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Home > Sports > Formula One > Reuters > Report


Alonso back on top

Alan Baldwin | April 09, 2007 17:56 IST

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Images: The Malaysian Grand Prix

Sunday's Malaysian Grand Prix was a vindication for Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and, above all, McLaren.

There can be no doubt now that double champion Alonso made an astute move in jumping from Renault to a team that failed to win a race in 2006, and no more uncertainty about McLaren's wisdom of appointing 22-year-old rookie Lewis Hamilton as his team mate.

Sepang, with Alonso leading Hamilton to the first McLaren one-two since September 2005 and first win since October of that year, ended a barren phase for the Mercedes-powered Formula One team and opened a potentially glorious new one.

The victory cemented the team's return to the front while champions Renault, winners of both titles and dominant in Malaysia for the past two years, have lost their way.

"It's a wonderful surprise what we have achieved in such a short time," Alonso said at the post-race news conference after regaining the lead in the championship from Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen and stretching McLaren's in the constructors' standings.

"A lot of work has been done inside the team, a lot of effort from everybody to be ready for the first race, but we never expected to be that competitive.

"It's something that's difficult to believe," the Spaniard added.

SOARING EXPECTATIONS

Alonso had announced at the end of 2005, when he won his first title, that he was joining McLaren and it is easy to forget now what a leap of faith that seemed last year.

The 25-year-old won six of the first nine races for Renault in 2006 and finished second in the other three.

His former team mate Giancarlo Fisichella, winner in Malaysia last year, finished sixth at Sepang on Sunday and said it felt as good as a podium given the champions' current difficulties.

This year's battle is clearly between McLaren and Ferrari, winners in Australia, and pre-season fears about Hamilton's readiness for the fight look laughable now.

The Briton made all the difference on Sunday with another sensational start, overtaking both Ferraris through the first corners to effectively decide the outcome of the race.

While Alonso pulled away at the front, Hamilton shrugged off Felipe Massa's challenge in the first Ferrari and held Raikkonen at bay in the other.

Third in his first race in Melbourne, second in Sepang -- the question being asked now is whether he can win in Bahrain next weekend.

"I thought coming into Formula One that had we got sixth or seventh in our first race, that would have been great for us," his proud father Anthony said on Sunday.

"Having got third in Melbourne and second here, it's just crazy. I'm frightened at what's going to happen next."

The youngster, the first driver since compatriot Peter Arundell in 1964 to stand on the podium in his first two grands prix, once again found himself playing down the soaring expectations.

"You have to take it step by step," he said. "This is another stepping stone on the steep learning curve that I have and for sure the next one has to be a win but we have to push together as a team."

© Copyright 2007 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters. Reuters shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.
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