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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 May, 2003, 19:28 GMT 20:28 UK
Alonso stalks Schumacher
Jonathan Legard predicts a Juan Pablo Montoya victory in Brazil
Jonathan Legard
BBC motor racing correspondent

Michael Schumacher's star shows no sign of waning - certainly not with a car like the new Ferrari.

But his post-race embrace with Fernando Alonso acknowledged that there is another on the rise and he had better beware.

Fernando Alonso celebrates on the podium with Michael Schumacher
Alonso is the youngest driver in F1

Alonso never gave Schumacher a moment's peace over the 65 laps.

From the lights to the flag, he charged and harried, never content to play safe in second.

He almost caught the champion in the scramble into the first corner and fought back hard after the Ferrari gained valuable breathing space behind the safety car.

He led the race three times and with a bit more luck among the backmarkers, he could have forced an even tighter battle to the finish.

Another slip by Schumacher like those in Australia or Malaysia and Alonso could have become Formula One's youngest winner.

The biggest cheer at the Circuit de Catalunya must have been some consolation.

In a perfect but surely unintentional marketing match, Renault's blue and yellow livery was identical to the blue and yellow colours of Alonso's home town, Oviedo in northern Spain, which lined many sections of the track.

"This is the best day of my life and I feel like I'm dreaming," said Alonso.

Maybe more people will appreciate why Renault rate Alonso more highly than Montoya and Raikkonen

"It's difficult to describe what I felt on that final lap with the flags and crowds cheering for me."

Barcelona's 96,000 crowd would ideally have wanted one of their own Catalan sons such as Pedro de la Rosa or Marc Gene to have starred on home soil.

But Alonso's performance will surely have endeared him to a fiercely partisan audience.

Most departed the circuit singing his name and his praises, but almost certainly unaware that they had witnessed the best F1 result ever recorded by a Spanish driver.

A dashing blade from the 1950s, Alfonso de Portago shared the second-placed Ferrari at the 1956 British Grand Prix at Silverstone.

He was also an Olympic bobsleigh competitor and rode in the Grand National.

For the moment, however, Alonso will concentrate on catching the Prancing Horse from Maranello.

Michael Schumacher steers the new Ferrari to victory
The new Ferrari has not terrified its rivals

"Alonso's performance was brilliant, particuarly when you consider his relative inexperience and the calibre of drivers he is up against," Michelin motorsport director Pierre Dupasquier said.

The youngest driver on the grid has now scored points in every race in 2003.

Not even the world champion can claim that.

Alonso recovered brilliantly in final qualifying after making a mistake in Friday's session.

And he must have ruffled Ferrari on Saturday morning by scorching round more than half a second faster in practice.

Small and squat, and happy to pad about the paddock in flip flops under the Spanish sun, Alonso is growing up fast in exalted company.

Winning pole in Malaysia against the odds last month was one thing. Living up to expectations in front of a home crowd is something else.

Maybe more people will begin to appreciate why Renault rate him so highly - better than Juan Pablo Montoya and Kimi Raikkonen.

The 21-year-old Spaniard will deserve even more credit if he can repeat this sort of performance at the next race in Austria.

Unlike Barcelona, the A1-Ring specialises in long straights and slow corners where Renault will probably struggle because of a lack of horsepower.

Confidence, though, should not be a problem for Alonso and Jarno Trulli, his team-mate, will know that.

Ferrari do not look to be short of much, either. On last year's evidence, they go well everywhere.

Strangely, Alonso's strong showing should have encouraged the champions' rivals, who had feared another runaway success from the Ferrari stable.

Yes, the F2003-GA was quick and won on its first appearance - the first car-driver combination to record pole and victory in the same race in 2003.

But in the words of McLaren team principal, Ron Dennis: "It's not a big step." Williams technical director Patrick Head was also heartened.

"The grid is more competitive this season," he said.

But the threat remains. If Schumacher is allowed to get into his stride, there may be no catching him.






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