BARCELONA: Fernando Alonso drove the 96,000 fans packing the Spanish Grand Prix wild with delight on Sunday as he became the first Spaniard to finish second in a Formula One race.
Living up to his reputation as Formula One’s bright new hope, 21-year-old Alonso more than once led the race.
Third off the grid, he finished the 65 laps of the 4.73km Circuit de Catalunya just 5.7 seconds behind winner and five-time world champion Michael Schumacher of Ferrari.
In his cool-down lap, thousands of spectators, many waving the yellow and blue flags of his native city of Oviedo, cheered as he saluted them.
“It is a special moment for me, I will never forget this day,” the Renault driver said. “I will try to repeat this every time I come here to Barcelona.
“It was a very special lap to be in front of 96,000 people with the flags coming from all the parts of Spain and they were very happy, very excited about my position in the race,” added Alonso, already the youngest driver ever to start a race on pole with the fastest time in Malaysia.
In his first year with Renault, Alonso has scored at all five GPs, matched only by Ralf Schumacher of Williams. Alonso has placed third twice.
In the world drivers’ standings, he is third with 25 points, three less than Michael Schumacher, and seven behind leader Kimi Raikkonen of McLaren.
“It’s the fifth consecutive race that I’ve finished in the points and I cannot dream any more at the moment,'' Alonso said with a nervous laugh.
Schumacher said he wasn’t surprised by Alonso’s performance given the qualifying times by the Spaniard. The German recently described Alonso’s form as “fantastic”.
The result compensated Renault after Alonso’s teammate Jarno Trulli was bumped out in the first lap.
The Spaniard said he was confident the team would continue to score.
“It depends on the tyres,” he said. “I don’t think there are any downsides with the car and we can be competitive for the whole season.”
Alonso’s success is largely responsible for the the increased turnout all three days at the Circuit de Catalunya compared to last year.
Spanish national TV also reversed a decision not to show F1 races live this year.
Alonso’s track record is impressive. He made his first laps on a karting track when he was three, and he was infant category champion in his native Asturias region four years later. By 14, he was the world karting champion.
On the Catalan circuit, he won the Formula Nissan in 1999. In his only previous F1 appearance at the track, he finished 13th for Minardi in 2001, his maiden season. – AP