Harvick Races Back to Front

Fernando Alonso has long been held up by Renault team boss Flavio Briatore as Michael Schumacher's heir apparent as Formula One Champion

Harvick Races Back to Front

In Bahrain on Sunday the 23-year-old Spaniard, every bit as impressive on the track as he is unassuming off it, drove further down the road to greatness.

It is still way too early to declare his second win in a row, and Renault's third in three races, as the start of a new era after years of domination by Ferrari and seven-times Champion Schumacher.

With 19 races, the season is a marathon - the longest yet - and plenty can happen between now and the last round in China on October 16 to prevent Alonso adding the mantle of youngest champion to youngest race winner.

Ferrari, constructors' champions since 1999, will want to remind their fans that in 1994 Schumacher won the first four races for Benetton but Williams still took the title.

Renault might equally well point out that 1994 remains the only occasion, out of nine examples over the years, where a team winning the first three races have failed to take the Championship.

What is certain is that Renault have the best all-round package at the moment and Schumacher, in 14 years in Formula One, has never started a season this poorly. Alonso leads the Championship with 26 points while Schumacher has two.

Ferrari and tyre suppliers Bridgestone need to get their act together fast, starting with their home race at Imola on April 24. They expect to do that.

Ferrari Gamble

Ferrari's gamble in rushing the new F2005 into service two races ahead of schedule did not pay off on Sunday but the new car is certainly quick.

Schumacher qualified on the front row, beaten only by Alonso, and was the only driver to give the Spaniard a hard time until he retired with a hydraulics problem.

As more parts come on stream and Ferrari do more testing, they will become stronger and stronger. Schumacher is also entitled to a new engine in Imola, unlike Alonso.

Ferrari's 'crisis' is not over yet but, despite failing to score points at a race for the first time in two years, they are fighting back.

"They showed us that they have improved and that they will be able to be fighting for victories again," said Alonso in Bahrain. "But at the moment we don't have to be too worried.

"We won the first two races and, during the last two especially, Toyota was our main competitor."

The Spaniard made clear that Renault would have to keep up their momentum.

"The Championship is very long. We started in the best way possible and we have to keep it up like this," he said. "For this race we had a bit of aerodynamic improvements and maybe that was the key to being competitive here again.

"In the next races we have to have something more again and every race keep improving if we're going to keep this dominant position," he added.

The biggest losers from Bahrain were BAR, Championship runners-up to Ferrari last year, who have so far failed to reach the chequered flag with either of their cars. In Australia they made a strategic retirement but since then engine and mechanical failures have taken their toll.

Even if team boss Nick Fry did his best to sound optimistic, they were lucky not to leave Manama trailing Minardi at the tail-end of the standings.

"The team remain focused on our goal of winning a race this season and with 16 rounds to go and knowing the depth of resource, skill and strength of character in our team, we can still meet our objective," he said.

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