Grapevine: Alonsomania Grips Barcelona

If Fernando Alonso had any doubts about the huge support he can count on in Sunday's Spanish Grand Prix he had only to listen to the bagpipes

Grapevine: Alonsomania Grips Barcelona

Thousands of fans from Spain's northern region of Asturias have brought the instruments with them to add a distinctive touch to the Circuit de Catalunya this weekend.

Decked out in the region's yellow and blue, the same colours as Alonso's Renault team, huge crowds thronged the track for Friday's first practice - usually Formula One circuits are almost empty during pre-weekend sessions.

Alonsomania has gripped Spain since the 23-year-old Oviedo-born driver started winning races this season.

He became a national hero by holding off a strong challenge from World Champion Michael Schumacher to win the San Marino Grand Prix 12 days ago, his third consecutive victory.

The atmosphere at the Barcelona circuit was one normally associated with big soccer matches in Spain with fans blowing horns and chanting slogans. Sunday's race has been a 115,000 sellout for weeks, the first full house of the season.

A fleet of around 500 buses have transported fans from Asturias, on the north coast of Spain, for the race and a total of 300,000 fans are expected during the whole weekend.

"Alonso, Alonso," screamed a group of children, average age about eight, from a balcony above the Renault paddock normally accessed only by those with exclusive race passes.

The man himself has kept a low profile and is trying to shield himself from the home crowd's expectations. A Spaniard has never won his home Grand Prix since the country first hosted a round of the World Championship in 1951.

"I think it is the only way possible to approach it," Alonso said. "There are too many people who (are) quite excited about this race.

"For me the only way to give them some satisfaction is to give them a good result and so I work hard for this," he told a news conference.

There are no hotel rooms to be had in Barcelona, one of the world's top tourist destinations, and the packed roads leading to the circuit are best avoided.

Two days before the race proper, it took two hours to reach the circuit from Barcelona centre rather than the usual 30 minutes. It is likely to be mayhem on Sunday.

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