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13 Jul 2006 10:27
Defending world drivers’ champion Fernando Alonso believes that this weekend’s French Grand Prix will see him bounce back from his disappointment in America last time out.
The 24-year-old Spaniard could only finish fifth in his Renault at the United States Grand Prix as his title rival Michael Schumacher won for Ferrari to cut his championship lead to 19 points with eight races left.
But Alonso believes the French manufacturer’s home race will see him claim his seventh win of the season and re-extend the gap over the German.
Alonso said: “A gap of 25 points before Indy didn’t mean that we would be champions automatically, and now that the gap is 19 points, we cannot be pessimistic and think the advantage will disappear quickly.
“You have to look at the big picture for the championship. I was first or second at nine of the ten races—and in the next eight races, I think we will be able to keep on winning and increase the lead even more.”
Renault are this weekend celebrating the 100th anniversary of the first Grand Prix at Le Mans in 1906, which was won by the Hungarian driver Ferenc Szisz in one of their cars on Michelin tyres.
And Alonso, who was delighted after winning last year’s race at a canter, would dearly love to mark the occasion with another win for Renault and Michelin on Sunday afternoon.
He added: “It was a fantastic race last year, one of the best for me.
It was a perfect race, with a fantastic atmosphere.
“A hundred years? It would be very special for Renault to win the race because they won the first Grand Prix.”
Seven-time world champion Schumacher though, will do everything in his power to add to his three wins this season and close the gap even further on the Spaniard.
After his Indianapolis win, Schumacher (37) and Ferrari spent a day testing at Jerez in Spain last week, and the German thinks the team have made more progress.
He also believes the championship is far from over, but knows he has to cut into the gap at every race to make it a reality.
“Testing went well. We are moving in the right direction and we want to do what we can to close the gap,” said Schumacher.
“From now on, we will fight in the real sense of the word and each race will be an opportunity for us to come back.
“Nineteen points can be bridged and I am convinced of this. We want to win and will battle to the end. There is no reason to give up”.
Schumacher—who has won at Magny-Cours a record seven times—thinks this year’s race could be remembered for years to come.
“I think that the race in France could be another classic. We have often seen how details can affect the outcome of a race and this could be true of Magny-Cours.”
McLaren, who have endured a winless season so far, travel to Magny-Cours without Colombian driver Juan Pablo Montoya, who was dropped by the British-based team on Tuesday.
Montoya (30) will be replaced by Spanish test driver Pedro de la Rosa (35) after a troubled season that has seen him score points in only half of the 10 races so far and cause three avoidable accidents.
An excited De la Rosa said: “I’m of course extremely thrilled to have this opportunity.
“I know the car better than anyone else and I’m confident that I can achieve important world championship points for the team.”
De la Rosa, a former Arrows and Jaguar driver, has not raced since last year’s Bahrain race, where he replaced the injured Montoya and set the fastest lap on his way to a career-equalling best result of fifth.
But he knows that the next few races could be his only chance to stake a claim for the vacant race seat alongside new signing Alonso next year.—AFP
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