Fernando Alonso reassures McLaren and F1 he is staying after marathon test

Fernando Alonso

Fernando Alonso renewed his pledge to McLaren and Formula One after putting in a marathon stint during testing at the Circuit de Catalunya.

The double world champion, whose future with the team and the sport was the subject of speculation earlier in the week, said: “I have a contract here for three years. I’m not thinking about anything else. All week there have been rumours and when there are too many months with no action on the track there is a dangerous tendency to be creative with news. Now we are on track, I hope there won’t be any rumours. I will see the season out – and the next one.”

The 34-year-old is in the second year of his three-year deal and in his first day of testing he completed 119 laps in his McLaren Honda, although his ninth placing in the time sheets failed to dispel worries that last year’s many problems had not been totally overcome.

Alonso sounded relieved to be driving again. “After the longest break I can remember, starting winter testing in the third week of February is a bit late. It’s good to be back and good to complete a good number of laps, which I missed last year.”

Almost exactly a year ago, Alonso crashed in the most miserable testing period in the history of the McLaren team. The car was both slow and unreliable and remained so all season. At least the MP4-31 can string a few laps together.

Alonso said: “Our ambition is very high because I am not here just to travel around the world, jump in the car and have some fun on Sunday. I am here to win. I am proud of the team and the job everyone has done on this car. We improved all areas of the car. There was a lot of pain last year but now we have a completely new design and philosophy so we need time to explore the potential. There is still performance we need to unlock in the car.”

The Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg put in 172 laps, which were more than anyone else. Alonso said: “The Mercedes domination hasn’t finished. They are very strong. They are probably stronger than ever.”

Honda have announced changes at the top of their F1 team. Yasuhisa Arai, who came under intense pressure last year during a season of spectacular underachievement, will be replaced by Yusuke Hasegawa at the end of the month.

“I need to catch up with what is going on,” Hasegawa said, which sounded less than encouraging. “There are a lot of good people working very closely with McLaren, so I don’t think it will be a big problem. Compared to Arai, I think I am a very conservative person.”

Arai said, a little ridiculously: “I fulfilled my task with Honda. I will do my best to support him [Hasegawa]. He has a different personality, the approach is a little bit different. This year we know how big the gap is to the top teams … so we don’t say such optimistic words. More realism.”

In Geneva, Formula One came in for further ridicule on Tuesday after two meetings billed as seminal ended without any statement about the future of the sport.

Many important decisions have been put on hold for two months and radical proposals championed by Red Bull to make cars five seconds a lap faster have been watered down. They will be only three seconds quicker, if that, in 2017. One thing will be very different, a new-style qualifying format that will result in the slowest cars being eliminated.

And while that was going on one of the two most important men in F1, Jean Todt, the president of the sport’s ruling body, hit back at the other, Bernie Ecclestone, who had criticised the FIA president for being “a diplomat who wants everyone to be happy”.

Todt, clearly stung by the words from F1’s chief executive, said: “I am not the dictator. A dictator could not work within our system of governance. I would end up being a murdered dictator, as can happen with dictators. As president of the FIA, Formula One is among a lot of things I have to address.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Paul Weaver in Barcelona, for The Guardian on Tuesday 23rd February 2016 20.58 Europe/London

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