x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Alonso is back on top with Ferrari

The Spaniard takes advantage of mechanical problems for Red Bull-Renault's Sebastian Vettel to claim the 22nd victory of his career.

Fernando Alonso, the Ferrari driver, celebrates winning the opening race of the season at the Bahrain Grand Prix yesterday.
Fernando Alonso, the Ferrari driver, celebrates winning the opening race of the season at the Bahrain Grand Prix yesterday.

SAKHIR // Fernando Alonso said he is taking nothing granted in his quest for a third world title despite starting the new Formula One season in winning fashion in the Bahrain Grand Prix yesterday. The Spaniard took advantage of mechanical problems for Red Bull-Renault's Sebastian Vettel to take the lead on the 34th lap in his Ferrari to claim the 22nd victory of his career ahead of his teammate Felipe Massa.

But despite the winning start to the campaign he said neither he nor the team he joined in the winter from Renault would be taking anything for granted as he looks to add to his title wins in 2005 and 2006. "We did nothing, only won the first Grand Prix, but it is a good start," he said. "I'm very optimistic for the rest of the season." Lewis Hamilton was a distant third in his McLaren-Mercedes ahead of Vettel and Nico Rosberg's Mercedes GP car, but the day belonged to the jubilant Alonso as he made a fantastic start to competitive life with the Italian team.

"It's a special day for me," the double world champion said. "Coming back to the top of the podium is always special and it's even more special with Ferrari, with all the history behind the team and the expectations a driver has driving for Ferrari. "There is no better way to start the relationship. I am in the best team in the world." While Vettel never opened up more than a four-second advantage after converting his pole position grid spot into the lead at the start, other than at the pit-stops, neither of the Ferraris were able to close on the Red Bull and put pressure on him.

But the German began to lose engine power due to a cracked exhaust, and both Ferraris, and then Hamilton's McLaren, quickly overtook the stricken German's car. Massa finished on the podium in his first race since the crash in qualifying in Hungary last year that left him with a fractured skull, but said he was disappointed not to have been able to push Alonso due to engine problems. "I started to have temperature problems and we were worried about the fuel consumption, so I started to save fuel and there was nothing to do any more," he said.

Further back it was a low-key return for seven-times world champion Michael Schumacher as he finished sixth in his Mercedes after three years away from the sport. He finished one spot ahead of world champion Jenson Button's McLaren. It was a disappointing day for the new teams in the sport. Both Lotus-Cosworth drivers finished, with Heikki Kovalainen leading them home in 15th, but a lap down. No Hispania or Virgin-Cosworth cars got beyond half-distance due to reliability issues, and both look likely to have a difficult time in the sport.

The next round of the championship is in Australia on March 28. sports@thenational.ae