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King of Spain

2005-09-28 10:23

Egmont Sippel

A new "King of Spain" has been crowned. That's if you can convince the Asturians that Fernando Alonso should now graduate to a loftier moniker than "The Prince of Asturias".

Having been born in that region, in the little town of Oviedo on July 19, 1981, Alonso has just moved onto a wider and bigger stage even than the King of Spain himself.

Fernando is champion of the world.

And quite fittingly so.

It is possible to argue, of course, that the quiet, mild-mannered and well-behaved youngster was helped along to the F1 crown by a succession of failures on adversary Kimi Raikkonen's car - and that is true.

But it is also handy to remember that Alonso started the season strongly and protected a sizeable points lead from Imola onwards, with great aplomb.

He was always in position to pick up the pieces, for instance, which is not as simple as it looks. Take team mate Fisichella's performance as a yardstick, and it's easy to see that Alonso drove with great focus, care and intent all year long.

He's a go-getter, Fernando. A doer. He gets on with the business.

Fisi might have a more fluid and fluent style.

But Alonso brings the bacon home.

Apart from this extraordinary efficiency, this meticulous consistency, you can also bet your bottom dollar that Fisi was shocked at how quick Fernando was, firstly over a single lap, but especially over the course of a race.

Alonso is a stocky and strong speciman.

But he combines great physical strength with a clear mind and solid, unflustered thinking inside - and outside - the car.

Youngest champ

In Brazil then, the inevitable happened. The new King of Spain also became the first new F1 world champion of the new millennium since Michael Schumacher waltzed off with Mika Hakkinen's crown, five years ago.

Back in 2000 then, McLaren was done in by an ex-Benetton driver. Benetton became Renault. And now Renault has snatched the 2005 driver's title, again from McLaren.

In the process, Alonso also became the sport's youngest champion ever.

Think about it: At 24 years plus two months of age, Alonso is now roughly as old - or young - as Senna was, when the great Brazilian competed in his very first GP. Hey, in a Toleman, nogals. With a point from his second race, at Kyalami.

The other Brazilian to feature in this particular equation is Emerson Fittipaldi, who held the "youngest champion"-record since 1972.

Alonso beat Emmo's record by more than a year.

Which again, would not have been if Kimi Raikkonen had not suffered so badly on German soil in 2003, once at the hands of Rubens Barrichello who pushed him off at Hockenheim, and once because his German power supply expired at the Nurburgring.

That's the same German mill - and the same two tracks - which featured heavily in Raikkonen's demise, this year.

Again the Mercedes-Benz V10 failed him on German soil, this time at Hockenheim, whilst he was leading.

And again the forces of subversion conspired against Kimi at the Ring, as the Flying Finn flat-spotted his right front in a late lunge to out-brake Villeneuve into Turn One. The resultant vibrations eventually snapped the McLaren's suspension, promoting second-placed Alonso to victory on the very last lap.

On both occasions, the points swing tallied 12. Subtracted from Raikkonen's deficit of 25 before the Brazilian GP, and a single point - in Alonso's favour - would have separated the two protagonists on Sunday, as the lights went out at Interlagos.

Instead, the lights went out for Raikkonen as it became clear that Alonso was safely heading for a podium - which was all he needed to race into history.

Impressive resume

Not that it was the Spaniard's first encounter with greatness. Becoming the youngest F1 champion was just the coup de'grace of an already impressive resume.

For the Prince of Asturias, the King of Spain, or the Champion of the World - have your pick - is also the youngest pole sitter yet (Malaysia 2003) and the youngest race winner yet (Hungary 2003).

Those are the big prizes, the Grands Prix. But the lesser ones keep statisticians busy as well: Alonso is also the youngest driver yet to stand on a F1 podium, and the youngest guy yet to have recorded a fastest lap of the race.

That's not bad for a youngster who suffered from asthma as a boy.

Or a guy who raced a Minardi barely four years ago, in his rookie year.

Or a guy who had to sit out 2002 as a tester for Renault, waiting for Button to be moved along to BAR.

That's not bad either, for an outfit that has only been competing full-time in F1, as a united team under a single banner, for the last four years - especially in view of Renault's budget, which is way smaller than Ferrari's, Toyota's, McLaren's and even Williams's, in that order.

In fact, it's a brilliant series of achievements, made all the more remarkable by the fact that Spain has had no real F1 culture prior to Alonso's successes over the last three years.


Fernando Alonso thus had to do it all by himself, mostly in karts built by his father.

But that's the man that he is: a go-getter, a doer, a pragmatist - much like his main adversary this year, Kimi Raikkonen.

Both raced hard and brilliantly, with far fewer mistakes than a Schumacher used to make, at a comparative stage of his career.

Flavio Briatore, who was team leader at Benetton during the Schumacher years, reckons Alonso is as good and as quick as Michael.

But more aggressive.

Is he better then, perhaps?

Well, Fernando holds a host of records at an age that Schumacher has barely had a sniff at any of them.

What's more, is that Alonso himself rates the title victory over Raikkonen higher than he would have rated a similar feat against Schumacher.

Which tells you something about the caliber of today's Young Turks.

The Schumacher era is not necessarily over yet; too much of that depends on the quality of the car and tyres, and Ferrari and Bridgestone might just bounce back in 2006.

But this is also true: The most feared driver in the pit lane is no longer a German.

That accolade might just belong to a Finn. Or a Spaniard. Or, hovering on the periphery, even a Columbian - for Montoya was mighty in Brazil, even if he still has to shake the tag of being the real "King of Spin", Ashley Giles notwithstanding.

In fact, it's an open question as to who spins more often: Montoya or Michael Schumacher?

Which seems to suggest that the two best drivers in the world fought it out for 2005 honours, with the guy in the most reliable car taking the spoils.

Viva then, to Renault. And ole' to Alonso. The magnitude of their joint achievement will only be appreciated as time goes by.

At the moment, fait accompli is still overshadowed by the anti-climax of having achieved a result with two races yet to go.

This championship deserved to go down to the wire. And if truth be told, it needed McLaren to put some more pressure on Fernando.

But this is also beyond doubt: The boy's got what it takes.

And so much more.


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