Less than a week after his debut in the World Endurance Championship (FIA WEC) at the Total 6 Hours of Spa, which resulted in a first win with Toyota, this weekend Fernando Alonso will return to Barcelona and an environment more familiar to him, that of a Grand Prix paddock.
Highly anticipated this Thursday by the F1 community upon his arrival at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, the Spanish two-time F1 World Champion was asked to comment about his first experience in the FIA WEC, and first victory in the discipline, at Spa in Belgium. A master stroke for a first attempt, allowing him to reclaim something that has eluded him for the past five years in F1: the top step on the podium (his last win was at the Spanish Grand Prix in 2013).
"It's a good feeling," Alonso said with no hint of a sense of relief. "It had been quite awhile since I'd reached a podium finish. Tests, simulators, I was preparing for the WEC program up to the last minute. At the Azerbaijan Grand Prix at Baku, I even took the time to watch quite a few on-board videos. A one -two in *qualifying and the race, that is an excellent result. It was a good moment for the team (Toyota, Ed.), and for me after all this time. We were confident, but any endurance race is full of surprises. Even had we finished second or third, I would have been pleased with this warm-up round before the main event at Le Mans in a few weeks (June 16-17, Ed.)."
Before taking the wheel of the Toyota TS050 Hybrid again at Test Day on June 3rd at the 24 Hours of Le Mans circuit, Alonso has plenty of work to do with the McLaren-Renault MCL 33. "We are not in the position we were hoping for early this past winter, but at the same time it's a positive beginning of the season. We are fourth in the Manufacturer's championship even though our team did the least amount of laps by the end of the winter testing sessions. In terms of competitiveness, we aren't in the top 10 in qualifying and that's something we want to change starting this weekend."
Though jumping from one car to another is not particularly challenging for him, Alonso admitted: "When I get back in the cockpit of an F1, I feel comfortable right away. To take an F1 car to its limits, everything has to be optimized. You have to reach perfection lap after lap. In the WEC, you have to be super flexible and very open-minded about everything. There is no way to repeat the same laps for six hours because traffic will be different on the track, conditions will change. This flexibility in driving is a very good exercise for me because adapting to circumstances has to be an immediate reflex. To me, that's what the WEC and endurance are all about! You have to adapt to every single turn every single lap, and remember it's all up in the air until the checkered flag is waved. Expect the unexpected in endurance! In F1, you can already tell what will happen Saturday during qualifying, how Monaco will play out, what it will be like at Montreal or Silverstone. It's sad the direction F1 is going!"
The comment doesn't apply however to the paddocks which are closely regulated by Formula 1. "In the WEC, access is a bit too available in my opinion and it can be pretty stressful. If it was done the same in F1, you couldn't even walk in the paddock and all the drivers would be ensconced in their motorhomes. The result would be the opposite of the desired goal. But still, every championship has its way of doing things, and it seems to be working quite well like it is!"
Just like Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, for now Alonso is focused on earning points this Sunday at Catalonia, something he has been able to do at every Grand Prix since the beginning of the season, but once again the end result will be far from the top step on the podium.
* All qualifying times clocked by the other Toyota, the #7, were annulled due to an administrative irregularity.
Photos : MPS Agency