Alonso feels at home with Renault
In an exclusive interview to Hindustan Times, the two-time F1 champion says even a top-eight finish will be a big achievement for the team.india Updated: Mar 29, 2008 17:17 IST
After an eventful year at McLaren-Mercedes, Fernando Alonso is back with Renault. Although he hasn’t had a brilliant start to this year, the Spaniard says the first step is to finish in the midfield. HT catches up with the two-time world champion via email and gets him to speak about his past and the future. Excerpts:
Back to Renault… how does it feel and what are the changes from the Renault team that you raced with two years ago?
It feels good to be back with Renault, a team that I know well and where I have many happy memories. In some ways the team is exactly the same, but in others the team is completely different to the one I left in 2006. The team has become stronger in many areas and there have been changes. But I still see many familiar faces, which is nice, and that is why it feels a bit like coming home.
Most people say McLaren and Ferrari are a class apart from the rest. So where would you expect to take Renault to in this current season. And what do Renault have to do to move to the top?
I think there is no doubt that McLaren and Ferrari are the favourites this season. They were so strong last year and we have already seen they are well ahead this year. This is more or less what we expected. Our aim is to fight with them at the front, but at the moment we are fighting with a big group of teams in the midfield, and even finishing in the top eight is not easy. We knew it would be like this after the winter tests, as it is not easy to make a big step forward in performance. We will keep working hard, and have some developments for the coming races, but this is the same for all the teams, so things will more or less stay the same.
There have been quite a few controversies in your career. Any particular reason why controversies have chased you?
I think that when you are racing at the front there is always more attention. And Formula 1 is a very competitive sport, where every hundredth of a second counts, and you have to push to the maximum to be successful. But I never cross the limit; you have to race in a fair manner, and it is important to respect the drivers you are racing with. This is something I have always done.
That brings us to the question about your time at McLaren. It was beset with problems.
It was a difficult year, but I don't regret anything from 2007 because I won races and had the chance to fight for the championship. I think enough has been said about that and we are concentrating on 2008 now.
When you were young, there were times when your family lacked the necessary funds to support you. How did you and your family keep your confidence going during that period?
My family made big sacrifices and I always tried to make them proud by winning races. They have always supported me, spent a lot of money and time, my father would even come with me and work as my mechanic. Their reaction when I did well, gave me the confidence to continue working hard and I was eventually able to attract sponsors.
You broke Schumacher's five-year dominance (in 2005). How did you make that happen and were you overawed by Schumi's presence?
Michael is a great driver and a great competitor. Being able to win the world championship against him made it even more special for me. It was a pleasure to race against him. Winning the world championship was my goal, everything I have ever wanted, and to achieve that when I was 24 with Renault was something very special. To be the first Spanish world champion and to see how popular Formula 1 has become in Spain ever since I won is an amazing thing.
Both you and Schumi could have won the title in 2006. What did you tell yourself before the last three races in China, Japan and Brazil?
It was an intense year, the competition was very close with Michael and Ferrari. We knew we had a job to do, and the whole team gave 100%. We had been leading the championship all year and we just concentrated on the basics and try to qualify in the front row.
You have been the youngest F1 champion and the youngest double F1 champion. Your rise has been spectacular. How did you cope with all the fame and kept your hunger?
I have never had a problem with motivation. I always give my maximum on the track and love the competition of wheel-to-wheel racing. I have learned to live with the attention that comes with being in Formula 1. The support from fans and the media can also be a big source of motivation. But you still need time when you can be by yourself, spend time with your family and friends away from Formula 1. I always make sure that I have time off at the end of the season so that I can recharge my batteries and come back refreshed.
You have partnered Fisichella. Now he drives for Force India. What do you think of him?
I got on well with Giancarlo and he was a good teammate, very quick, intelligent and easy to get on with. We had a good time at Renault.
What role does money and engineering play in the F1 results and how much of it depends on drivers' skill?
It is not as simple as that. F1 is a team sport, and you need to have everything working well together to find success. This is what we have had in the past with Renault, and what I am sure we will find in the future.