Fernando Alonso has admitted he is expecting a “tough weekend” in Malaysia. The Spaniard is undoubtedly right.
As he watched the season opener on TV from his home in Dubai almost two weeks ago, Alonso’s McLaren-Honda substitute Kevin Magnussen qualified dead last and then broke down even before he got to the grid.
Reports say the car’s new Honda engine is up to 200 horse power down, with McLaren boss Eric Boullier admitting it might be two years before Mercedes can be caught.
That will not be the only reason Alonso, 33, might find Sepang “tough”. His replacement at Ferrari, Sebastian Vettel, was best of the rest behind the dominant Mercedes in Australia.
And Alonso – who has not raced since Abu Dhabi last year – is returning to action in hot, humid and often wet Malaysia, known to be probably the toughest race physically for the drivers.
He has spent more than a month recovering from his mysterious Barcelona testing crash, which caused him to lose consciousness and suffer concussion along with retrograde memory loss.
“I’ve been working hard on my fitness,” Alonso said on Tuesday, “and I feel good and ready to go this weekend.
“The heat in Malaysia is always very tough for the drivers but I’ve been focusing on this in my training and I’m definitely prepared for all of the weather conditions that we can face in Sepang.”
Finally, Alonso will face a veritable media storm outside of the cockpit, with his first official appearance of the weekend set to be the FIA’s press conference on Thursday.
Earlier that day, he will already have had his medical checks, including the cockpit extraction test, and F1 doctor Jean-Charles Piette’s thorough cognitive and reaction exam.
But then the grilling from journalists – who have spent the past weeks amid high speculation about the Barcelona crash and Alonso’s medical condition – will begin.
Indeed, McLaren has admitted interest in Alonso’s return in Malaysia will be “unprecedented”.
In a note to media, the British team urged journalists to ask Alonso about his “accident, recovery and return” only on Thursday.
“In the interests of expediency,” McLaren added, “Fernando and the team kindly request that all remaining media opportunities on Friday, Saturday and Sunday be used for questions about the race weekend and the world championship.
“We will politely decline to answer further questions on the matter after Thursday’s session,” said the team.
Alonso admitted: “The weekend will be tough, but I’m looking forward to getting into the MP4-30 for the first time in a grand prix and getting back to racing.” (GMM)