Q: Fernando, very different conditions from Malaysia can be expected here, so the question is will you do better here?
Fernando Alonso: To be honest I have no idea how the weekend will unfold. We simply don’t have any references. I think this weekend will again be a time of massive learning: understanding the characteristics of the car, the set-up changes – and of course the reliability. We stopped both cars in Malaysia and are now we’re here with a modification of what we had in Malaysia, so there are many questions to answer this weekend. To find answers is my main goal this weekend – in terms of performance, this remains to be seen. Each of the two race weekends of the season has been different – for all teams – depending on the layout of the track and the conditions, or how the tyres switch on, so here again there are many things that we all don’t know. So let’s wait until we hit the track. I don’t want to make any predictions this very moment.
Q: What is the biggest task right now: reliability or performance?
FA: Both! Unfortunately we are behind in preparations because the winter tests have not been normal for the team so we’ve missed parts of the reliability check, as we didn’t do enough mileage to secure that and to discover potential issues. So we unfortunately will discover them in the first races. In terms of performance there are a lot of things that we need to improve: on the power unit side, on the aerodynamic side, and on the mechanical side. Every lap we do we learn things. The set-up changes that we did in Malaysia have put us in a different direction than we had thought – so believe me, it is a very ‘interesting’ part of the season for us right now. Normally the winter tests are the time to discover all this – for us it’s the first races. So you see: never a dull moment in the cockpit!
Q: How different is this McLaren Honda to last year’s car or any car that you’ve ever driven? It is said to have a revolutionary new concept…
FA: It feels easier to drive. The car seems well balanced. Now we need to improve it. We need to make it faster, to improve the downforce. In fact there are many things to improve. But the main characteristics are good – now we need to put numbers on it.
Q: What is Honda saying to all this? What are they telling you regarding when the car will be fully competitive?
FA: That doesn’t boil down to a specific day or a specific Grand Prix that we think that from then on we will be competitive. And we are not asking them when competiveness will happen. We know that they are putting all their effort into the project, so it is only a question of time. Being behind in testing means that we have to pay a high price at the first races. We are still in a learning process – but the steps that we are doing give a lot of hope. The direction we are going in is the right one – and that is very comforting, as it can happen that when you are far behind you can get easily lost. But we are not!
Q: You left Ferrari at a difficult moment – and now two races into the new season they’ve won a race. How did that go down, seeing Vettel on the podium and the whole team carried away by euphoria?
FA: Well, that was obviously a question I expected. Ferrari to win the race and me out in Q3 – that is the perfect time to ask that question! I was with Ferrari five years, finishing in P2 in the championship three times, so I decided that I didn’t want to finish in that position a fourth time. If they win the championship, well, then I’d probably have a different opinion. If they finish second or third, then I am happy with my decision. We had good starts – I remember we won in China in 2013 – but when it really counts it is in November – and there we never won. I want to win in November.
Q: You have been racing on this track in Shanghai ever since it came into existence in 2004. What’s the best thing about this track?
FA: The circuit in terms of layout: Turn 1 is the most interesting part of the track – it is pretty unique in the championship. It is a challenge every time you approach it. My best memories here were in 2005 when I won the race and Renault won the constructors’ championship. Oh yes, that was my best memory. So let’s hope that good memories come back.
Q: What would make you happy on Sunday?
FA: To finish the race. That is first priority for us, as we didn’t achieve that in any of the previous races. We have solutions for the problems that we had, but also know that if we find a solution for one problem another one pops up as we are still in that part of the learning process – so finishing would be good news!