New team, same ambitions for champion Alonso

WORLD champion Fernando Alonso is confident his switch from Renault to McLaren will enable him to pursue a third successive championship title.

The 25-year-old is part of a new-look McLaren team alongside hot British prospect Lewis Hamilton, and much is expected of the new MP4-22 car.

And, ahead of the opening race of the season in Australia this weekend, Alonso admits he feels at home with his new team.

“At McLaren I have found a great atmosphere,” he said. “The people are really very focused on the target to come back with success and to regain the dominant position in Formula One, and I have to say thanks to the team for all the huge work they did in the winter.

“They have improved and developed the car a lot compared to last year.

“They work day and night and I think we arrive here in Australia with a really competitive car and I think we can fight for victory. I feel really, really happy with the move and really confident for the championship.”

Alonso will be keen to ensure his tenure at McLaren gets off to a good start at Albert Park in Melbourne.

The Oxfordshire resident seems to perform well on the circuit and won the race last year on the way to his second drivers’ title.

But he admits it is difficult to make any predictions as to who will be challenging at the top of the points table.

He added: “To be honest, I’ve always had very good races here in Melbourne. In 2005 I started 16th and finished third, last year I won here.

“But I think this year we arrive with a very interesting championship, very open in the first races.

“Ferrari has been the strongest, especially the last part of the winter, but last year we saw in some tests that Ferrari was very, very quick in August and September and then we arrived at races and everything was really, really close between all of us.

“The important thing is our team will be there in the fight and then it’s up to us to do the job.”

One of the biggest changes to the rules this season is the uniform use of Bridgestone tyres.

Each team receive just two specifications of tyres in each race and both have to be used during an event.

And Alonso believes it could cause a few surprises this season, with drivers able to take advantage over those who have been used to Michelin rubber.

He said: “I think there’s a big difference in the cars now with the new tyres and I think it’s the same for everybody.

“We’ve lost grip, performance and I think the driving style is a little bit more complex and a little bit different.

“I think all the Michelin drivers, including me, have been used to them and we accommodate our driving style to suit the Michelin tyres and I think new drivers who have come in this year have a big advantage because they don’t have past experience of Michelin tyres.”

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Join us for a special evening of Cheltenham chat on Friday March 12 at 6.30pm with racing legend and Irish Examiner columnist Ruby Walsh, Irish Examiner racing correspondent Tommy Lyons, and former champion jockey and tv presenter Mick Fitzgerald, author of Better than Sex.

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