Fernando Alonso ended five years of Michael Schumacher dominance in Formula One to win Spain's first world title, overcoming the handicap of a slower car than his main rivals and years of disinterest in his home nation.
“I come from a country with no tradition of Formula One,” Alonso told a news conference in Sao Paulo yesterday after becoming the youngest F-1 champion at age 24. “I had to fight without much help to get here.”
The most-watched motor sport was only broadcast in the Catalan region of Spain as recently as 2002, partly explaining why Alonso needed to rely on a Dutch company car-fleet manager LeasePlan Corp. NV to sponsor his first drive in 2001 for bottom-ranked Minardi.
After his opening win for the Renault team two years later, he ignited interest in Spain. Races on Mediaset SpA's Telecinco television channel regularly lure as many as 6 million viewers, more than Spain's soccer team attracts for some games, reports Bloomberg.
According to SF Gate, Alonso was congratulated by Spain's King Juan Carlos and Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero — and also drew quick praise from Schumacher.
"I want to congratulate Fernando and his team on winning the title," said the German star who has only one victory this year. "They have done a great job."
Alonso needed only a top-three finish on the 2.6-mile Interlagos circuit to wrap up the title.
“I need to find new targets because this one is done,” Alonso said. “This is very important for me, my friends, my country and my family.”
In 2003, Alonso became the youngest to take a pole position in Formula One at 21 and followed with a race victory at 22 a few months later. Now he's a champion.
“It was always a dream to win the Formula One title," Alonso said. "It's the maximum that I have ever achieved in my life.”
The Renault driver leads Raikkonen by 23 points with two races to go