need to take a lot of risk and go your own way. If you copy them you will always be behind! 

Q: The team has won multiple championships and has two champions in the cockpit – and yet everybody looks like a beginner. Had you expected that?

FA: Obviously last year maybe not, as there were a lot of expectations for the McLaren-Honda combination, but we saw in winter testing that we have a lot of work to do and now we are a bit behind schedule. We know where we are now and have our feet on the ground and we know what we have to do – and that should be a good basis for three champions!

Q: Were you surprised after all the glitches that the car has been running  relatively well in such extreme heat?

FA: You always hope for that. I have to say that overall it has been a pretty good weekend so far for the team – we look much more competitive than in Australia – so let's hope that this continues in the race. Of course we are so far off that it is easy to improve at this stage. It will get more difficult when it is in the areas of tenths and hundredths. I can only repeat myself: even if it doesn't look so from the outside, it is a good weekend for me. It is all about learning: running in the wet – it was the first time we did it - formation lap, race start, pit stops – it is the real first time that I will do it tomorrow with my new team. So tomorrow I will go as far as I can, and be as competitive as I can.