Fernando Alonso defeated the might of the Ferrari team on Sunday, after mastering the race from start to finish. It was his third victory of the season and his 11th F1 win. "This day will be unforgettable. I enjoyed it much more than when I won the World Championship in Brazil,” said Alonso. And so it should be, for the youngest World Champion had just won his hometown Grand Prix, and the 50th Grand Prix of Spain.
Did we say the 50th Spanish Grand Prix? Racing in Spain goes back a long way, to 1913, when
Carlos de Salamanca won the event in a Rolls Royce. In addition to being the only Spanish World Champion, Alonso was the only other Spanish driver to capture a first place in the series of Spanish Grands Prix.
Mind you, it wasn’t called Formula 1 back in those days (the nomenclature began only after WWII), but it was a Grand Prix and in the next few decades winners would include Dario Resta, Meo Constantini, Rudolph Caracciola, and Achille Varzi. After WWII, the Spanish Grand Prix moved from venue to venue, and after Mike Hawthorne’s win aboard a Ferrari in 1954, the race disappeared from the calendar until 1967, when a new circuit, designed by Dutchman John Hugenholtz, was opened up at Jarama.
Thus began the modern era, defined by tiny, rear engined cars with sponsorship ads plastered on every conceivable space. Again, racing in Spain witnessed a parade of greats. Jim Clark won the inaugural event at Jarama in 1967, followed by Graham Hill, and three wins in a row by Jackie Stewart. Lauda and Ferrari won in 1974, and Jacques' dad Gilles won again for Ferrari in 1982. Alain Prost took Ferrari to another win in 1990; his nemesis Senna won the event twice, in 1986 and 1989. In 1991 the venue moved again to the Circuit de Catalunya, where it remains today. The roster is full of Champions and to add his name to the list must have been an enormous personal achievement for Alonso.
We wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Despite two wins in a row, Ferrari is still struggling to keep up with Renault, or at least Alonso. They have time, and to expect the team to suddenly continue a winning streak was unreasonable. Jean Todt was philosophical. "We felt we would be stronger today and the others less strong," said Todt, "and it didn't happen, probably due to the evolution of the track, the evolution of the car package, with tyres in those circumstances.”
Notably, Felipe Massa seems to be getting both feet on board at Ferrari. He made the fastest lap in the race and finished fourth, just behind Fisichella, who also must be relieved to have made the podium and not incur the wrath of Flabio. "Felipe could maybe have gained one position but he was stuck in traffic," said Todt, "He never had a clear track to take advantage of his pace which was not so different from Fisichella's."
That left excuses for Michael, who doesn't really need any excuses. Schumacher is still the Master, getting a bit long in the tooth, perhaps, but lap for lap, he is still the best driver in Formula 1. "I could accept Sunday's result though I did expect more from this race", he said. "But once again, this is sport and sometimes things go differently to the way you think."
The Master is being overtaken by the young turk. Not since the Moss-Fangio duels of the mid 1050s has there been such a demonstration of old vs. young, experience vs. hunger, of wisdom vs. fearlessness. Like Moss and Fangio, these two are head and shoulders above the rest of the pack. "Many have said that the title race is between myself and Alonso but I do not want to discuss it," said Schumacher. But the race between the two is there for everyone to see and enjoy.
2006 may be the last time we'll be able to witness this two man race between the Master and Pupil. Schumacher has said he might make a decision about his future by October,
but Todt said he would probably announce his team's entire driver line-up around the Italian Grand Prix in September. "Together with Michael," he explained. "Everything. Big piece. One go." If Schumacher wins the title for the eighth time, he may well step aside gracefully.