Fernando Alonso said he hoped he lifted the morale of his fellow Spaniards suffering from a six-year economic slump by winning his home Formula One race.
Alonso beat Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus by 9.3 seconds at the Circuit de Catalunya near Barcelona yesterday. Alonso’s teammate Felipe Massa finished third and Red Bull’s defending world champion Sebastian Vettel was fourth.
Alonso, a two-time series winner, waved the Spanish flag from his cockpit on a victory lap in front of a crowd of about 95,000 and while standing atop the podium he thanked fans for coming to support him. Ferrari sponsor Banco Santander SA (SAN) chairman Emilio Botin was among spectators watching below.
“I suppose some of you had to make an extra financial effort because of how things are,” Alonso, 31, said. “I hope you can at least enjoy watching television on Sundays,” when Formula One is on, he added.
Spain’s unemployment rate reached a record 27 percent in April. With the cheapest entry for yesterday’s race at about 120 euros ($156), more than 75 percent of people who bought tickets were foreigners, circuit director Salvador Servia told news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur two days ago.
It was the second win in five races this season for Alonso, who’s seeking his first title since back-to-back successes with the Renault team in 2005 and 2006. He has 32 career wins in his 12-year Formula One career.
Alonso, who is from the northern Spanish region of Asturias, rose one place to third in the championship standings. Vettel’s lead over Raikkonen was cut to four points from 10. The next event on the 19-race calendar is May 26 in Monaco.
Alonso started yesterday’s 66-lap race in fifth place and moved past Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes on the first lap. He overtook Vettel on lap 11 to take second place and darted past Mercedes’ pole position-sitter Nico Rosberg on lap 13 to take the lead for the first time.
Alonso built a four-second lead over Vettel after 20 laps, with television pictures showing both of the left front Pirelli & C. SpA (PC) tires on their cars scuffed up after having been run on for barely 10 laps.
Raikkonen took the lead for three laps after lap 36, when Alonso made one of four stops for fresh rubber.
Pirelli motor sport director Paul Hembery said in a statement that that degree of tire degradation was because of the racetrack’s “unique” characteristics and shouldn’t happen to that extent again this season.
“Our aim to have between two and three stops at every race, so it’s clear that four is too many,” Hembery said. “In fact, it’s only happened once before, in Turkey during our first year in the sport.”
Fans on Feet
Alonso moved back past Raikkonen, the 2007 champion from Finland who stopped three times for fresh tires, and protected his advantage for the rest of the race, bringing fans to their feet on his final lap.
Many spectators were waving banners bearing Ferrari SpA’s prancing horse logo rather than the Spanish national flag. Others waved flags from the Asturias region that has a gold cross on a blue background.
Alonso was given a flag from circuit staff wearing orange overalls. It was his third race victory in Spain: he won on the same circuit for Renault in 2006 and was first at the European Grand Prix in Valencia, Spain, last year with Ferrari.
“It’s very special winning at home,” Alonso added. “It doesn’t matter how many times you can do it, how many times you repeat it, it’s always like starting from zero. You have again very emotional last laps, very long last laps because you want to finish obviously as soon as possible.”
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