Fernando Alonso, the Spanish driver of the Mild Seven Renault F1 Team and youngest Formula One Champion ever, goes to Bahrain with number 1 on his car, for the first time. How’s he feeling ahead of the race weekend?
Interview with Fernando Alonso
Fernando, what are your feelings as you approach the first race?
"I am happy. The team has done a good job with the car, the R26 seems very competitive, and we are ready to go to the first race to try and score a lot of points."
Have you been pleased with how winter testing has gone?
"Yes, I think we have done what we needed to. The car is ready to race: it has done a lot of laps, on all types of circuits and conditions. Now is the time to measure ourselves against the others in the first race. We have done the maximum possible, so I am relaxed going into the season."
What has the change to V8 engines been like for you?
"In terms of driving, I haven’t found any differences. I haven’t changed my style at all to adapt, because I am still trying to drive right on the limit."
And what is your opinion of the new Renault V8?
"I think the team at Viry has done a fantastic job. We started running on the track quite late with the V8, in mid-January, but we did it with an engine that was already capable of doing race distances. It was reliable, with good performance. There have been different philosophies about how to develop the V8, and Renault’s has worked well."
The tyre regulations have also changed for 2006. How have Michelin responded?
"Michelin has done a very good job developing the tyres for the new rules. I think they were under pressure when the rules changed, because people thought that they were not so competitive in 2004. But we are there. We have a super tyre now, it doesn’t matter whether the temperatures are high or low. I think we have good performance, and good consistency. I am confident that the Michelin will still be the best tyre in Formula 1 this year."
There will also be a new qualifying format to tackle in Bahrain. What are your thoughts about it?
"For the drivers, it will not change too much. I think the challenge is more for the teams and engineers, finding the right strategy and working very quickly. But last year, we had one opportunity for a quick lap; now, we have at least three occasions when we have to set a lap time. The drivers always have to do the maximum though, and there will be only one lap in each part of the session when the car is in perfect conditions. So it hasn’t really altered very much for our job."
Can you tell us a little about the challenges of the circuit in Bahrain?
"It is a unique circuit, because a lot of sand blows onto the surface from outside the circuit. This makes the feeling and driving style quite complex, because as you go into each corner, you don’t know what the conditions are like or how much grip you have. The high temperatures also make life difficult for the engineers with the cooling of the car. I think there are still some unknowns for the first race."
Are you ready to go racing again after a four month break?
"Personally, yes. After a whole winter off, I want to see the people in the grandstands, and feel the emotion of Formula 1 again. But also because Renault are the world champions, and the whole team is very motivated because of this."
Going into the first race, is there more pressure on you because you are world champion?
"I don’t think there is more pressure, but I am very proud to have number 1 on the car. It is the maximum you can achieve in all motorsport, one of the moments you dream about all of your career. I am excited to arrive in Bahrain with number 1 on the car, and I will be trying to enjoy this year to the maximum."
Who will be the favourites for the opening race?
"I think Renault are definitely up there. Honda, Ferrari, McLaren and Renault have been the four big teams in winter testing, and now we must check in the opening races. For sure, Renault are the ones to beat because we are the world champions, and I am confident we have done a good job."
Finally, do you think you can win the world championship again this year?
"Well, I want to! It is very difficult to win a championship, and you need a lot of things around you to have the chance. Last year, I started the season dreaming of maybe winning one race and getting regular podiums, but we won the title. In 2006, I know we have a competitive car in the R26, so my only goal is to repeat the title."