NASCAR & Auto Racing

Alonso ready to take risks in season-ending Brazilian GP

SAO PAULO, Brazil – Fernando Alonso is ready to take bigger risks than usual in Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix, in an effort to overtake rookie teammate Lewis Hamilton and retain his Formula One drivers’ title.

Alonso trails Hamilton by four points and must win this weekend to have a realistic chance of clinching his third straight title.

“I will risk for sure because I need to take places if I have an opportunity,” the two-time world champion Alonso said Thursday. “Sometimes you need to be conservative (and) finish in a certain place. This year you need much more than that. You need to win a race or be up front.”

Alonso clinched his world titles in 2005 and 2006 in the Brazilian GP, but had a comfortable points lead heading into the race both years. This time he needs to win the race and hope Hamilton finishes third or worse – although the rookie has 12 podium finishes in 16 races.

A win is worth 10 points and second through eighth range from eight points to one, meaning a top-four finish could be enough for Alonso if Hamilton has a sub-par performance.

“The last two years I was in front, now I’m behind. That’s the main difference and the main difficulty,” Alonso said. “Now it’s more a championship thought. When you are in the car you don’t care about the race result, you just concentrate about how many points you will get.”

Hamilton, on the other hand, said he will approach the race the same way as he did the others in his surprising season. He has a chance to become the first rookie to win the title and the youngest champion ever.

“I feel totally relaxed now and fully confident in the team and our ability to challenge for the title,” he said.

Hamilton could have secured the title in the Chinese GP two weeks ago, but slid off the track into a gravel trap at the top of pit lane. He said that mistake was not going to bother him in Brazil.

“I come here even stronger,” Hamilton said. “I thought it would (hurt) my confidence, put me on my back foot. But I feel even stronger, for whatever reason.”

Hamilton, who has never raced at the 2.6-mile Interlagos track, has a seven-point advantage over Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, the only other driver still alive in the title hunt.

It is the first time in 21 years that three drivers reach the season-ending race in contention for the drivers’ championship.

Raikkonen, who won two of the last three races, has the tiebreaker advantage because he won five races, one more than both Alonso and Hamilton.

Raikkonen said he would not take too many risks despite his disadvantage.

“I have nothing to lose, but I will wait and observe what happens in the race,” he said.

Drivers will get their first view of the track during Friday’s practice sessions, and qualifying takes place on Saturday.

This year, officials made a major change to the Interlagos track in Sao Paulo, completely repaving the surface in hopes of eliminating bumps that prompted complaints from drivers every time F1 came to Brazil. Another change was the creation of a new pit entrance, which was enlarged by 20 feet to increase the drivers’ visibility on the main straightaway.

The 2007 season has been marred by a spying scandal that led to a record $100 million fine for McLaren after Formula One’s governing body FIA found the team guilty of using leaked data from Ferrari. The British team was kicked out of the manufacturers’ championship, though Alonso and Hamilton did not lose any points.

There were rifts between the two drivers throughout the season, with Alonso complaining he wasn’t getting the team backing he deserved as a two-time world champion.

Both drivers downplayed the controversy.

“The media said many, many things about us that weren’t true,” Alonso said. “We never had problems between each other. We are fighting on the track, but outside the track we had a very good relationship from day one.”