You have to love Fernando Alonso. Apart from Mark Webber, the 27-year-old Spaniard is the only star in Formula One who tells it like it is. He shoots straight from the hip, and his aim devastates political correctness. He believes that the endless politicking is killing the sport, and he says so.
"This is the worst Formula One we had in many years, maybe the worst in history," he says trenchantly, "because of the politics and all of the fights. We need to find a solution as soon as possible. These six months, they have been very bad for Formula One. The people at home, they don't understand why Ferrari isn't winning. They don't understand about diffusers and KERS [Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems], they care about the show. And every week we have two or three press releases, from the FIA, from Fota, this is not our dream of Formula One!"
Hmm. OK. How about the new regulations? "I like the slick tyre. It's actually quite similar to what we used to have, quite driveable, but it is more of a racing tyre. The other one, with grooves, was not the right one!"
This guy is a purist, through and through.
"The rest of the regulations, I don't think they are great. The KERS [which store and use energy generated under braking] is the big mistake of the year. We introduce the KERS in the wrong moment, with the economical situation that we have now. The teams have spent a lot of money for nothing. And the aerodynamics... the cars don't look too good."
Alonso's Renault is one of the ugliest F1 cars, but if it was winning people would see a beauty in its functionality. Like all of its rivals it has an adjustable front wing intended by the rulemakers to facilitate more overtaking. Alonso scoffs. "I never touch it! So far, nine races, I never use it. It's not useful at all. KERS, the aerodynamics, they are two new regulations that didn't work this year."
What his Renault didn't have at the beginning of the season, apart from sheer pace, was the two-tier diffuser about which so much fuss was made. "For sure they [the diffusers] help a lot Toyota, Williams and Brawn. But now we all have them, so no excuses. We designed the car last year with one type of regulations, and some other teams designed their cars with a different set of regulations, the double diffusers. There are two different ways to interpret the rules, and we were on the wrong side..."
Like 2008, then, 2009 has been a frustrating year for the man who toppled Michael Schumacher by winning the last two world championships in which the German competed prior to his retirement at the end of 2006. He is a racer who admits that, if he had to choose between being in a team that loves and values him, or being in one where he was less settled but able to fight for the title, he would always plump for the latter even though it goes against his emotional requirements.
"It's frustrating, for sure," he says of Renault's current place in midfield. "Because we start the season with high hopes, thinking only to fight for the championship and to win races and be on the podium. After four or five races we realise that we are not quick enough. So we are frustrated. But once you know the situation it's time to keep working, not to be down, to be productive with the team and try to be quick as soon as possible.
"It is disappointing to not be able to fight like that, but it is the way it is. It is the same for Ferrari, for McLaren, for BMW. The top teams from last year, they are struggling a little bit."
The performance deficit merely compounds his anger at the political situation, and clearly he believes it is unnecessary that it's got to this point.
"Still in July and we don't have a solution! This is not right because we want the best possible Formula One: continuity in the rules, the good show for the people... All these politic[al] fights, they are damaging the sport because the fans they are not very keen on them.
"My opinion is that the teams, the Fota, they are doing the maximum, they are doing all they can to find a solution, they are doing a great effort to reduce costs but also they want to race in the best category in the world with the most technology and the best teams in the world. There are more or less 1,000 people for each team so we are talking about 8,000 employees between the eight teams, so they need to save these people as well. Now it is time for FIA to step back. The drivers, we are with Fota at the moment, because they are our teams, they pay us, they support us. And we will support them, because Formula One without the big companies is not Formula One.
"We all need to step back, with the economical situation we are having now and the war, and there are some lessons we need to learn. And hopefully next year we have a better Formula One, a better show, and a full grandstand, maybe cheaper tickets.
"FIA cannot do the rules as they want, every day changing. We need consistency. You have to reduce the cost, but step by step and not forgetting this is Formula One, this is new technology, this is the highest in motorsport. You cannot destroy 60 years of history of Formula One."
In 2007 he took a big money offer to join McLaren, where his partnership with upstart rookie Lewis Hamilton ended in tears. He went back to Renault, where he admits he took a voluntary pay cut for 2009.
"I fight for the championship, but the situation was impossible," he says of his time with McLaren. Referring to former team principal Ron Dennis he adds: "We had completely opposite philosophies of the sport of motor racing, so I prefer to be in this position now, to really grow up."
So is he committed to Renault for the long term? It's a trick question, of course, because since 2008 he has been rumoured to have signed a contract to join Ferrari in 2010. His response, which scarcely amounts to a denial, further fuels the likelihood of the latter and perhaps explains why he seems so calm even though he has even less chance of winning than he did in 2008.
"We will see," he replies. "We all know the history of Ferrari, but at the moment I am happy at Renault and we will see what happens in the future. At the moment the only concern is having a great Formula One for the future, better than this year. Continuity in the rules, with all the big manufacturers there. When we have that, the dream is to win world championships. I won two, I'm 27 years old, so I want to win more. I am still young, so I am sure I will have more possibilities to win and I will be ready to take the opportunities."
Roll out the rosso carpet...
Q&A: Where F1 goes from here
While the on-track action in 2009 has been fast and furious, with Brawn and Red Bull coming to the fore under revised regulations as pre-season favourites McLaren, Ferrari, BMW Sauber and Renault have stumbled, there is a school of thought within the paddock that the endless off-track politicking has had a harmful effect on the sport. But what is stopping peace from finally breaking out and could it happen this weekend before the damage becomes too severe?
*On 15 July Max Mosley reaffirmed his intention not to stand for another term as president of the FIA in October this year. But does that really mean that Formula One is finally in a position to get its house in order?
FOTA representatives believe that a deal is imminent. One said, off the record: "It is possible that it could happen this weekend. That is what people are committed to doing."
*How likely is it to happen to that schedule?
The same source suggested an 80 per cent probability, adding: "That's being realistic, but you know how people squirm. But if everyone does what they say they are going to do, it could well be imminent."
*Why has it taken so long, apart from Mosley's prevarication?
"Well, it's taken the lawyers time, but they are just about there; there are lots of signatories as you might imagine, though, and it's a bit like herding cats..."
*What does the new deal entail?
If everything gets agreed, all 13 teams – FOTA members Ferrari, McLaren-Mercedes, BMW Sauber, Renault, Brawn, Toyota, Red Bull and Toro Rosso, plus Williams and Force India and newcomers US F1, Manor and Campos – will sign up to a new Concorde Agreement which will run until 2012. This will give them 50 per cent of the overall revenues instead of 27 per cent, and will change the governance of the sport by reintroducing a democratic Formula One Commission to manage rule changes.Reuse content