I sat down with a few others last night to talk to Fernando Alonso, for the last time as a Renault driver.
I sat down with a few others last night to talk to Fernando Alonso, for the last time as a Renault driver. Fernando has his detractors among the public, especially in Britain, but he is always interesting to talk to and has strong things to say.
Last night he was on great form, talking about the season past, the disappointment of not being able to fight for the championship, and his prospects of getting to work with Ferrari towards the end of next month, possibly into December.
As he came to the Renault hospitality area in the paddock, four women dressed head to foot in black burkhas were shouting his name from a balcony above the pit building. When he turned to wave at them, they covered their faces. It was a surreal moment, but proof that whatever the cultural differences, people still have the same raw enthusiasm for the sport's big stars.
Alonso is one of those drivers who doesn't take well to not winning, like Nigel Mansell or Ayrton Senna. He has trodden water long enough, you can tell that he is itching to get back into the teeth of a championship fight and into the battle with Felipe Massa, which is not going to be straight forward.
Looking back on 2009 he said that he was personally very happy with his performances, because he had totally dominated his team mates, Nelson Piquet and Romain Grosjean,
"Myself, and my performance, I am happy with, " he said. "Relating to my team-mates all season, I know that people think that I need to beat my team-mate always by rule – but this is not mathematics. F1 is always different and I have been beating them for two years guys who are winning in GP2 and are champions in different categories. It is not that I am beating someone who arrived in F1 by luck. I am happy with my performance and hopefully next year I can prove that I am better than ever now."
This is certainly true of Lewis Hamilton who, by common consent, has developed a lot as a driver during a tough season with an uncompetitive car. Alonso too has never given up this season, has often hauled the Renault into the final part of qualifying, but with a scant 26 points to show for it.
"We have at the moment one of the worst cars on the grid, or the worst car now, because Toro Rosso is in front of us, and Force India is in front of us, " said Alonso. "Williams and Toyota are in front of us so with that case, we do whatever we can and we do our maximum all the time. "
Alonso doesn't have particularly high hopes for his final outing with Renault,
"I want to finish on a high and for all the people, the mechanics and engineers, I have been there seven years now – so it will be a shame if we do the last race in the middle of the pack, fighting for nothing, and it will be a shame. It will be nice to have some points, but at the moment we are realistic and we are not in that position – so on Saturday we need to find four or five tenths to be in Q3."
And once the season is over he will transfer his attentions to Ferrari. He has not got a specific start date yet but says that he wants to do the basic things as soon as possible, like seat fittings. Like many drivers he is frustrated by the complete lack of testing between this Sunday and early February. It is a very long winter in prospect,
"No date (to start at Ferrari). For sure, December or before January it will be nice to start doing some things, but very basic things like the seat or the ear plugs – the type of things that take time but are better to do as soon as possible and not wait for February. But nothing really big planned now. At least one test would be nice, because with no testing during the championship plus these long winters, it is not easy for us."
Abu Dhabi GP: Starting grid (REVISED)
Hamilton in a class of his own at Abu Dhabi