Valencia, Spain: Spain’s Euro 2012 football campaign and the devoted support of fans despite the country’s economic crisis, inspired Fernando Alonso to a thrilling European Grand Prix victory in Valencia on Sunday.
After a disappointing qualification on Saturday left the Ferrari driver in 11th place on the grid, the two-time world champion pulled out all the stops as he battled up the field to secure first place in the race and in the championship.
The Spaniard wiped away tears of joy as the national anthem was played with him atop the podium for the second time this year.
“It was more for my own feelings and the people in the grandstands,” Alonso explained at a news conference.
“I know that the people in Spain are not enjoying the best times at the moment with the crisis, and with all the problems people have.
“To come to the Grand Prix you have to do something extra so there are families who have made long trips to come here. They try and sleep in their car or caravan, or whatever. They try to enjoy the race.
“We didn’t deliver what they were expecting yesterday, so today I think we paid back a little bit — only a little bit — the support they give us.”
Alonso stopped his car after taking the chequered flag, saying later that he had to because of an unspecified problem, and spent several minutes waving at the fans before being collected for the podium ceremony.
“It took a little bit of time for the medical car to arrive and we had eight or 10 minutes of all the people saying things about me, saying congratulations. They want me to jump. You know, fun and games and we enjoy a little bit those minutes,” he explained.
The turnout of just over 50,000 on the day was disappointing for Valencia, a city which like the country is suffering from the effects of the euro zone debt crisis.
Cuts in government spending and the economic downturn has left almost one in four Spaniards out of work.
Valencia has been hit particularly hard and Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone has already said the two Spanish races will alternate in future with Barcelona on the calendar next year and Valencia in 2014.
While the country is suffering their sportsmen are providing some joy amidst the gloom.
Tennis world number two Rafa Nadal secured a record seventh French Open title recently, and Spain’s world and European champions beat France 2-0 at Euro 2012 on Saturday to progress to the semi-finals.
“There is some kind of pride in being Spanish right now with the sport,” said Alonso, whose win was helped by the retirements of Red Bull’s champion Sebastian Vettel and Frenchman Romain Grosjean in the Lotus.
“Yesterday we saw all the flags in the windows, and on the street. With Nadal, with the Spanish football and so on, I felt that I needed to do something, and today is a very emotional day,” said Alonso.
“[I am] feeling very proud to be a Spanish sportsman at the moment and winning in Spain this race is probably the best victory I ever felt in terms of emotions. Nothing maybe compares to this one.”