Schumacher hopes to rain on Alonso's parade in Spain


Sun, May 08, 2005 - Page 24

After each of Fernando Alonso's three straight Formula One victories, Spanish King Juan Carlos has called to congratulate the country's newest sports superstar. The king, hoping to see an Alonso victory in person this weekend, is expected among 115,000 spectators for the Spanish Grand Prix.

But seven-time series champion Michael Schumacher, who has won the Spanish race four straight times, hopes to ruin the day for the monarch and Alonso.

Schumacher is winless in his last five races, his last victory coming seven months ago in Japan. If the losing streak reaches six, it will match his longest run without a win since joining Ferrari in 1996.

"I don't know that he feels he needs to win, but I know he would very much like to win," said Sabine Kehm, Schumacher's longtime spokeswoman. ``The car is really good now, just this last thing in missing.

"He wants to give the rivals the message: Don't count us out."

Schumacher has won a record 83 times -- 13 in a landslide last season -- so nobody is writing him off just yet. But 23-year-old Alonso is threatening to end Schumacher's dominance.

Alonso braked cleverly, blocked and outwitted the 36-year-old German over the final 12 laps two weeks ago, taking the San Marino GP by centimeters though Schumacher's car was almost one second faster per lap.

Alonso became the youngest winner in F1 history when he won his first race two years ago in Hungary. He is hoping to become the youngest season champion.

Through four of 19 races, he has 36 points, 16 more than Toyota's Jarno Trulli, and 26 ahead of Schumacher and Renault teammate Giancarlo Fisichella.

Alonso is the first Spaniard to win a GP, and on Sunday he could become the first Spaniard to win his nation's grand prix -- which was first contested 54 years ago.

"I think Alonso right now must be the best sportsman in Spanish history," said Javier Garcia-Ochoa, who covers the sport for the Spanish news agency EFE. "No other sportsman has been followed as closely here as Alonso, or stirred up as much interest in the fans.

"In soccer, we have had great club teams, often made up mostly of foreigners, but we have never had a Ronaldo or Zidane that attracts the masses."

Schumacher's slump is being overshadowed by "Fernando Hysteria" or "Alonso Mania," as Spanish papers are calling it.

About 10,000 fans from his birthplace in Spain's northern region of Asturias are expected on Sunday, arriving in 50 buses and 3,000 cars -- many draped with Renault yellow and blue colors, the same colors as the region's flag.

"The feeling is obviously great. For me, it's a very special weekend, and I would like to race in Spain every 15 days because the atmosphere is fantastic. You see the blue color in the grandstands, and that's motivating you at every corner," Alonso said.

"At the same time, it's more difficult to go out on the street, to go to the hotel, to be in traffic and have the buses stop and ask for autographs," added Alonso, who lives in England to avoid the celebrity spotlight. "It's difficult to move around here."

After scoring only two points in the first three races -- he competed in the first two races with last season's outmoded car -- Schumacher had an excellent chance to win in San Marino.

"We were a little bit surprised ourselves that we had such pace in the race compared to the others," Schumacher said.