It has been a fascinating start to the season for reigning world champion Fernando Alonso. He has won his first Grand Prix for McLaren, been upstaged by his rookie team mate, and come away sharing the lead in the driver standings. As he heads for his home race, the Spaniard reveals his thoughts on the campaign so far…
Q: How would you summarise the start of the season both for you and the McLaren team? Fernando Alonso: It has been great. I am extremely happy with the performance of the car and the first three races. Also I am very, very happy to have already got my first victory for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, which was one of our goals, well my personal target for the whole season, and it came very early, so I am happy for that.
Q: What has been your personal highlight of the first three races? FA: Well no doubt that is the Malaysian Grand Prix. It was perfect for me from Friday through to Sunday, finishing with the victory for me with Lewis (Hamilton) second, the whole Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team was in a perfect position.
Q: Did the performance of the MP4-22 meet your expectations? FA: Well I think it has done even more than I personally expected from the first three races. There were unknowns about the new rules, the new tyres, the engine freeze, with many things changing from last year. You always expect with the first three races to be seeing what you have to do and what the others are doing as well, and then really attack from the fourth race. But from the first moment in Australia the performance of the car surprised me a little bit, but in a good way.
Q: How have you spent the time between the Bahrain and Spanish Grands Prix? FA: I have been to Woking, to the McLaren Technology Centre for meetings with the engineers. I spent a couple of days testing in Barcelona. I had some time at home in Switzerland. Also we did some promotional work in the break. We had a month free from racing so it was good time to work outside of the car.
Q: What are your expectations for the Spanish Grand Prix and also looking forward to the remainder of the season? FA: After the fantastic start to the season and with us leading both the championships, the expectation really is to remain in that position, as long as we can and try to win both championships. This is a realistic target as we are in good shape. For the Spanish Grand Prix and for the rest of the season the target should be to beat Ferrari and the rest of our opponents.
Q: What are your current thoughts about both championships, are you predicting a season-long battle, and who do you see in it? FA: Ferrari should be our main opponent and I see a very interesting season in front of us, I think with no opportunity for any of us to really open a gap and win the Championship in a relaxed way. I think this is impossible this year and we will see a very close fight all through the season, which will be great for the sport.
Q: You met with the entire McLaren Racing staff at the McLaren Technology Centre last week, what was the purpose of the session? FA: Myself, Lewis and Pedro (de la Rosa) met with all the employees, which is something we try to do once in a while, as it helps to create an atmosphere in the team, so that all of us are comfortable with each other and know each other. I don’t get to spend time with a lot of the team, in particular those based at the facility, but we are one team. We are two drivers fighting for the drivers’ championship and fighting together for the constructors’ championship and everyone in the team must know that. We all know that there are only 17 races this year and we must not make a mistake. We are all in the same group and every single person in the team is crucial.
Q: Can you outline the changes to the Circuit de Catalunya prior to this year’s Grand Prix? FA: I think the new chicane can offer us a little opportunity to overtake on the main straight but I think also that the last corner of the circuit was extremely nice from the drivers’ point of view, very challenging for driving. Now we have lost that corner, but hopefully we see a lot of overtaking here in the race.
Q: What does it feel like to race at your home Grand Prix with the support you receive from your home fans? FA: It is fantastic. I think no doubt for any racing driver to race at their home circuit is always something special and something that you look forward to, and for me it is exactly the same. I think in Spain now the passion for Formula One is very high and the people are enjoying this sport which is new for them. So I am very, very happy to be here.
Q: Do you want to win the Spanish Grand Prix more than the other 16? FA: No doubt. I think if I had to choose just one race to win it will always be the Spanish Grand Prix.
Q: Are there any extra pressures because it is your home race? FA: No there is no extra pressure. Perhaps there is a little extra work to do outside the car as I have a lot of people coming to the race; some commitments with important people that come here to wish me good luck. Whenever I am in the car it is probably the most relaxed I feel all weekend. I do not feel the pressure when I am sitting in the cockpit and at the end of the day, that is what matters.
Q: Is the MP4-22 suited to the characteristics of the Circuit de Catalunya? FA: In a way yes as it is a very aerodynamic circuit, which I think is one of the strong points of our car. But for me I find it really difficult to see which are the best circuits for our car. We have been racing in three completely different circuits so far, and in all three the car was really good, so hopefully this car will suit all the tracks.
Q: How does it feel to be returning to Spain with you leading the drivers’ title and McLaren heading the constructors’ championship? FA: This is a fantastic feeling without a doubt. No one expected to be in this situation coming to the first European race. For me it is also good as I have been in this position coming into Spain in 2005 and 2006, and now in 2007 after moving team and after a lot of expectations. So three years in a row we have arrived at my home Grand Prix leading both the championships. Hopefully it will not be the last, and we will do the same next year for the fourth time.
Q: It was a fantastic, and no doubt emotional, weekend for you in Spain last year, what are your memories of the event? FA: I remember all the weekend very well, because it is one of those moments that are very difficult to forget. The whole weekend was fantastic, it was my first victory at my home Grand Prix and I really enjoyed that moment. It will be difficult to forget any single minute of that weekend.
Q: Finally, what message would you like to give to your Spanish fans prior to your home race? FA: For all of them, I hope they enjoy the race that is the most important thing. At the end of the day the result is a little bit about luck and in Formula One there are thousands of elements that can change the result of one race. I hope the fans understand that and so do not relate everything to the result, which we hope will be 100 percent for us. Even if we win the race, or we finish second, the most important thing is that they enjoy the event. It is not only one and a half hours, the fans that are coming for the Grand Prix, they enjoy the whole three days and that is the thing. But I hope that they enjoy it!