Fernando Alonso still believes that driving with McLaren is the only way he can win another Formula 1 world championship despite the problems the team has endured with its Honda engines throughout 2015.
And the Spaniard received plaudits from his team mate Jenson Button, who described him as more consistently competitive than his former team mate Lewis Hamilton.
Alonso joined the Woking-based squad after five seasons racing for Ferrari, where he finished runner-up in the world championship in 2010 and 2012, as his frustrations with the team became too great.
The Spaniard attempted to force a move to Mercedes for 2015 but joined McLaren just as the British team started its worst season in F1 for 35 years.
Although his replacement at Ferrari, Sebastian Vettel, has gone on to win three times for the Scuderia in 2015, Alonso maintains he made the best decision for his title ambitions by joining McLaren and is hoping for better results in 2016.
Speaking at the pre-event press conference in Abu Dhabi, Alonso said: “[It’s been a] tough year, obviously difficult and [we’ve been] struggling with the pace all year and the reliability, so definitely a difficult season for us.
“But personally I think it was necessary. It was a step forward in my career after the two championships, after five fantastic seasons fighting for the world championship but arriving second, so I needed some new motivation, [a] new project that I could trust and I could believe is the only way to become champion again.
“After one difficult season I learned so much. I enjoy working with McLaren, with Honda, with all the Japanese discipline and Japanese culture in the team. I still remain very positive.
“I’m very, very happy and looking forward to next year being a little bit easier than this one, [which] has been difficult in terms of results”.
McLaren team mate Button paid tribute to Alonso when speaking to the British media in Abu Dhabi, claiming that he finds the Spaniard more consistently competitive than world champion Lewis Hamilton “On some race days, Lewis was untouchable, on others, it was like, ‘Where is he?’
“Lewis, I’m guessing, is a different driver now, more experienced, but Fernando’s always competitive. If he’s in front of you, you’re holding on, and if he’s behind you, he’s pushing you along,” said Button.
Alonso refused to predict how much McLaren can improve over the winter but he explained that the team’s main goal is to regain its position towards the front of the field and his is pleased with the work it has done so far to achieve that.
He said: “At the moment there’s a question mark, I guess, where McLaren-Honda can be next year. There are a lot of expectations in the team. I think we worked really [hard] all season, being united in some difficult moments and always moving forward.
“I think for 2016 the main goal for the team is to come back to where we belong and being competitive, fighting for the top positions.
“I don’t know if that means fighting for the championship, I don’t know if that means fighting for victories or just being on the podium sometimes, that’s always difficult to know in a very complex sport like Formula 1.
“There are definitely some big challenges ahead in this winter and I see all the things that the team has done in the last couple of months and these seem very logical, very positive and I’m confident that it’s going to be a completely different season next year and I’m happy with the progress.”
McLaren is currently just nine points behind Sauber in the constructors’ championship but Alonso explained that the team is not expecting to overhaul the Swiss squad as it is already focused on 2016.
He said: “[Sauber] are nine points ahead, I think, and we only scored points three or four times this year, so to score as many as ten in one race, in the final race is a little bit difficult but we will try to do our best.
“We will try to perform a good weekend but I think our minds are on next year’s project and probably half of the car is next year’s parts or next year’s philosophy as well. We are not too worried about beating Sauber this weekend or not.”
How would you rate Alonso’s performances for McLaren in 2015? Will he become a three-time world champion while driving for the team? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.