Alonso triumphs in front of home crowd

Defending world-champion Fernando Alonso made Spanish sporting history here on Sunday when he became the first home winner of the Spanish Grand Prix.

The 24-year-old Renault driver triumphed in stunning fashion, finishing a comfortable 18,5 seconds ahead of his main rival, seven-times champion German Michael Schumacher in a Ferrari.

Then he leapt from his car, and after some brief high jinx with team chief Flavio Briatore, climbed back on to his car and pretended to be an unidentified animal, flapping his hands behind him, much to the delight of the huge and raucous crowd.

”I have no idea what he was doing and that shows I don’t know everything that is going on in our team,” said technical director Pat Symonds of Renault, the pit-wall boffin who has helped steer Alonso from unknown Oviedo-born hopeful into Formula One’s number one.

It was a magnificent demonstration of his status as the current top driver in the sport, as he scorched away from pole position to deliver the 11th victory of his career in near-perfect style and enlarge his lead in the drivers’ championship to 15 points ahead of Schumacher.

Schumacher gave his all in front of the crowd at the Circuit de Catalunya, but after starting from third behind the two Renaults and leading during the pit-stops he was unable to close the gap on the Spaniard.

”Yes, that was 66 maximum, perfect laps for me,” said Alonso afterwards. ”The best race for me, the best feeling — the best I have ever felt in a Formula One car. The feeling at the finish, to win in front of my own people was fantastic.”

Alonso’s Renault teammate Giancarlo Fisichella completed the podium, despite taking a trip through a gravel trap at turn three midway through the race. He held off Brazilian Felipe Massa, in the second Ferrari, to take third place.

Finn Kimi Raikkonen leapt from ninth at the start to fifth and survived there until the end for McLaren, whose dismal season, by their own high standards, continued.

Raikkonen, growing tired of his ill-fortune with the Woking-based team, is now expected to leave at the end of the season and join Ferrari.

He resisted the challenge of the two Honda drivers, Briton Jenson Button and Brazilian Rubens Barrichello, who finished sixth and seventh respectively.

Button said: ”That’s the best we could have hoped for after a bad qualifying and at least we had a faultless race for a change. I can’t wait for the Monaco race now. I love that place.”

German Nick Heidfeld took the final point in eighth place in his BMW Sauber.

Compatriot Ralf Schumacher, younger brother of Michael, broke his front wing during a failed attempt to pass his Toyota teammate Italian Jarno Trulli on lap 16.

It was a collision that is sure to require a major inquiry by the team as they struggle to justify their massive budgets. He was forced to pit for repairs, but additional damage forced him to retire.

Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya, the second McLaren driver, also retired when he spun off while exiting turn two on lap 18. He ended up beached on the kerb on the inside of turn three.

Alonso said: ”I was lucky, it was a great day and everything seemed to work out perfectly for me. I was fast in the fast stint and I was able to open up a gap.

”Ferrari were not so strong as we had expected and in the end I was able to control the race in the final laps.

”Michael stopped pushing and I was able to cruise home and enjoy it all.”

He showed his pleasure by swerving and skidding across the line after weaving through the final 400m of the 66-laps contest at the Circuit de Catalunya where the huge crowd had brought traffic chaos from dawn.

”For me, it was better than the feeling I had last year when I won the world championship in Brazil. That was fantastic, but I was not leading the race at home in front of my own people like today [Sunday].”

A stony-faced Michael Schumacher had little to say at the end, but at this stage of the year he knows he and Ferrari can only mount a realistic challenge to Alonso and Renault if they can bounce back at the Monaco Grand Prix in two weeks’ time. — AFP



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