The World Champion's final interview before departing the Renault F1 Team.
Q: The pressure must have been immense during the 2006 season. Did you ever doubt that the team could win?
Fernando Alonso: You see the character of a person and of a team under pressure, and the attitude at Renault and Michelin during the season was simple: that we would fight back, and do it in the sporting way. For me, that was a big lesson not just in Formula 1, but for my life. We adjusted the car to work without the mass dampers, Michelin worked to improve the tyres, and the guys in Viry worked night and day to improve the engine: at every level, the determination was incredible. By Monza, we knew that we had a car that could win again, and we showed that in China -- but the win slipped away because of other problems. That was the only moment when I doubted, but then I told myself that we still had a long way to go and that anything was still possible.
Q: Much of the intense pressure you sustained during the season came from the fact you were fighting one of the sport's legendary figures, Michael Schumacher. How was that fight?
FA: It was fantastic to fight with Michael, a privilege for me. I said in 2005 that it was important to become champion when Michael was still there, for the value and the recognition that people outside the sport would give to the championship. But people said we did not fight directly in 2005; this year, it was me versus Michael all year. The history books will say that the last two championships he raced in were won by Alonso, and that makes me very proud. For the future, I can only wish him all the very best for his new life with his family. It was a pleasure to compete against him.
Q: Looking back at the year, there seem to have been distinct phases. In the first half, you were completely dominant...
FA: We had a very good start to the year, without a doubt. We were ready for the first race, our car was ready and the engine was ready after a fantastic job from the team in Viry. So we were able to win the first three because our package was at maybe 95% of its potential. But don't forget that in Bahrain, I only beat Michael by a couple of metres coming out of the pits at the final stop, and he beat us in Imola and the N?rburgring. So Ferrari were right there, very close to us from the beginning, and they had some more margin to catch up in their package too. By mid-season, people were saying that the championship would be easy for us, but it never felt that way inside the team. We knew our rivals were strong, and that the advantage could swing at any time. We had to keep on pushing hard and take nothing for granted.
Q: Indianapolis seemed to be a turning point, when the momentum swung in Ferrari's favour...
FA: Indianapolis was a difficult weekend for me, and in the middle of the summer, we had a lot of pressure in the team. The Bridgestone tyres had the advantage in the hot conditions at Magny-Cours and Hockenheim, and there was also the problem with the mass dampers. That was the first decision that put us under pressure, there was another one in Hungary and we made a mistake that cost us the win, then Monza came as well with the penalty in qualifying. In Italy, things were made worse with an engine failure that saw all of the advantage to Michael disappear. Then he drew level in China, and everybody thought it was inevitable that Ferrari would win...
Q: You lost points to Michael in China, then in Suzuka, you drove beautifully to the win as Schumacher's Ferrari broke...
FA: Well, I knew that the Ferrari was quick, but I was certain that the Renault was too. And I had the conviction that time would put everybody in the place they deserved in this championship. We lost all our advantage with a problem in Monza, and Ferrari gave it back to us in Japan, so everything evened out in the end. That is part of the sport, that is Formula 1. And I will always believe that we deserved this championship, and that in a way, we had to win it to show that the sport comes above everything else.
Q: Now, you are the youngest double world champion in the history of Formula 1. That must be a pretty amazing feeling?
FA: It is incredible! At first, just like last year, I was numb, I couldn't really understand properly what was happening. But with every day that goes by, I am a little bit prouder of what I have achieved with the Renault team. And as the years go on, I am sure it will grow a little bit more. To win the world championship is the ultimate in my sport, it is a fantastic feeling.
Q: How have you been celebrating?
FA: There have been lots of different events, but the important ones were after the race with the race team, and then in Enstone, Viry and in Oviedo, my home city. For me, it was very important to go and say thank you to the team in the factories, because that is where our championship started, with their hard work. And also because they taught me many lessons this year, about fair play and the sporting spirit, that will stay with me for my whole life. As for the Spanish supporters, they have been amazing -- I think the best in the world. I had to say thank you in person, not just through the press.
Q: It must seem surreal to you, though, to step out in front of tens of thousands of people in your home city -- in streets you used to walk when you were young...
FA: It does because I don't feel I have changed as a person since those days. But the support was incredible this year, not just in Barcelona but everywhere. They were behind me when we were strong at the start of the year but as the advantage disappeared in the summer, I think the support was at 200% of what it had been before. When I was in Oviedo, I saw in the crowd a tiny baby wearing a blue Alonso cap, and an old man in the blue and yellow colours as well. The support, the emotion from those people are what really count for me. They are all double champions in Spain.
Q: The end of the 2006 season will see you turn a page in your Formula 1 career. Are you sad to say goodbye... or looking forward to the future?
FA: Both. You know, the Renault team has been fantastic. They are like my family in Formula 1, and they will be in my heart forever. I have amazing memories from our years together, all the way up to the celebrations after the race. Michelin are leaving too, and that means a lot to me because I have only raced with Michelin since 2001. This year, it would have been so easy for them to give up because they were leaving. They had tough times in their company, and on the track. But they showed that they have the spirit of racing and of the sport. They came back strong, and gave us the advantage we needed to win the title. So for both of them, I can only say thank you, and be happy that we were able to finish in the right way, as champions. Now, I begin a new adventure.
Q: You will go into 2007 as the only world champion in Formula 1...
FA: I don't think that changes anything for me, or in my approach. I have always believed that to be a champion, it is the combination of the car and the driver that matters. You cannot become a champion without a good car, and I had that for the last years. When I drove a Minardi, I was fighting hard simply to not finish last, and I don't think I have changed so much from then to now...
Q: So can you win next year with McLaren?
FA: McLaren are a very strong team, with many resources. They did not have a good season this year, but we will work hard so that I can be at 100% in 2007. Of course, like with any team there will be a period of adaptation. But I will be racing at my maximum, like always, to try and win.