Fernando Alonso: McLaren F1 driver speaks to Diario AS
Two-time Formula One world champion Alonso spoke to AS about McLaren, Honda, Renault, the Indy 500, Daytona, Le Mans - and more.
How are you, Fernando?
I'm doing well, really well. The year is coming to an end and, in general, I'm happy with how everything has gone, except for the results we've had in F1...
It's been a very busy year for you: your karting circuit, your school, your museum, your deal with the clothing brand Kimoa, Indianapolis, now Daytona. And Le Mans on the horizon. You don't let the grass grow underneath your feet...
You'll always have times where you'll have more or you'll have less going on. But yeah, it has been a really intense 2017. But, as I say, I'm coming to the end of the year generally happy [with how it has gone]. We haven't performed as we'd have liked at the weekends in F1, but all in all life has gone very well.
With so many things on the go, do you fear losing focus on your day job, F1?
When you shut the visor on your helmet, you return to your world and you don't think about anything else. Outside of the car I've been busier, but in the F1 car you return to your world and you have no problem focusing.
Seeing you race in the Indianapolis 500 was a special moment; was it one of the highlights of your career?
It was the best moment of this year, without a doubt. Experiencing a new race and a new car was incredible. Being there with all these people and, on top of that, challenging for victory at the first attempt, was amazing.
F1, IndyCar, Daytona, Le Mans... You've got behind the wheel of all those cars this year. Do you find each very different, or not so much?
Well... In truth they have hardly anything in common with each other, except for the fact that you're racing. Even things like the start lights and the flag change, and they're very different in terms of the car and the approach, and that's part of what's attractive about trying different cars, different competitions.
It may be hard to find one, but what's been your stand-out moment of the year in F1?
Perhaps Brazil: a great battle with Felipe [Massa], the car was in good shape, it was the most enjoyable moment. There have been other moments, like the Q1 at Silverstone and the race in Hungary, when I've enjoyed myself and have been able to do quick laps, but Brazil was maybe the most interesting of them all, because the car felt competitive. And there have also been fun times such as talking to [Jenson] Button from Indianapolis to Monaco. He took my seat and did brilliantly; he's a great guy and he did a great job in Monaco.
But above all it's been a year that has seen a lot of tough moments; 11 retirements...
Yeah, the race retirements are the worst moments, without a doubt. When you can't finish a race, it's tough to take. For example, what happened in Russia - when I was forced to retire on the formation lap, without even being able to start the race - was really sad.
The year is coming to an end, and with it a project that began with high hopes, and finishes badly. Would you say that McLaren Honda has been a flop?
Well... I'd say that 'flop' is a strong word.
What description would you choose?
I think that the partnership hasn't brought the results that either McLaren or Honda had hoped, and that's why the decision has been made to bring it to an end. It hasn't been as successful as hoped, and hopefully both McLaren and Honda can both find their paths to success in the future.
How have you changed over these three years?
There's always a process of internal change going on; I'm more mature now, a bit older. I always like to believe that I'm a bit better than before, but... To be honest, fundamentally I haven't changed; I'm always the same. In terms of F1, you learn a lot when things don't go as you'd like. You grow as a person. I think that if we have a good car next year, we'll be totally ready [as a team]: the togetherness that we've shown, even if it's only fighting for 16th, is something to be thankful for.
Many ask how you keep your motivation going despite such low finishes.
Every championship is always a challenge and I'm really motivated for next year; there are no guarantees over what we can achieve, but I'm optimistic. Red Bull [who, like McLaren next year, use a Renault engine] have good race pace, have picked up a number of podium finishes, and have won races. If we can match those results, then I'll be very happy.
Are your motivated by the potential to be able to compete once more with a particular driver? Lewis Hamilton? Sebastian Vettel?
I'm not looking to compete with anyone in particular; just to be back among the best. There isn't a particular name; just the top teams.
So when is Fernando Alonso going to be back winning races?
That's difficult to know. This is F1 and there can be no precise predictions from one year to the next; no-one can say right now that they're going to be 100% competitive. Even Mercedes, who have dominated in recent years, can't guarantee right now that they're going to win...
Of course, but in terms of the feeling you get, do you see yourself fighting for the world title? Winning races?
What we've seen with Red Bull and their Renault engine makes us very optimistic. Maybe they're not as quick against the clock, but they are on the Sunday. They've managed a number of podium finishes, they've won three races... If we were in that position I'd be happy. Being in with a shout of winning races would be a fantastic step. I think that we can challenge for podiums, for wins; I'm optimistic, but we'll see when the cars line up on the grid in 2018.
A few days ago, you named Hamilton and the Red Bull drivers as favourites, together with your McLaren. If you had to put money on someone...
I really don't know who's going to win. If I did, I'd open a bookies. It's difficult to know; there are no guarantees. We'll be giving our all to be among the favourites; it'll be a very interesting world championship.
People often talk about your pure racing ability. When do you think you have been at your best as a driver?
I think that I've always tried to maintain high standards as a racing driver. I've always tried to do the best that can be done and perhaps the best I've been as a driver is in these recent years, because you have all the experience of many years in F1, you have simulators, information from the engineers... But hopefully my best year is 2018.
During these few years of struggle for McLaren, have you started to get sick of so many people saying that you're the best, yet having to toil among the backmarkers?
It sort of comes down to what we often talk about, that winning in F1 is very difficult and, given that you're so dependent on the car that you have, it's just as important that people recognise your work as it is winning the most recent trophy. There have been winners of Grands Prix and even world championships who haven't received much recognition at all, because everyone knew that their car was a second faster than the rest. So I almost prefer to get so much recognition [while not winning races] than to have loads of trophies and have people say I'm a bit crap [laughs].
And, for example, it was recently confirmed that a few years ago you had an offer from Red Bull that perhaps might have seen you win the four world titles that went to Vettel. Do you regret not accepting it?
No, I don't. If I had signed for Red Bull I would have won a few more Grands Prix, the odd extra title, but at that time, in 2009, ten out of ten people offered a contract by Red Bull and Ferrari would have chosen Ferrari. And being at Ferrari was one of my greatest experiences.
Finally, Fernando, what message would you send out to all the millions of fans who support you unconditionally and are desperate to see you back winning races?
First of all, thanks so much for always supporting me. I hope that they have fun, which is the most important thing. Regardless of the results, I feel incredibly supported, because they value what you're trying to do and what you're doing, and I hope that I can repay that encouragement with results next year.
Let's hope so... Thank you, Fernando.