Analysis: Alonso on a High for Home Race

Everything is going Fernando Alonso's way as he looks forward to a home Grand Prix in Spain next week

Renault's Formula One leader only added to his army of admirers for the manner in which he held Michael Schumacher's rampaging Ferrari at bay in Imola on Sunday, raising three fingers as he celebrated his third win in a row.

It was a great, intelligent, drive but the man who gave the promising teenager his Grand Prix debut in 2001 suspects the real measure of Alonso's greatness will be in adversity as much as success.

"Fernando's got more natural talent than I've ever seen in the drivers I've ever come across," said Minardi boss Paul Stoddart. "He has the ability, not much fazes him, he's pretty cool. But Fernando does react to success.

"If he has a couple of bad races then it's whether he can dig deep and get back again, and that's one of Michael's strengths.

"You can never write Michael off, he'll have a couple of bad ones and then from nowhere he'll just lift himself up and bang, bang, bang."

The San Marino Grand Prix showed that Schumacher is emerging from his team's trough as determined as ever. The setback of qualifying 13th after a rare error merely fired up the seven-times champion all the more.

Quiet Achiever

Former Minardi teammates see similar traits in Alonso.

"He can be very stubborn. When he gets something in his head, he'll stick with it. He's single-minded and pretty determined," said one team member. "He's got the old matador spirit, that's for sure."

Alonso's last race for Minardi, the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka in 2001, also showed just how he can perform when he sees the red mist.

Alonso already knew he was moving to Renault as a test driver while Minardi were destined to be last in the Championship with no points.

There was nothing to prove and nobody would be watching him as a humble backmarker at one of the most daunting circuits on the calendar. Yet Alonso drove a storming race, consistently quick lap after lap.

"That last race...was 53 qualifying laps and that was done in a temper because he had a bit of a row with his engineer beforehand," said Stoddart.

"I'd been tied up with a team principals' meeting and came back to find that they (the team) had said no to Fernando's warm-up run on a Sunday morning which I would have said yes to.

"That afternoon he was determined to prove a point.

"If you ever look at his lap times...the only difference in those times was the tyre degradation and the fuel load. It was an unbelievable performance and it just showed that he has actually got what it takes."

Alonso, now a national hero in Spain, was more diffident at Minardi than he is now but Stoddart sees little change.

"He's grown up a little bit and he's obviously had a better lifestyle with the Renault entourage but I think he's still got his feet on the ground," he said.

"The Fernando I know is still the same guy...he's what I consider the quiet achiever. Over time I'm sure he won't be so quiet, the by-product of success will creep in there somewhere," added the Australian.

Schumacher Comparisons

Comparisons have inevitably been made with Schumacher, the most successful champion of them all, but Stoddart is not convinced they need to be made.

"I'm not sure that he is another Schumacher. Michael is unique and I don't think we're going to see another Michael," he said.

"We'll probably in years to come tell the story to the grandkids that we lived through the Schumacher era, when everyone at the time thought it was boring but in reality we are living through the period of the greatest dominance by a driver in Formula One's history.

"They say records are there to be beaten but I can't see another set of circumstances where a driver, no matter how good he is, will ever have the opportunity Michael has had to dominate.

"I think those records are there to stay for all time."

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