Gonzo for Alonso
Formula One's ace is a household name in Europe
Posted: Thursday May 31, 2007 10:35AM; Updated: Thursday May 31, 2007 12:04PM
In Spain, they're gonzo over Fernando Alonso, the cool-as-a jewel thief Formula One driver who two years ago, became the series' youngest champion when he ended the five-year reign of Michael Schumacher. When Alonso repeated the feat last year, he added youngest two-time champion to an already glittering resume.
The 25-year-old has no equal when it comes to Sports Illustrated's list of the best-compensated international athletes, either. Alonso replaces the retired Schumacher (a recurring theme for the Spaniard) at No. 1 on the International 20 with $35 million in earnings.
That figure beats out a host of international household names, including David Beckham, Roger Federer and Yao Ming.
Alonso's fast track to racing success -- he has 17 wins, 16 poles, and 40 podium finishes -- has made him a rich man. So has a new contract with McLaren Mercedes, a three-year deal beginning this year that will earn him an estimated $100 million. (He previously raced for Renault.)
For much of this season, Alonso had been upstaged by the sport's latest young gun, his McLaren teammate Lewis Hamilton, but last week he won the Monaco Grand Prix, becoming the first driver to win back-to-back races with different teams. He and Hamilton now share the series lead with 38 points.
While Alonso may not be a household name in stock-car-happy America, his image is familiar throughout Europe, particularly in his native Spain, where he has single-handedly revived Grand Prix racing. Four years ago, interest in the Spanish Grand Prix was so dismal that the event wasn't broadcast live on television. Now the race at the Circuit de Catalunya is drawing record numbers, including 341,000 visitors last year over the three-day racing weekend, and more than 7 million people watching on television.
As a result of Fernando-mania, Spain was awarded a second Grand Prix event, a street circuit race in Valencia, starting in 2008. The Spanish newspaper El Mundo recently ranked Alonso No. 20 on its list of the "Most Powerful Spaniards." It's worth noting that Alonso was the only sports figure on the list, ranking just below the country's minister of industry and the president of Madrid's regional government.
Born in Oviedo, Spain, which sits in the hills of Asturias on Spain's northern coast, Alonso grew up racing go-karts in the foothills of the Pyrenees. He was the third-youngest driver ever to start a Formula One race when he made his debut with Minardi at the '01 Australian Grand Prix.
Two years later, at the tender age of 22, he won the Hungarian Grand Prix, making him the youngest driver to win a Formula One race. Following a fourth-place finish in the series in '04, he won the driver's championship title the following year at 24 years and 59 days old, breaking Emerson Fittipaldi's record of being the youngest F1 champion in history by about 18 months.
Alonso is regarded as the most complete driver on the circuit -- consistency and competitiveness are his trademarks. Away from the circuit he is a fan of soccer (Real Madrid) and has been dating Spanish pop star Raquel del Rosario for a number of years. Last year he bought a home on the Swiss side of Lake Geneva (a family house in Mont-Sur-Rolle, overlooking the lake) but spends most of his time in tranquil Oxford, England, where he owns a flat.
He is described by those who know him as quiet and shy, but make no mistake: Alonso is supremely confident in his abilities. "I can't see me going on for as long as Michael Schumacher," he says, "but I do want to win many, many more world titles."
He's gained another one here: King of The International 20.