Fernando Alonso is under no allusions that he will have to fight harder than ever in 2009 as he chases a third world title.
The double world champion proved he had lost none of his speed and talent last year after carrying an uncompetitive Renault team to back-to-back race victories in the second half of the season.
With sweeping new regulations expected to shake up the pecking order in 2009, Renault are well placed to challenge at the sharp end of the grid having overcome the handling problems that plagued their new car in the early stages of pre-season testing.
But Alonso knows that it will be closer than ever at the front: “We finished in a strong position last year and this year our goal is to fight for the championship,” he said.
“But we have lots of new regulations this year and nobody really knows what will happen when we get to Melbourne. From what we have seen in testing it seems all the teams are very close and so we will certainly have a fight on our hands.”
He added: “I think the order of the teams will probably be different from the last few years as we have got used to Ferrari and McLaren dominating, but with the new rules I think there will be lots of cars fighting for the win. Hopefully we will be in that fight.”
Alonso struggled with the balance of the R29 at the first pre-season test in Portugal but following aerodynamic upgrades he now reports an altogether more responsive car.
“The first test in Portimao was tough as we had some bad luck with the weather, but when we introduced updates at the later tests we quickly improved the car,” he said.
“We’ve learnt how to optimise the set-up and we now have a car that is easy to drive and consistent. What is important now is that we keep improving and developing the car throughout the year.”
Speaking about the new challenge of Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems this season Alonso added: “The KERS and moveable wings mean that the drivers now have more work to do inside the cockpit. During testing I have been working hard to adapt to these new systems so that I can get the most from them in Melbourne.”
“I’m really pleased with the KERS system that we have developed and hopefully this will give us an advantage at the start of the season. I’m not sure if it will make overtaking easier, but it will certainly improve lap times.”