x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Alonso targets Red Bull

Fresh off renewing his contract with Ferrari, Fernando Alonso says he is ready to take the fight to Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull Racing.

Fernando Alonso has signed a new contract with Ferrari. Albert Gea / Reuters
Fernando Alonso has signed a new contract with Ferrari. Albert Gea / Reuters

BARCELONA // Fernando Alonso, having conducted what must surely be the quickest contract negotiations in Formula One history, now has his sights on maintaining that level of efficiency and helping his Ferrari team catch the dominant constructors' champions, Red Bull Racing.

The 29-year-old yesterday confirmed a new deal had been rapidly reached to keep him with the Italian manufacturers for the next five years and, speaking shortly before being presented in front of a group of ferociously passionate fans at Circuit de Catalunya, the Spaniard revealed discussions had been "very simple for both parties".

"I have to say it was a very easy decision for us to conclude this deal," said Alonso, who joined the Maranello-based team from Renault 18 months ago and will this week compete in his home Spanish Grand Prix.

"We started talking one or two weeks ago about the future and both of us wanted to continue. I was happy with the team and they seemed to be happy with me as well, so we said 'OK, we make an extension of the contract'. We agreed to 2016 and now everything is more clear for everyone to have stability."

Alonso reiterated his previous assertion that he intends to finish his career with Ferrari, adding that he "can't imagine a better place" and that he has no hesitation committing to the one team for such a lengthy period.

"Formula One is impossible to predict, but, for sure, I am in one of the best teams who can fight for world championships," he said. "Other teams go up and down - they have a good year then a bad year - but at Ferrari, their worst season was finishing second in the world championship."

At the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last November, Alonso led the drivers' standings as he chased a third drivers' title, but a poor strategic call from the team on the pitwall allowed Sebastian Vettel to win from pole and be crowned the sport's youngest champion. Furious at the time, now he simply refers to it as a "missed opportunity".

At the first three races of this season, Alonso's troubles continued though. Ferrari struggled for qualifying pace and failed to finish on the podium in Australia, Malaysia or China, while teammate Felipe Massa outpaced him at both Sepang and Shanghai.

However, Turkey provided what appears to be a turning point.

Earlier this month, the former Renault and McLaren-Mercedes driver showed marked improvement at Istanbul Park to finish third behind Red Bull pair Vettel and Mark Webber. Now he expects Ferrari to keep building on that momentum, starting on Sunday.

"We are optimistic and confident and we intend to be fighting with them soon," Alonso said of his championship-leading rivals.

"We had new parts in Turkey and made a step forward, and we have the second stage of those parts here."

He added: "For sure, Red Bull have been very dominant in the first part of the championship. It has been difficult to beat them in the race, and nearly impossible to beat them in qualifying. But we want to change this, starting here in Barcelona."

Last month, Alonso conceded a podium was unrealistic, but such has been the turnaround in the Scuderia garage that now he is once again in the title hunt.

Although he knows work must start immediately to shave points off Vettel's lead at the top.

"The championship is long enough to recover the gap and there are still plenty of races," he said. "It has happened many years. It happened to me in 2006. You can catch up any gap, but you need to have the best car in one part of the championship, so we are working on that."

Alonso's announcement of staying at Ferrari, appears to have consequently ended any chance of Vettel going to the Italian team.

In a dig at Alonso, who has moulded the Ferrari team around him, Vettel said: "I don't think I ever said anywhere that the fact that maybe Fernando or Felipe [Massa] or any other driver drives for Ferrari means it is impossible to go there. As far as I know, in Formula 1 teams have two cars..."

 

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae