GREAT RACE AHEAD: Fernando Alonso claims the Baku F1 race in Azerbaijani will be very important for the sport. Image: AFP / Tofik Babayev
Baku - Fernando Alonso has hailed the Baku City Circuit as the world's fastest, saying it promised to be the most memorable race on the 2016 Formula 1 calendar.
In an interview with AFP on Tuesday, 100 days before the F1 Grand Prix of Europe, the two-time world champion said: "We are talking about the fastest street circuit in the world, reaching speeds only comparable to Monza" in Italy.
"I really like what I saw. I think it's going to be a really unique circuit," said Alonso, who visited Baku as the official ambassador for the 2016 Formula 1 Grand Prix of Europe that will take place in the Azerbaijani capital on June 17-19.
Cars could reach 340km/h
He took a tour of the Baku City Circuit designed by Austrian Hermann Tilke and inspected some of its key features, including the 7.6m narrow, uphill, winding sequence of turns by the walls of Baku's Old Town, a Unesco World Heritage site.
Alonso also visited the circuit's main straight along Baku's picturesque seaside boulevard, where cars are estimated to hit speeds of up to 340km/h as they race towards the finish line.
The Baku race will be "a very important thing for the sport", he said.
Alonso said: "Formula 1 becomes more and more international and we open the sport to new countries. We are in every part of the world right no. Maybe we are missing a little bit the USA. In America, Formula 1 is still not so popular and not so important.
"The complexity of the rules is quite big, so I think for the normal people on the streets Formula 1 is quite a difficult sport to follow, sometimes a little bit too closed."
Alonso said street circuits, where "everything can happen" affecting race results, are always a good opportunity for the less competitive teams.
"I am looking forward to this race to maximise every opportunity we have," Alonso said, adding that his McLaren Honda had been "changed a lot from the last year".
"The power unit is completely different... we had a lot of reliability problems, we also didn't have the performance, we had to make a lot of improvements, also in the aerodynamic side.
"We are not that strong right now, but we know what we need to change," the Spaniard said. "In every race we must be in the points and then fighting for podiums in the second part of the season. I think it's going to be our goal."
'Stay for more or stop'
Alonso, who joined the Woking-based team in 2014 after five years spent with Ferrari, suffered the most disappointing year of his career in 2015 as McLaren's new partnership with Honda produced an unreliable car.
He dispelled rumours that he may resign before his lucrative three-year contract expires in 2017.
"I will drive in 2017, I will see how much I enjoy driving those cars and I will then make a decision whether to stay for more years or to stop with Formula 1.
"I would like to win the Le Mans, and the Indy 500. The Indy 500 is very difficult because I am not used to the ovals and not used to American racing. But in 24-hour Le Mans the temptation is very high, yes.
"Old drivers, we like big challenges and big races."