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  • Fernando’s farewell, young guns arrive

‘Fernando, what will you miss most about Formula 1®?”

Alonso’s answer: “Press conferences!’

That exchange set the tone for the first part of the opening press conference at Yas Marina Circuit on Thursday when the sport’s senior citizens Alonso and Lewis Hamilton were joined by two youngsters making their F1® debuts next year, Lando Norris and George Russell.

It was partly a love-in: ‘It’s been a privilege to be in an era where [Fernando] was racing,’ said Hamilton. ‘The sport’s going to miss him.’

It was also an occasion for modesty. Asked about his legacy, Alonso refused to talk about his 32 wins, two world titles and other achievements. ‘Difficult to say,’ he replied. ‘I’ve been trying to do my best all my time here. More than races or memories or victories, the best thing that I have from the F1® time is going to be the people that I worked with, the people that I shared half of my life with – a lot of talented people, engineers, designers, mechanics, the media, everyone.’

If one great driver is leaving, another is coming back: Hamilton and Alonso were asked about the news that Robert Kubica will drive for Williams in 2019 following an eight-year absence and recuperation from injury.

‘Robert was always one of the most talented drivers that I had the pleasure of racing against,’ said Hamilton. ‘He’s had a really difficult time and it’s great to see that he’s got the opportunity. It’s exciting for the sport to see him back in action.’

Alonso shared that feeling: ‘It remains to be seen what will be the performance of the car, and his performance,’ he said. ‘If he is at 100% he will be amazing to watch.’

Moving into Alonso’s seat at the McLaren team will be a challenge for teenager Norris, as he freely admitted. ‘Obviously, it’s my first season and I would like it to be a long career in F1®,’ he said. ‘It’s a longer game: to make improvements, that’s the biggest thing. Mid-season, end of season, two years, see all this hard work paying off.’

Russell will be a Williams F1® driver next year. Meanwhile, he has a more immediate aim: to clinch the F2 title this weekend with ART Grand Prix. ‘I don’t think my approach is going to change, to be honest,’ he said. ‘We’ve had a fantastic season so there is no real reason to change. We have a healthy margin but anything can still happen, we’ve seen that through the whole season.’

Alonso, in the end, summed the F1® experience up when he described what F1® had meant to him. ‘How you approach these kind of races,’ he explained, ‘the philosophy behind a Grand Prix, the discipline in all areas of the team. Racing in other series you see that Formula 1® is a step higher, trying to find perfection in everything, every two weeks, all around the world.’

But Fernando also helped to keep the tone light. Asked what advice he would give the two young men beside him, he recalled his own debut with Minardi in 2001: ‘I remember going out of the pit lane in FP1,’ he said, ‘and there was a queue of cars at the end because the light was still red. I almost crashed with them because I couldn’t find the Neutral button. It was not the perfect start…’

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