Grapevine: Renault Blue Eclipses Ferrari Red

The blue of Renault and the Asturias eclipsed the red of Ferrari at the Spanish Grand Prix at Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya on Sunday

Grapevine: Renault Blue Eclipses Ferrari Red

Some 10,000 fans from the Asturias region on Spain's north coast, home of Championship leader Fernando Alonso, were among a record 115,000 fans who flocked to the circuit.

The stands around the track were already well over half full for the 1000 (0800 GMT) session including the grandstand opposite the boxes where Alonso was greeted with cheers and klaxons, flags and banners as he stepped into his car.

"Alonso I, King of the Wind", said a prominent banner. Others read "Magic Alonso No. 1" and "Alonso Champion".

"To have Fernando winning races, leader of the World Championship and a future Champion is the ultimate for us," said Jose Vicente Garcia, president of the Oviedo F1 Club in Alonso's home town.

The Spanish Grand Prix is the fifth of the season and the Renault driver's exploits have knocked Spain's most popular sport soccer off the front pages.

Alonso, 23, leads the drivers' standings with 36 points after opening the season with third place in Australia and then winning the next three races.

He is 16 points ahead of Italian Jarno Trulli of Toyota with seven times World Champion Michael Schumacher a further 10 points back.

Alonso will start the race on the second row after qualifying third behind McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen and Mark Webber in a Williams.

Alonso Mania

Spanish newspapers reported that Alonso mania had produced a 70 million euro ($90 million) bonanza with hotels and service flats virtually all full over the weekend in Barcelona, a city well served with accommodation as one of the world's leading tourist centres.

Many hotels were overbooked, the city's heliports stopped taking reservations days before the race and the national railway doubled the number of trains to the nearby Montmelo station to cope with an expected 26,500 passengers on Sunday.

Thousands, however, did not heed advice to avoid driving to the circuit and traffic on access roads was moving at a snail's pace as early as 0930. The race was scheduled to start at 1400 (1200 GMT).

Spanish motor racing fans were sure their idol would become the first Spaniard to win the race.

"I'm convinced he will do it. He had a good run and can go faster with the new motor," said Pedro from Sabadell.

"He should do it," added Jordi, another young Catalan.

He did not, however, rule out a strong challenge from World Champion Michael Schumacher.

"They say overtaking is easier on this circuit so that should be good for Alonso but Schumacher could do a repeat (of Imola), he's slow in practice but he's good in the race."

Ferrari's Schumacher came from 13th in the last race, the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola, to push Alonso over the final laps.

Alonso, however, held the German off to notch up his third win in succession and achieve hero status in his home country.

"I hope to finish well and be on the podium with a good result for all the people who have come here," Alonso told a news conference after the qualifying session.

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