Schumacher who?

The new champion in formula one wears blue and yellow, not red. He is young, not old. He has one title, not seven.

As the shirt on the back of a Renault member said for Fernando Alonso: “World champion—Schumacher who?”

Next year, Alonso’s blue and yellow Renault will wear the number one instead of Michael Schumacher’s red Ferrari, which has owned it for the past five years and two other times with Benetton.

Alonso, who turned 24 in July, became the series’ youngest champion and the first from Spain by finishing third on Sunday in the Brazilian Grand Prix won by Juan Pablo Montoya of Colombia.

“This year was my year with no problems at all,” Alonso said.
“Luck was always with me and my team really helped me a lot, so everything came to me this year, but for sure in the next races or next year will maybe be different.”

Kimi Raikkonen, Montoya’s McLaren-Mercedes teammate and the only other driver in contention for the title, finished second. The Finn had won three of the previous four races but couldn’t shake Alonso off his tail when he needed to on the 4,1km Interlagos circuit.

Schumacher, whose five-year reign as formula-one champion ended, was fourth. At 36, he is the oldest driver in formula one now.

“Everyone wants to beat Michael on the track because it is the same as beating [Lance] Armstrong in the Tour de France,” Alonso said. “To beat Michael this year was really an extra happiness for me.”

Schumacher was also happy for Alonso: “I congratulate Fernando and the team on winning the title. They have done a great job over the season. I saw a mechanic who worked with me before and he was close to tears. It was moving to see him, and how they are happy.”

Having won six races this year, Alonso needed only a top-three finish to secure the championship, with two races to go and an unassailable points lead.

He shouted “Yeah!” several times into the team radio as he crossed the line and waved his fists. After the lap, he stopped and calmly got out of the car. Then he jumped on top of the right front tyre and shouted again with both arms outstretched. He jumped off the car and ran to hug his teammates.

“It was always a dream to win the formula-one title,” Alonso said. “It’s the maximum that I have ever achieved in my life.”

He was congratulated by Spain’s King Juan Carlos and Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

The reception was a lot different from his start in formula one, with lowly Minardi in 2001. The next year, he was only a test driver.

“It was a little bit depressing at the beginning of my career because I arrived having won all the categories before formula one, and then at Minardi I was before last in all races and it was a little bit frustrating,” Alonso said.

“After that, I thought I was able to be in a competitive car after one year learning at Minardi, but unfortunately there was no place for me at Renault, so I was test driver for one year and then from 2003 to now I developed myself, my driving style, and I grew up with the team to be in this position.”

In 2003, he became the youngest to take a pole position in formula one and last year the youngest to win a grand prix. Now he’s delivered Renault’s first champion since 1997 when Jacques Villeneuve drove for Williams-Renault.

Montoya’s seventh career victory, third of the season, and 1-2 finish with Raikkonen helped McLaren take over the constructors’ lead by two points from Renault.

“Of course it is disappointing not to fight for the championship,” said Raikkonen, runner-up for the third time since 2000. “This is never nice, but congratulations to Fernando for the championship.”

Alonso acknowledged the threat from Raikkonen throughout the season helped to spur him.

“Thanks to Kimi, this world title is special,” Alonso said.

Now the only title left is the team title. McLaren lead Renault by two points, 164-162.

“Finally we got a one-two we have deserved since the beginning of the year,” Montoya said. “At the beginning of the year, we probably lost the drivers’ championship to Fernando when he was stronger, but as a team we are probably a lot stronger, we are a lot stronger now, and I think we deserve the constructors’ championship, to be honest.”

The next race is the Japanese Grand Prix on October 9.—Sapa-AP

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