Alonso adds flair to French victory

Fernando Alonso wanted to savour the moment.

The Renault driver had time to slow down in front of the stands filled with blue-and-yellow Renault supporters and hold up five fingers—indicating his number of victories this season.

Alonso won the French Grand Prix on Sunday in a dominant display from the pole position, leading throughout and only being headed when he made his three pit stops.

Kimi Raikkonen and seven-time champion Michael Schumacher finished second and third, respectively.

The Renault driver has now won five of the season’s 10 races and has six career wins.

“From three or four laps to the end I was expecting this moment—to cross the line and enjoy this victory with the team and with the grandstand,” Alonso said. “So I crossed the line slow to enjoy it with them.”

It was the first time the Renault team—carmaker and engine—had won the French GP since 1983, and it came when there was no French driver in the field.

“The car performed extremely well again in the race,” the Spaniard said.

“We were very competitive from the first lap. I saw Jarno [Trulli] going down a little bit.
So I pushed a little bit more until the first turn and the gap was quite nice, and we controlled the race a little bit more.”

All the teams were back on the track, two weeks after 14 cars boycotted the US Grand Prix over concerns about tire safety by Michelin.

Michelin officials also enjoyed the victory. It was the ninth time in 10 races that one of the teams it supplies tires to had won. Only Schumacher’s win—using Bridgestone tires—over a depleted field at Indianapolis has spoiled its record.

“It was a brilliant result at the end of 10 turbulent days,” said Nick Shorrock, the Michelin Formula One director.

Raikkonen, who started on the grid in 13th spot, was 11,8-seconds behind in his McLaren-Mercedes. Although he had the third fastest qualifying time, the Finn was penalised 10 spots on his qualifying position of third, having changed his engine following its failure during Friday’s practice.

“Without the penalty I think we could have won the race, or be in a possible position to fight for it,” Raikkonen said. “It is a bit disappointing. What happened on Friday really destroyed our weekend.”

Ferrari’s Schumacher was almost a lap behind. He won the US Grand Prix against only five other drivers, and they didn’t include Alonso or Raikkonen.

“I basically spent 18 laps behind Trulli, losing a lot of time,” Schumacher said.

Schumacher, however, is not ready to give up his title despite trailing Alonso by 29 points.

“As long as mathematically there are opportunities, you go for it,” Schumacher said.

Alonso has 69 points in the standings, followed by Raikkonen with 45 and Schumacher with 40.

Alonso led from the start and was never challenged. Such was his dominance that he built on his lead despite taking three pit stops compared to Raikkonen’s two.

At 10 laps, Alonso’s lead was 14,1 seconds over Jarno Trulli, who shared the front row with Alonso.

At 20 laps, the lead was almost 30 seconds.

Raikkonen stayed out of the pits until the 28th lap. He had worked his way up from 13th to second and was less than nine seconds behind, before falling to 30 seconds behind after pitting.

“After the last pit stop the teams were already quite set,” Alonso said.

“There were no problems at all with the car.”

Britain’s Jenson Button took his first points of the season for BAR-Honda with a fourth-place finish.

“For us to get fourth at the moment is a great result,” Button said. “We’ve struggled this year for various reasons, but it’s great to get some points and this is a good base for Silverstone [British GP].”

BAR-Honda served a two-race ban for racing an overweight car at the San Marino Grand Prix in April.

Toyota’s Trulli ended up fifth, while Alonso’s teammate, Giancarlo Fisichella, was sixth. Toyota’s Ralf Schumacher was seventh, and Sauber’s Jacques Villeneuve was eighth.

The French Grand Prix marked the beginning of the series’ second half of the season. There are nine races left, starting with the British GP next Sunday.

Alonso wasn’t ready just yet to claim the title.

“July will be quite tough but we started it in a good position,” he said. “It is quite early, still a lot of races to go.” - Sapa-AP

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