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One last chance for McLaren in Brazil
Alan Baldwin | October 20, 2006 16:07 IST
Fernando Alonso will have mixed emotions if he wins his second successive Formula One title in Brazil on Sunday.
There is every likelihood that the Spaniard's last race for Renault will end in scenes of jubilation and, if so, he should make the most of it. Next year, when he moves to Mercedes-powered McLaren, it could be very different.
After winning more races than any other team last year, with a car generally recognised as the fastest on the racetrack, the former champions are facing their first season in a decade without a win.
Asked what he expects from McLaren next season, Alonso recognised on Thursday that there was a concern.
"I ask myself the same question and we need to see what happens next year," he told a news conference at Interlagos.
"I think every year is different. We saw in 2004 the McLaren was down finishing fifth in the constructors' championship but in 2005 they were the best on the track and in 2006 also some problems.
"So I hope that in 2007 they go back with the best car."
McLaren's best hope for the weekend is for Kimi Raikkonen to win his last race with them before he leaves to step into Michael Schumacher's shoes at Ferrari.
There will be no little irony if the Finn does that, since he will probably scupper his future employers' chances of the constructors' championship as well as dashing Schumacher's hopes of one last victory before retirement, but he can be counted on to do what he can.
"We try to do our best here, of course, but it's very difficult to say right now how it's going to be," Raikkonen said.
"In the last couple of years the car has been pretty good here so hopefully it will be the same case this year and we can achieve a good result for the last race."
McLaren won last year in Brazil with Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya, now departed for a future in the United States with NASCAR, while Raikkonen has finished runner-up at Interlagos for the past three years.
McLaren have a strong record in Brazil, winning there more times than any other team and four times in the last eight years.
The team won 10 of the 19 races last season but, like Ferrari at the end of 2004, fell off a cliff at the start of this year when they were expected to be challenging Renault for the championship.
Their trend has been erratic for some time, with a poor season in 2004 after Raikkonen remained in the title hunt down to the last race in 2003.
"It's weird, isn't it," said Briton Jenson Button, who rescued his own Honda team's thoroughly disappointing season with a first win in Hungary in August.
"When they (McLaren) started the year they were pretty dreadful actually, we were surprised that they got a podium in the first race," said Button.
"In the winter they were about three seconds off us but they turned it around pretty quickly and by mid-season they were one of the quickest cars but they've dropped off a little bit in the last few races," he added.
"Over the winter, at least, a lot of it seemed to be the engine -- they seemed to be a long way off with the engine. In qualifying they seem to be revving a lot...I don't know if they have to turn it down in the race or something."
Raikkonen was third in Bahrain, when the season opened in March, and second in Australia. The Finn also took third places in Britain, Canada and Germany and was second in Monza.
Yet he has scored less than half the points of championship-leader Alonso and lies fifth overall in the standings.
While he has every reason to be confident in his move to Ferrari, he would also be wise to remember that team's strong turnaround this year after a dismal 2005. The wheel can easily turn again.
"Winning's not easy but we haven't forgotten or lost the understanding of what it takes to win," said team boss Ron Dennis.
"As you'd expect we're pushing very hard for next season, as we do for every season."
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