Maranello, 3 September–Before the Italian Grand Prix in Monza, Fernando Alonso was in Maranello where he met the President, Luca di Montezemolo, the Scuderia heads of department and went through things with his engineers. Before setting off for the historic circuit set in the Royal Park, the Spaniard also met with some journalists and here is an extract of their conversation.
Q: What is the braking point for the first chicane at Monza?
A: At the first one, more or less 130 metres before the corner in qualifying and 150 in the race, because you always have to brake a bit earlier with a full fuel load.
Q: What have you got to say to and what can you do for the fans who will, as usual, flock to Monza to see you and Ferrari?
A:Saying is easier than doing. Definitely we must try and have our best race of the year in front of the home crowd. We know what a great experience it is to stand on the podium at Monza, seeing the straight packed with people. I’ve been lucky enough in these last four years with Ferrari to get to the podium four times and it would be fantastic to make it five. It’s a very optimistic goal because unfortunately this year, we haven’t been on the podium too often. We must be realistic, as this will be another defensive and uphill race for us, but anything can happen.
Q: Is it not a bit frustrating to come to Monza at this point in the season, being so far behind, wondering whether or not you can finish on the podium, when in in the past at Monza, you were fighting for the title or for a win in front of your fans?
A: Yes of course. This year has definitely been the toughest in the five I’ve been with Ferrari, in coming to Monza in greater difficulty and without having a really clear idea of what the race can hold for us. In the other years, we were fighting for the title or a podium was definitely within our grasp or maybe even a win. This year however, it’s all much more up in the air and there is no certainty as to what we might be able to do. One can say this situation is frustrating, it can be seen as sad or simply as the reality of the situation. For eleven races now we have been fighting to sort out the situation and become more competitive and I think we have done that. I would say the progress is visible, because in the last three or four races, we have become more competitive: in Hungary, we got a podium finish, in Spa we came close and even at Hockenheim and Silverstone we went quite well. So in the recent races we have recovered and have a better feeling. It’s definitely not enough, because everyone is improving, especially Mercedes, who are dominating the season, given that, while we were two seconds off their pace, now we are still 1.6 or 1.4 behind, therefore the improvements we have made are definitely not enough yet.
Q: Do the improvements seen so far this year give you cause for some optimism regarding next year, or is it still too little?
A: Everything helps, not just us drivers, but also all the people in the factory who are working day and night. If there are improvements, it’s because these people come to the office every morning at 8 with a different feeling and that’s why all these improvements are helping. It’s positive to see that, unlike in other years, at least there is a correlation between the aerodynamic data from the track and the wind tunnel. Everything fitted to the car is giving the results we expected. There is a question mark over the power unit, which, given that development is frozen, means we can’t touch anything and so the inferiority which characterised it at the first race is more or less the same today. For next year, all the changes one can make to the engine remain a question mark: we can do something and so can the others, so we must try and do a bit better than the others.
Q: In your opinion, in 2015, when the power unit will be sorted, what can one expect from Ferrari? Can you fight at the front or what do you expect. Would you settle for a car that can get to the podium and which fights at every race? What is your feeling?
A: As of now, September 2014, the expectations are to have a front running car with which we can fight for the world title, which is what is expected of us and of Ferrari. What’s certain is that we must reduce the gap over the winter and much more than in other winters, because it’s a gap of around one and a half seconds. I don’t know if it’s possible to do that in 6 months. It’s a major challenge for the whole team, because I think we have the ability, we have the structure, so it’s just down to us to work hard.
Q: Based on what you’ve seen of the new project, are you optimistic? Are there elements of the new car that mean you are optimistic and that you like?
A: In all projects there are interesting things. By this point of the year, we know what are the weak points of the current car, we know what doesn’t work and what aspects have put us in difficulty for the whole season. Therefore many problems will be solved for next year. With the radical rule changes for 2014, one could see several build and development philosophies from the three engine manufacturers and also from the various constructors on the aerodynamic front. Maybe, with hindsight, those who are winning now made different choices to us and they turned out to be better. Clearly, the expectation for next year is to improve a lot.
Q: Even though you have a contract for next year, there’s a lot of talk about your future with other top teams interested in you. What do you think of this?
A: I think since last summer there have been stories and news almost all the time and so it’s now been going on for a year. It’s not nice, because it creates a bit of stress and it means it is disruptive for me, the fans and for the people in the team. I am proud there are some teams that say they’d like to have me, because it means they appreciate the job I’m doing. However, on this topic, it’s a year now that I’ve been saying I want to stay at Ferrari and extend my contract. That’s my wish, I repeat it every two weeks, at the end of every race, yet it’s never said, in fact there is a tendency for the opposite to be said. Talk of other teams has never come from my lips, in fact it’s always been the opposite.
Q: You want to renew the contract, as does Ferrari. Why hasn’t it been done?
A: In fact, we’re working on it.
Q: So you are working on the next contract. And so, until the current one expires you are a Ferrari driver and will stay at Ferrari?
A: I have a contract for another two years and as I always say on the subject of rumours and to ensure calm, what I want is to continue for the necessary years. Let’s see if that can happen, but for the next two years at least, there is no problem.
Q: Necessary years for what? To win again? The aim is to stay as long as you are not at the top?
A: Obviously, the most important thing is to win, because that’s the same for all sportsmen. However, I think there are also other things that can make one have confidence nevertheless and be happy in one’s work and I think Ferrari can offer a lot more than “only” winning. Because there is a passion for this team, which as a driver, means you are already proud of what you are doing, independent of the results. The most important thing is to fix the things that are not going well on the car and in the team and to do everything that is needed. Mattiacci also shares this desire to change things and to be more aggressive in our approach to our work. This renewed will to win makes staying at Ferrari even more attractive.
Q: The Monza circuit looks straightforward. But is it?
A: No, not at all, because you drive with very little aerodynamic downforce and so it feels a bit like driving in the wet at another track. Furthermore, when you are travelling at such high speed, it’s harder to be precise. It’s not easy to start your braking at the right place when you approach the first chicane at 340 km/h or the second one at 330. The unique thing about Monza is that, for us, there are five corners: the first chicane, the second one and the two Lesmos and the Parabolica, because Ascari, apart from the first kink to the left, is completely flat. With only five corners, even if you fit new tyres, in qualifying you gain half a tenth in a corner, half in another, but in the end, new tyres are only worth two or three tenths. Or you can do a perfect lap and find you have gained a tenth on a lap when you didn’t give your utmost. That’s the main difference with Spa: there, when you do a perfect lap, you have gained a second over a normal lap and this gives you a nice shot of adrenalin, because you realise when you are on the limit.
Q: Alonso wins in Monza if…
A: I don’t know, it’s not easy. Something unusual would have to happen, maybe with a bit of help from drivers in the top teams, while we need to concentrate on ourselves and give our utmost over the weekend, as we did in Spa and Hungary during qualifying. At Monza we cannot make any mistakes.
Q: Have you set a time limit for your career?
A: No, I haven’t. I am much older than I look from the outside, I’m only 33 and up until five years ago, you only started in Formula 1 when you were in 26 or 27. The fact, is I started when I was 19 and it seems I’m very old, but given my actual age, I’ve still got lots of seasons ahead of me. I could have another ten: Michael Schumacher stopped when he was 43, Pedro de la Rosa is in the simulator every day and he’s 43, so it’s not a question of age. It’s a question of enjoying what you do and to still want to get up in the morning to train, to get on planes and fly to Australia and Malaysia, to race with a top car and to still get a good feeling from it all. As Iong as I have that desire and these feelings, I am not setting a time limit. Sure, this year’s been a bit less fun because the cars are a bit less quick. We need adrenalin and we hope the sport heads back in the direction of more extreme performance so that we go back to Formula 1 really being at the top.