Spain Hails F1 'King' Alonso

Spain hailed a new hero on Monday after Fernando Alonso became the country's first Formula One champion, and the world's youngest at just 24 years of age

Spain Hails F1 'King' Alonso

"Champion," blared the front pages of the normally soccer-obsessed sports dailies, while El Pais led with "Alonso, the youngest king of Formula One".

Alonso reportedly received over 300 telephone calls in the hour after his third-placed finish in Sunday's Brazilian Grand Prix - one of them with congratulations from the King of Spain.

Wild celebrations took place in his hometown of Oviedo in Asturias, continuing until the early hours of the morning, but his adoring fans will have to wait before they get a chance to celebrate with Alonso himself.

Alonso, an intensely private character who lives in Oxford, England, has not yet agreed to any plans for a victory parade.

"I would like to thank all my fans and everyone in Spain," said Alonso after the race. "But today is an important day for me, my family and for my close friends.

"I have fought for a long time in my career without any support except that of my friends and three or four people - my father and mother, my sister and my uncle.

"I am not returning to Spain just now because there are too many political interests that want to get involved," he added.

Alonso has single-handedly brought Formula One to the attention of a Spanish public who, for many years, had little interest in the competition.

As he closed in on his title, however, motor racing has muscled its way on to the front pages of the sports newspapers and television audiences have blossomed.

Tourist Boom

Grand Prix audiences have rivalled those for Spain's national soccer team matches and Real Madrid-Barcelona encounters at between five and seven million viewers.

Marketing endorsements mean his image is plastered on advertising hoardings across Spain, while Alonso merchandise is a common sight in any city street.

The levels of interest do not always sit easily with Alonso, who shuns the limelight and has a prickly relationship with sections of the Spanish press following intrusions into his private life.

Oviedo, in northern Spain, has had a tourist boom on the back of his success, with Alonso memorabilia on sale at a host of shops in the town centre for Formula One enthusiasts.

Even Renault's team colours of blue and yellow match the Asturian flag which is blue with a yellow cross, prompting his followers to call themselves the "Marea Azul" - the Blue Tide.

Celebrations in Oviedo may have to be put on ice until October 21 when Alonso is due to collect Spain's top international sporting honour, the Principe de Asturias prize, in an award ceremony in the city.

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