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Exclusive Fernando Alonso Q&A: McLaren’s season starts this weekend

07 May 2015

2015 has been a rather unusual year for Fernando Alonso - indeed, not since his debut season with Minardi in 2001 has the double world champion found himself qualifying and racing so far down the order. But with their early teething troubles behind them and a significant upgrade package in place, Alonso is confident that his home race in Spain will see McLaren start to turn a corner in terms of performance. In a wide-ranging exclusive interview the 33-year-old discusses the team’s improving form and why he believes he had to leave Ferrari to win another championship…

Q: There seems to be so much speculation about your mood. Whatever (McLaren chiefs) Eric (Boullier) or Ron (Dennis) say, people don’t believe them when they say that you are happy, peppy and cheerful. Can you make an official Fernando Alonso mood statement?

Fernando Alonso: Ha! Here you go: I am very good. The people around me - my team - they all say that my mood is good. They say it over and over again but people from the outside - ex-drivers, ex-bosses, ex, ex, ex - try to complicate things. But that’s how things go here! But in the end I don’t care about all that. It is something I guess all people in the eye of the public are facing. There are always those who pretend to have inside knowledge. They see you on television, see the character - because you are a character with a team shirt and a team cap - but that is not the real Fernando. I am only a character in these movies. I am an actor playing my part. Then you have those who think that they know me just because they’ve seen me for 30 seconds on TV. But they will never know!

Q: Eric said that you have been very fascinated by the route Honda is taking with their power unit. How much fascination is still left - and how intense was the wakeup call that pioneering developments take time?

FA: Well, I never had any clear expectations of what will arrive. It is true that the difficulties are a bit bigger than we - everybody in the team - thought. But at the same time the recovery is better than we thought, also. When we found ourselves four seconds off the pace in Australia we thought that to close the gap will take forever, but only three races down the line things have changed completely. So yes, there are some high expectations.

Q: McLaren-Honda - it’s a combination with a huge tradition and one that comes almost with a guarantee of success. Would you have joined when it still was McLaren-Mercedes?

FA: No.

Q: So you joining was really down to the new ways that McLaren-Honda wanted to go?

FA: Yes, definitely.

Q: You have achieved so much in your career: you’ve won two titles and many races. Was this new technical challenge one that you wanted to take?

FA: Yes, definitely. I was with Ferrari, I have tasted that myth, and I was on the podium regularly and was comfortable in the team. But I won enough things to look for a new challenge and take on a bit of a risk - for my own happiness and my own challenge. The comeback of Honda and the combination McLaren-Honda - that was a big challenge. Starting now from the very bottom [with the aim] to win a championship and dominate in F1, and being part of that project, was probably something that I needed in that part of my life and career to stay motivated.

Q: When was the last time that you were really happy in a car? That kind of ‘this is the best car I’ve ever driven’ happiness?

FA: I think probably in 2005 - I had that feeling of having a superior car. Also in 2010 - my first year with Ferrari - I was quite surprised about the performance, and I was happy.

Q: How important is that kind of happiness for a driver?

FA: It’s very important! The car is never fast enough for us drivers - even if you are one second ahead of everyone you will still say: the car is understeering I cannot turn in the corner, it’s a complete disaster! (laughs) So you always want more. More is the life principal of a driver! But with time you learn that your happiness and your motivation also comes from the way you see things. Now if I am in P12 I wake up in the morning very happy with the things that are happening.

Q: Is that what Ron has called ‘the maturing of Fernando’?

FA: Probably yes. He was surprised when I was last - out of Q1 - and I hugged him. And he said: ‘but you know that you’re out in Q1?’

Q: Barcelona should be the start of the turnaround. What would be the best case scenario?

FA: The best thing is to keep growing. The things that we’ve brought in China and Bahrain delivered as expected and if we continue in this way here that should put us in Q3 and eventually in the points.

Q: Can it be that the season for McLaren starts this weekend?

FA: In the way of mixing with other cars and not being lapped, yes. Until now the hope was to finish the race - from now on it starts to count. Now our opportunity is getting real.

Q: Is the accident that you had here some weeks ago on your mind?

FA: No, not at all. There are no worries at all. I am ready to enjoy the weekend. After all it is my home race!

Q: How hard is it to know that all you can offer your home crowd is probably Q2 and possibly one point?

FA: Of course that is hard. But in the team we know the limitations and know what we can expect. But the people seem to reset after every race. They seem to forget what happened in China, what happened in Bahrain and hope against all odds that we will fight for the win. So you feel a bit sad for them - not for yourself. But nevertheless we will try to put on a good show. Some aggressive driving! Try to compensate for the lack of performance with a good show.

Q. Your contract says that you will be with McLaren for three years. Can you dream up what final result you expect in that time?

FA: A championship win. I came here to win a championship - nothing less. I felt that I had more opportunity here to win than with Ferrari. I had a contract for some more years but I decided I’d prefer to move on because I really believed that here I have a better chance. In three years’ time I hopefully can say: ‘I was right!’ Finishing my career with a championship win with McLaren-Honda - that would be perfect!

Q: Will McLaren be your last team?

FA: I think so, yes.

Q: Do you have a plan for life after F1?

FA: Yes - but you will see when it happens!