Wed, Jan 17, 2007 - Page 19 News List

Fernando Alonso excited about new F1 season

AP , VALENCIA, SPAIN

Formula One champion Fernando Alonso steers a Mercedes Benz through the streets of Valencia, Spain, on Monday.

PHOTO: AP

The Fernando Alonso era at McLaren is here.

The Formula One champion, who moved from Renault, is confident the British-based team will help him win a third straight drivers' title.

"I don't know how the Ferrari is, how the Renault is, but I have full confidence in ourselves," Alonso said on Monday at a team conference looking ahead to the 2007 season. "All the information I have about the wind tunnel and the engine side is so promising and so optimistic that if that info on paper is real on the track we will have a very good car. I think we will be strong."

The 26-year-old Spaniard and teammate Lewis Hamilton were set to drive their new McLaren MP4-21 race cars from the Arts and Sciences complex through the streets of Valencia past 150,000 spectators later in the day.

Alonso and Hamilton will test drive the MP4-21 cars at the Valencia circuit for the first time today, ahead of the extended preseason testing program which begins next Wednesday.

"Sometimes after a tough season, when winter comes, you want to test as late as possible and be on holiday as much as you can and you don't want to be in the car so early -- but now is the opposite," Alonso said. "I want to be in the car straight away, so I have the feelings like six years ago when I arrived in Formula One."

Alonso signed with McLaren in December 2005 after winning the title with Renault, the first Spanish champion and youngest champion in F1 history. He drove one more season with Renault, winning another title.

Alonso replaces Finnish driver Kimi Raikkonen at McLaren. Raikkonen took retired Michael Schumacher's seat at Ferrari.

"I feel more ambitious now, a completely new man," Alonso said.

McLaren hasn't won the drivers' crown since Mika Hakkinen did it in 1999; the team's last constructors' title was in 1998.

"What I feel here is a lot of professionalism, they are very determined to win and focused on the championship," Alonso said. "When I went to the factory and I met all the people, they are so excited. They really think that after a few years with no success, this is the year to come back. No one has any doubts about this and it is a complete surprise for me."

Alonso made his McLaren debut on Dec. 12 with a surprise drive on the final day of winter testing at the circuit in Jerez.

Even though he was under contract through last year, Renault allowed the Spaniard to drive with McLaren wearing a plain white helmet and overalls in an unmarked McLaren car.

McLaren finished third in the constructors' championship last year, 94 points behind Renault, with Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya finishing fifth and eighth.

"My aim for this year is simply to do a solid job for McLaren, to learn as much as possible from Fernando because I know he is going to bring a huge amount to the team," Hamilton said.

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