Alonso's star drive nets fourth

Fernando Alonso's superb drive in the Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos has netted the Spaniard fourth place in the final world championship classification, with 59 points to race winner Juan Pablo Montoya's 58

Alonso's star drive nets fourth

Alonso was one of only three drivers to start with dry tyres on the damp track surface, the others being Renault team-mate Jacques Villeneuve and David Coulthard, and did a quite superb job in the slippery conditions.

Alonso, Coulthard and Villeneuve completed the first lap in 15th, 16th and 17th positions respectively. They dropped two places on lap 2, with Alonso lapping 2s quicker than Villeneuve. By the end of lap 3, Coulthard (who had the added problem of his dry tyres being put on cold rather than fresh from the tyre blankets - Click HERE for separate story) and Villeneuve were right at the back, having been passed by Zsolt Baumgartner's Minardi, but Alonso was the second fastest man on the track, lapping almost 5s quicker than Villeneuve!

On lap 4, Fernando was comfortably the fastest man as the dries fully came in, and again he took 4.5s out of Villeneuve in one lap. He was 2.3s faster next time around and was 17s ahead of Jacques after five laps...

By lap 8 Alonso led, still going 2s a lap quicker than Villeneuve.

"The choice of dry tyres was a really big risk," Alonso confirmed, "and I went off on both the formation lap and the first lap of the race!"

On a two-stop strategy and without the necessary dry performance to challenge at the sharp end, Alonso also had to contend with heavy tyre graining at the start of his second stint, to the extent that the team elected not to change his front tyres at his second stop. He had made his first pit visit on lap 18, and so he did 53 laps on one set of front tyres.

It was in such circumstances that he found himself having to fend off Ralf Schumacher, Takuma Sato and Michael Schumacher in the closing stages.

"Fernando obviously lost grip in the final part of the race," confirmed Renault's Pat Symonds, "but his defence of fourth place was masterful."

The Spaniard himself was highly chuffed: "I attacked 100% all the way through and, thanks to that, I'm fourth in the drivers' championship. That was my main goal today and I'm delighted to have achieved it."

The team was also highly appreciative. The nucleus of the Renault team is still the core of the successful Benetton outfit of the mid-nineties, which got used to having Michael Schumacher in its car. They love a fighter.

In fairness to Villeneuve, he too turned in by far the best performance since his F1 return once over the initial problems of dry tyres on a wet track. He drove hard to finish 10th, with a final stint pace that was highly competitive, his lap times matching those of the leaders for a considerable time. He finished up with a quickest lap just 0.1s shy of Alonso's, no doubt sending Peter Sauber to bed a much relieved man...

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