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Thursday, June 2, 2016

Fernando Alonso talks about his hunger for success ahead of the Melbourne Grand Prix

SPANISH racing star Fernando Alonso talks to Chris Hopper on the eve of the start of the first race of the F1 season in Melbourne on Sunday.

With almost 500 races between you and Jenson Button, how important is the first race of the year for all the drivers?

Well, with 500 races maybe one race isn’t quite so important when you put it in perspective. But, sure, the first race of the year is always exciting for the drivers – you haven’t raced for so long, and you’ve missed it so much, so it’s always a great feeling when you finally sit on the grid ready for the lights to go out. I’ve been racing all my life, and I’ve never lost the thrill or the passion for that moment.

What can we expect from you and the team this year?

I think it’s still too early to say. We know that this partnership with Honda still needs time to develop, but, as I’ve said before, I believe that a full works partnership like this is the way to become the next dominant force in Formula 1 – and not through a customer relationship with an engine manufacturer. Our testing went a lot better than last year – we did a lot more miles and learned a lot about the car, but we go into Melbourne still a bit uncertain about our ultimate potential because we didn’t get to really test the car in full race specification. Let’s see what the first race brings before we make any predictions.

Again, it’s a bit too early to say. The initial feeling during testing in Barcelona was positive, but we still have some way to go to make up ground to the cars ahead. The power unit has certainly taken a useful step over the winter – and Honda has done a very good job with both improved power and improved reliability – but, as we know, there is one team that is setting the benchmark, and we won’t be satisfied until McLaren-Honda is in that position.

At 22 you made F1 history when you claimed pole in Malaysia and then followed it up when you claimed a maiden victory in Hungary in 2003. A year later with two races left in the season you snatched the drivers’ crown. With two crowns to your name and labelled the man to take the mantle from Ferrari legend Michael Schumacher, what goals did you have then and how did you feel about this expectation and pressure?

It’s the pleasure and satisfaction of making this partnership a winning one. I joined fully aware that this was a three-year plan – and that the first two years would be about gathering momentum and getting up to speed. We’re doing that, and I’m enjoying playing my part in that journey, working hard with Jenson and the engineers and mechanics to move us forward. It will make victory – when it comes, which it will – feel all the more sweeter.

F1 introduces the 'Halo'

Does finishing runner-up three times make you hungrier for success?

No, not really. It’s satisfying to win, but if you’re not making progress then that’s when the frustration sets in. At McLaren-Honda, we’re not yet in a position to even finish runner-up, but the appreciation comes from knowing that the next race will be better than the last one, the next upgrade better than the last. You need that forward momentum to maintain your belief and motivation.

How will Lewis Hamilton and the Mercedes team be stopped in 2016?

It’s not a certainty that Lewis will be ahead. Don’t forget that Nico (Rosberg) was very strong at the end of last year, winning the last three races from pole position. So, if anything, Lewis’ sternest challenge will come from his own teammate. Of course, we all hope that there will be a close and exciting battle for the championship – that’s what all the fans want, the tension, the nervousness and the anticipation, so I hope that there are some challengers who are closer and able to fight with Mercedes, for sure.

Having won in 2009, 2010 and 2012 in Melbourne, your teammate Jenson Button is looking for a bit of history himself in notching his 4th Australian F1 race win, tell us about the chemistry between you both.

I’ve known Jenson for a very long time – we were first teammates, of a sort, way back in 2002! He’s a very good driver and a very good teammate – he’s extremely professional, knows how to develop a car, and knows how to get the best from the team. It was really nice to work with him last year, we quickly developed a very good working relationship, and that’s strengthened over the winter. I have no problems with Jenson.Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button.

What does it take to win Melbourne, you did it in 2006 and McLaren have won the most times in Australia?

The easiest way to win in Melbourne is to have a car that’s been well proved out in winter testing and which is reliable and quick. Staying out of trouble is essential at the first race, when things can be a little bit more unpredictable than usual, so if you can qualify and race towards the front, and your car is reliable, then you can usually do pretty strongly.

Your racing director Eric Boullier feels your team has the best driver line-up in the sport. With a hand-picked engineering team, technical skill-sets and a fast car how will your relationship with Chandon inspire results this?

I am fortunate enough to race for one of the best Formula 1™ teams in the world. McLaren Honda is always pushing the envelope with their technological developments for our cars. It’s really exciting to be working with another innovative brand like Chandon and we look forward to celebrating a successful season together!

How long do you plan on driving for?

I don’t know. I think, for a racing driver, that’s an impossible question to answer. Racing is your life, and when you’re in Formula 1, your whole life is focused around the car, the team, the next race – there’s very little space for anything else. It’s a job that requires complete focus and dedication, and it’s not easy to put yourself to one side of that level of intensity and make detached decisions about the future. At the moment, there is no plan to stop.

This time last year you missed the Australian F1 GP due to a Barcelona pre-season testing crash which left you with concussion, how’s the preparation been this time?

Easier, that’s for sure! The winter testing has been very positive – yeah, we lost a bit of running due to hard-to-trace mechanical problems, but, on the whole, we learned a lot, gathered an enormous amount of data and really have some mileage behind us going into the news season – and that’s a whole lot more than can be said about last year’s pre-season preparations, which were very difficult. But, as I say, we’re not there yet – and we won’t rest until we do!

After being born in the Spanish city of Oviedo, by age three you were driving your sister’s Kart. Did the passion your father show for Kart racing and his occupation as a mechanic in an explosives factory, the reason you pursued your dream and what do you owe to this upbringing?

Not really. It was just something that I immediately loved, and something that my family were able to support me in helping me go racing. Racing is a primal, instinctive thing: you either want to compete or you don’t. And I’ve always had that ambition. Racing is what makes me the person that I am.


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