SPORTS

Fernando Alonso- Nerve, Verve and a License to Swerve

8/29/2006

Spain’s numero uno racing star has got it all: the fastest car in F1, sizzling leading-man looks and a trunk-thumping tribute song – “Magic Alonso,” a catchy anthem boasting that Fernando is immortal and nobody can touch him &




Spain’s numero uno racing star has got it all: the fastest car in F1, sizzling leading-man looks and a trunk-thumping tribute song – “Magic Alonso,” a catchy anthem boasting that Fernando is immortal and nobody can touch him – by Melendi, one of his country’s top pop stars. Few sporting heroes merit such exaltation, but Alonso has captured the imagination of Spain and beyond by proving himself a brilliant driver capable of shooting around chicane curves while maintaining his icy-cool composure in the heat of a race.

After winning back-to-back championships, F1’s new king of the hill still has a way to go to match former nemesis Michael Schumacher’s run of five straight and seven-time career tally. But Alonso is confident he’ll maintain his mercurial momentum in 2007 as he leaves Renault behind and begins racing with McLaren Mercedes, a team that hasn’t won an F1 championship since 1999 and last year was Grand Prix free (0 victories) for the first time in a decade. The protracted drought doesn’t faze Alonso the least bit. “I think in 2007, 2008 and 2009, McLaren will be the best team,” he has forecasted.

Alonso may lacks a “pass me if you can” swagger that was “Schumies” hallmark, but continued success has made him a much more playful champion. While in years past Alonso kept his emotions locked in neutral, celebrating wins by merely raising his hands in the air and throwing a few fist pumps, he started to let really loose last season. He is now apt to break out into hip-swivelling victory dances. To celebrate a win at the Bahrain Grand Prix in 2006, he imitated a matador and tamed an imaginary bull. While his footloose antics bolstered his growing stardom to the level of fellow Spanish athletes Sergio Garcia and Rafael Nadal, they have caused controversy outside Spain.
“It may surprise you to hear that when you stand on top of your car on the podium and contort your body into the shape of a matador (murderer) confronting a bull in the ring, you are offending millions of people all over the world who deplore cruelty to animals, including people who hold cows and bulls in high esteem for religious reasons,” wrote Indian politician Maneka Gandhi in an open letter to Alonso.
Perhaps it’s hullabaloos like this that have made Alonso avoid the media spotlight off the track. “Sometimes I wish I had a cloak of invisibility, like Harry Potter’s,” he confessed last May. His humble beginnings could also play a part in how he chooses to handle his fame.

The Birth of a Natural
Alonso grew up in Oviedo, in rural Northern Spain, in a working-class family. His father José Luis was an explosives expert in the mining industry and his mother Ana worked in the perfume section of a department store. A diehard racing enthusiast, José tried to instill his passion for speed in his children. He dabbled in auto mechanics and set out to build a go-kart, with the intention of having his eldest, Lorena, take the wheel. Lorena gave it a try in a few local competitions, but she never took to the sport. Precocious three-year-old Fernando was another story, and so at an age when most kids are scared to take the training wheels off their bicycles, he began roaring around racetracks.
He was a natural and swiftly began his ascent from go-karts to the open-wheel circuit, landing a seat in an F1 car with Minardi in 2001. Since then he has become the youngest driver to win a pole position, the youngest driver to set a fastest lap and the youngest driver to win a Grand Prix event. His greatest accomplishment, of course, is being the youngest driver ever to win an F1 championship (at the age of 24 years, 58 days).

With Schumacher retired, Fernando’s main competition will most likely come from the man he replaced at McLaren, Kimi “Iceman” Raikonnen. The Finnish driver renown for his penchant for pushing a car to brink of its limitations now has a seat with the formidable Ferrari team. Another Finnish flash Alonso will be watching out for in his mirrors is Heikki Kovalainen. The rookie keener hopes to fill-in where Alonso left off at Renault. Heikki served as the team’s test driver in 2006 and the speed knowledge he soaked-up watching Fernando should steer him well.

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