Fernando Alonso may have ended his time at Renault F1 on a distinctly low-key note with a 14th-place finish in the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at the weekend, but the double world champion nonetheless admitted that it was an emotional farewell and that the team had given him 'the most amazing seven years' of his career to-date.
Having struggled in qualifying around the all-new, spectacular Yas Marina street circuit – failing to make it beyond Q1 for only the second time all year – Alonso found himself promoted to 15th on the starting grid by McLaren-Mercedes ace Heikki Kovalainen's gearbox penalty.
However, a tardy getaway when the lights went out saw the Spaniard cede track position to Kovalainen, Vitantonio Liuzzi in the Force India, Ferrari's Giancarlo Fisichella and Renault F1 team-mate Romain Grosjean on the opening lap – and he would spend the remainder of the race trying to make amends, meaning 2009 represents only his third winless year out of eight in the top flight.
“The result is disappointing,” reflected the Ferrari-bound Oviedo native, “as we were not able to produce the performance we wanted. I would have liked to finish the season on a high, especially as this was my last race with Renault. I would like to thank the entire team for everything that we have achieved together over the years. We had some great victories and won championships together. It has been the most amazing seven years of my career, and something I will never forget.”
Grosjean, for his part, concluded what looks likely to have been his final grand prix for the French manufacturer in similarly frustrating fashion, getting the jump on the sister R29 at the start but going on to cede position to Alonso en route
to 18th and last position at the chequered flag.
“The race was disappointing,” the Swiss-born Frenchman acknowledged. “I made a good start, but I was blocked several times. I also suffered with some brake problems during the race. Towards the end I unfortunately lost a place to Fisichella, which was a shame, but the performance of the car didn't really allow me to show what I was capable of. It's now the end of the season, and I can say that I have learnt an enormous amount this year, especially being team-mate to Fernando.”
Just as Alonso was full of praise for Renault and the role the team has played in his outstanding success over the years, so the management of the Enstone-based outfit was effusive in its gratitude for everything the 21-time grand prix-winner has done for them since joining back in 2002.
“We have to recognise that this has been a difficult year for Renault,” stated managing director Jean-François Caubet. “From a technical standpoint the year started with confusion, and on the human side we will miss Fernando who is leaving the team. From the political perspective, all the problems that we have encountered this year have been negative for us and for F1.
“However, next season is full of hope; we have turned the page and the future is ahead of us. The strategy is well underway, the choice of drivers is close and the technical changes being overseen by Bob [Bell] for the chassis and Rob [White] for the engine are promising. The sponsors are coming back, and even though we are disappointed with our performance in the final race of the season, we know that changes are underway and we are confident for the future. The team is united and full of optimism.”
“In terms of performance, it was a disappointing race for us,” recognised stand-in team principal Bell. “Going into the weekend, we had slightly higher expectations, but in the end we just didn't have the pace. In terms of the event itself, it has been fantastic and Abu Dhabi deserves real credit for providing the facilities and for staging a great event, which has been great for F1. As a team we are obviously disappointed as we had hoped to end the season on a high, but we are upbeat for next year. We will move on from here and will be back fighting next year.”
“The story of the year overall is that we have not been competitive enough, summarised head of engine operations Remi Taffin, musing on the eighth-place finish in the final constructors' standings. “The race was difficult again, and unfortunately we couldn't fight for points. In terms of the engines, we have not had any issues this year, but we are missing overall performance with the car. We will work hard over the winter to come back stronger in 2010.”