Double F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso is approaching what he expects to be an 'emotional' weekend as the circus makes its second Middle Eastern trip of the campaign for the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix finale – what will mark the Spaniard's last race with Renault before he jumps ship to Ferrari in 2010.
Of Alonso's 138 starts at the highest level since making his debut with Minardi back in 2001, all-but 34 of them have been with the French manufacturer, with whom he claimed both of his drivers' titles as well as 17 of his 21 grand prix victories, 41 of his 53 podium finishes and 16 of his 18 pole positions. That being the case, when the curtain finally comes down on his relationship with the Enstone-based outfit this weekend, it will undeniably represent the end of an era.
“I would love to finish the season and my Renault career with a great result,” the Oviedo native affirmed. “It will be an emotional race, because I have enjoyed so many special memories with this team and I am leaving behind a lot of friends. Renault is one of the great teams in F1, and I look forward to fighting with them on the track in the years ahead.”
Following what he acknowledged was 'such a disappointment' and 'a real shame' last time out in the Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos – being unceremoniously removed from the action on only the opening lap after being harpooned by Adrian Sutil's out-of-control Force India following the German's clash with Toyota ace Jarno Trulli, on a day when he believed he could have been amongst the points-scorers in 'an exciting race on a great circuit' – it is clear that Alonso hopes to enjoy rather better fortunes in the capital of the United Arab Emirates.
The new, anti-clockwise Yas Marina street circuit will be a step into the unknown for all 20 competitors and their teams, but it is just such tests, the 28-year-old reveals, that motivate him and stoke his desire to succeed.
“I always enjoy the challenge of a new circuit,” he explained, “and the track in Abu Dhabi looks very impressive. It will be a new experience for everyone, so it's important that we maximise all the sessions and learn as much as we can quickly to try and find an advantage. I think the facility looks amazing and will be great for the people of Abu Dhabi. We went there a few years ago for the street demo and saw how much enthusiasm the fans have for F1.
“It looks like it will be quite a demanding circuit for the drivers, as there are over 20 corners in the lap – and some of them look very challenging. We look at a lot of simulation data and I work very closely with the team to understand the demands of the track – much more than I would do for a track that I already know. We will probably spend five times longer preparing for a new venue.
“However, when you are looking at a map it's difficult to really understand a circuit, and it's only when you get there that you start to feel what it is really like. In these circumstances, the circuit walk becomes very important for me and the engineers.
“I think turns eleven, twelve and 13 look interesting. I remember when we first saw the map of the circuit it reminded me of the difficult turn ten chicane in Singapore. It looks like turns eight and eleven will be the two big braking zones, and for sure there will be opportunities to overtake there.
“We will jump in the car knowing the circuit perfectly in our mind, as we will have studied the map. After three or four laps you realise the lines and the braking points, so I would say five laps is enough to know the track pretty well – but it's true that with every lap you feel more confident and you learn more about the track and how to get the most from it. The final laps of the race are usually your best laps, as you know the track so well by then.”