By Andrew Benson
Fernando Alonso has been paid a glowing tribute by his Renault team after a brilliant performance in the Spanish Grand Prix.
The 21-year-old finished second in his home event after challenging winner Michael Schumacher throughout the race.
And Renault technical director Mike Gascoyne believes Alonso could even win a race this season - only his second in Formula One.
"He'll shrug his shoulders and say it was easy and it's no big deal, but it was a brilliant drive," Gascoyne said. "He's the real deal."
The gap between the two leaders fluctuated throughout the race as the Bridgestone tyres on the Ferrari were in better condition at the start of each stint and the Michelins on Alonso's Renault were quicker at the end.
Schumacher, racing the new Ferrari for the first time, had just enough in hand to win the race - but Alonso still split the Ferraris, demoting Rubens Barrichello to third.
"We were on at him to really push in the second stint to get as close as possible to Michael because that's how we got Barrichello at the first stops.
"But Michael is the worst guy to be racing in those conditions because he knows exactly what to do."
Alonso, who was cheered throughout the race by his home crowd, said: "It has been fantastic. We did our maximum and fought with Ferrari and that is really good for us.
"I pushed hard all the way and I only eased off for the last two laps. Today I did 60 qualifying laps.
"This is the best day of my life and I feel as if I am dreaming. It's difficult to describe what I felt on that final lap with all the flags and the crowds cheering for me."
Gascoyne shrugged off those observers who had said Renault had only achieved qualifying positions of third and fourth, with Alonso ahead of Jarno Trulli, by running the cars light on fuel. In fact, both Renault and Ferrari were on three-stop strategies.
"All those who said we were on the wrong strategy were wrong. What happened [in the race] was what we thought was going to happen," he said.
And he believes Renault could be even stronger at other tracks that play to the strengths of their car, which has superb aerodynamics and electronics, but has one of the least powerful engines in F1.
"At the aero circuits like Silverstone and Suzuka we should be as good as we were here and in Hungary and Monaco we might be even better.
"In Austria and Canada we'll struggle, but we have to aim for podiums at every race."