Friday, January 21, 2011

Fernando Alonso

Fernando Alonso Díaz (born 29 July 1981) is a Spanish Formula One racing driver and a two-time World Champion, who is currently racing for Ferrari alongside Felipe Massa. On 25 September 2005, he won the Formula One World Driver's Championship title at the age of 24 years and 58 days, breaking Emerson Fittipaldi's record of being the youngest Formula One World Drivers' Champion (this record was subsequently broken by Lewis Hamilton then broken again by Sebastian Vettel). After retaining the title the following year, Alonso also became the youngest double Champion. In 2007, he became the second F1 driver, after Michael Schumacher, to score at least 100 points for three consecutive seasons. Nicknamed El Nano, a typical pseudonym for Fernando in Asturias, his place of birth, Alonso acts as a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF. In Formula One, he is often referred to as "the most complete driver on the grid". As a child, Alonso participated in karting competitions around Spain, supported by his father, who also doubled as his mechanic. His family lacked the financial resources needed to develop a career in motorsport, but his victories attracted sponsorship and the required funds. Alonso won four Spanish championships back-to-back in the junior category, between 1993 and 1996 and the Junior World Cup in 1996. He won the Spanish and Italian Inter-A titles in 1997 and in 1998 won the Spanish Inter-A title again as well as finishing second in the European Championship. Former Minardi F1 driver Adrián Campos gave Alonso his first test in a race car in October 1998. After three days of testing at the Albacete circuit, Alonso had matched the lap times of Campos' previous driver Marc Gené. Campos signed Alonso to race for him in the 1999 Spanish Euro Open MoviStar by Nissan series. In his second race, again at Albacete, Alonso won for the first time. He took the championship by one point from championship rival Manuel Giao by winning and setting fastest lap at the last race of the season. Alonso also tested for the Minardi Formula One team, lapping 1.5 seconds faster than the other drivers at the test. The following season Alonso moved up to Formula 3000, which was often the final step for drivers before ascending to Formula One. Alonso joined Team Astromega and was the youngest driver in the series that year by eleven months. Alonso didn't score a point until the seventh race of the year, but in the final two rounds he took a second place and a victory, enough for him to end the season fourth overall behind Bruno Junqueira, Nicolas Minassian and Mark Webber.

Thus began a career that would lead to the Formula 1 world championship titles in 2005 and 2006 and that this year, sees the Spaniard join the Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro driver line-up. His first official win came in June 1988, at Pola de Laviana, on his debut in a junior category event as part of the Asturias championship. Fernando went on to win all remaining seven races, thus taking his first title. The following two years brought further victories in the Asturias, Navarra and Basque regional championships, before moving on to the national series in 1991. From 1993 to 1996, Fernando was crowned Spanish junior champion, but more importantly, he began to make his mark at international level: third in the '95 World Championship and first the following year. In 1997, the young Spaniard took the titles in his home country and in Italy in the Inter-A category: he took the former title again in 1998, when he also came second in the European championship. It was in October of this year that Fernando drove a real race car for the first time: at Albacete, Adrian Campos ran him for three days at the wheel of a Formula Nissan and, at the end of the test, Fernando's times were on a par with those of Marc Gene, who had taken pole position in the same car a few days earlier. This performance earned him a seat in the Campos team for the following year's Euro Open championship, which he won as he pleased.

After much speculation, on 30 September 2009, Alonso was confirmed to be replacing Kimi Räikkönen at the Ferrari team, partnering Felipe Massa, a move known as "the worst-kept secret in F1". His contract covers three seasons (2010–2012), with speculated options until the end of 2014. Though his contract is said to have been signed as early as July 2008, Alonso confirmed only having a Summer-2009 agreement with Ferrari for a 2011 start, which was later changed to 2010. Ferrari and Räikkönen, whom Alonso will replace, had agreed to end their contract one year early. Though it was reported that Alonso's contract was worth €25-million per season, Ferrari released a statement that cast doubts over the salary offered, stating that "the numbers talked about have absolutely nothing to do with reality." Ferrari also cast doubt on "the arrival of technicians" with Alonso. At the first race in Bahrain, Alonso qualified third behind team mate Massa and pole sitter Sebastian Vettel. At the start, Alonso got ahead of Massa to move up to second and later on in the race, leader Vettel had an engine problem and dropped to fourth and Alonso won the race, becoming the fifth man to win on his debut for Ferrari after Juan Manuel Fangio in 1956, Mario Andretti in 1971, Nigel Mansell in 1989, and Kimi Räikkönen in 2007. Team mate Massa came second taking a 1–2 for Ferrari and Alonso's former McLaren team mate Lewis Hamilton came through to finish thirdAt the Singapore Grand Prix, Alonso took pole position ahead of Vettel, the McLarens of Hamilton and Button and the second Red Bull of championship leader Webber. When the lights went out, Alonso made a solid start and led Vettel into the first corner. Alonso soaked up pressure from Vettel for the entire race and crossed the line less than 0.3 seconds ahead of the Red Bull. Once more, Alonso set the fastest lap of the race in the closing stages. In Japan, Alonso finished third, behind Vettel and Webber, then won in Korea after Vettel retired with engine failure. He also scored his fifth fastest lap of the year, enough to give him the 2010 DHL Fastest Lap Award after a countback with Lewis Hamilton. In Abu Dhabi, Alonso entered the event with an eight-point lead, and qualified third. At the start of the race he lost a place to Button and then a strategic error by his team meant that Alonso spent the rest of the race stuck behind Vitaly Petrov, and lost out on world championship honours to Sebastian Vettel.

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