ABU DHABI (Reuters) - Fernando Alonso said he wanted to be remembered as a fighter and a racer as Formula One threw a party for the departing double world champion at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
The Spaniard will start his final race on Sunday in 15th place for McLaren, dreaming of one last points finish before heading off to compete at the Indianapolis 500 and world endurance championship next year.
The 37-year-old may return in some role or other but the chances of him again gracing the grand prix racetrack are remote.
“I think I am the same driver with the same ambition, and probably same aggressive mode in terms of racing and driving,” he said when asked to look back over a career that began with backmarkers Minardi in 2001.
He was, he said, “a fighter, a guy that never gives up.
“I’ve been driving very good cars, slower cars, with the same motivation and ambition and love for racing. I race every week of my life,” he added.
“Sometimes it’s here in this paddock, some other weekends it’s on a go-kart track, some others in sports cars, if not in the video games. I’m a full-time race driver. That’s probably the way I hope people will think about me in the future.”
They may also look at the titles he won with Renault in 2005 and 2006 and reflect that he deserved to walk away with more than that.
Alonso could have won the 2007 title, missing out by a single point, and the 2008 crown had he stayed with McLaren rather than falling out with the former champions.
At Ferrari, the Spaniard led to Abu Dhabi in 2010 only to lose out to Sebastian Vettel, who went on a run of four titles in a row for Red Bull — a team Alonso might also have joined.
Saturday was not a time for regrets, however, as Alonso listened to video tributes from some of the figures of his past — including former Ferrari boss Luca di Montezemolo and ex-Renault team boss Flavio Briatore — in a packed paddock.
“It has been a privilege to work with friends I will have for the rest of my life,” he said, before sitting in a deckchair for the photographers — an echo of the 2015 Brazilian Grand Prix where he ‘sunbathed’ on a marshal’s chair after retiring his McLaren with yet another Honda engine failure.
“It’s a strange day, like the last day of school but I will not be here next year when we come back after the next holidays,” he added.
“I will be always part of this amazing feeling. Half of my life, 18 years I’ve been with the same people every two weeks travelling around the world, working, racing hard but at the same time enjoying ourselves.
“Real friendship has been probably the biggest thing of my career and the thing I will remember for the future.”
Formula One chairman Chase Carey said Alonso was a special part of the sport’s history.
“Sports are built on heroes, champions, stars, and Fernando is all of those and more,” said the American.
“You’ve been a hero to people around the world, you have fans around the world. We couldn’t be more appreciative of everything you have done for the sport.”
Writing by Alan Baldwin in London, reporting by Alexander Cornwell, editing by Tony Lawrence