ABU DHABI – Fernando Alonso’s time with Ferrari came to an end in Abu Dhabi on Sunday evening as the Spaniard finished a lowly ninth at the Yas Marina Circuit.
Alonso endured a difficult race, finishing two seconds behind Sebastian Vettel despite the German driver starting the race from the pit lane after being excluded from qualifying. However, he did manage to beat Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen once again, picking up four points for P9.
On Thursday, it was confirmed that Alonso would be leaving Ferrari at the end of the season, making way for four-time world champion Vettel at Maranello. He is expected to join McLaren for 2015.
In his final press session as a Ferrari driver, Alonso was asked to reflect on his time with the Scuderia, scoring the five-year spell at nine out of ten.
“From one to ten, I think those five years, I would put nine,” Alonso said. “I know it seems high, but for me, it’s my opinion. Anyone can have their own opinion. I enjoyed it so much. I grew up as a driver and as a person. I worked with amazing people here, and I raced with heart and at the best level of my career.
“I never imagined to have such a beautiful performance over these five years, fighting for the championship, racing with everything that I have inside, never give up. I am proud of the team and the things we did together.
“We missed the title, but we raced in a very dominant era of Formula 1 with Red Bull and this year with Mercedes. No one can come closer to them. This is what I missed to put a ten over these five years.
“Any driver should drive for Ferrari at least for one year, because it’s a unique experience.”
Alonso issued a number of special Ferrari shirts for the race to the team, celebrating his five-year stint at Maranello. Although they did not win a title, the partnership will be remembered as one of the most unique in F1 history, even if it was not the most successful.
Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.
It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.
“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”
In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.
With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.
In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.
“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.
“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”
Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.
“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said. “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”
Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.
“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.
“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”
Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.