Alonso: "Spain is not racist"
Ex-world champ weighs into Hamilton controversy, plays down 2008 chances22 February 2008
MADRID - Double world champion Fernando Alonso has weighed into the racism row that recently flared up in Formula 1, describing action by the sport's governing body to stamp it out as "unnecessary." The controversy was sparked earlier this month after taunts were directed at British driver Lewis Hamilton - the sport's first black driver - during a testing session at Montmeló circuit near Barcelona.
"This is not a racist country nor are the fans," Alonso said yesterday of the incident, which also saw several Spaniards in the stands at Montmeló with blacked-up faces, wigs and t-shirts featuring the slogan "Hamilton Familly" (sic). "It was an isolated case and if the FIA or whoever says Spanish fans are racist, it's laughable," he said.
"Last year they called me a dog at some races. [Former world champion] Niki Lauda said things about me and nobody said anything nor did they come to my support either," the 26-year-old racer said. He said he had not spoken to Hamilton since the controversy erupted.
Despite Alonso playing down the incident, the FIA has taken what happened at Montmeló very seriously. It announced that the future of Formula 1 fixtures in Spain could be in danger if there are any repeated racist taunts and insults against the Briton.
In 2007, Hamilton and Alonso were the protagonists of one of the most exciting seasons in Formula 1 in recent years, with both drivers racing for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes. The team's insistence on dealing with the two equally saw Alonso fall out with team boss Ron Dennis - the former felt his status as reigning world champion should have seen him treated as the number-one driver. Hamilton eventually finished second in the championship, with Alonso third. The Spaniard came to a mutual agreement with the team to let him out of his three-year contract after just a year, the driver's relationship with the team boss having broken down beyond repair.
Alonso has now returned to Renault, where he won his two world titles in 2005 and 2006. However, he was quick to play down expectations for his performance this year, claiming that the car was not ready.
"We are pretty far behind," he said yesterday. "We are not in a position to fight for anything important right now. Thinking about a podium [at the first race] would be too optimistic at the moment."
Alonso went on to predict that Ferrari and McLaren would be the teams to watch, as was the case last year, with BMW Sauber close behind.
"But everything changes very quickly in Formula 1," he said. "Two or three weeks ago BMW were a little bit behind but we were close to them."
"Now they are very close to McLaren. BMW is racing very fast," Alonso added. "They have not shown their cards. They are running with the tank full and are doing very good times."
But Alonso denied he was being overly negative about his chances for the upcoming season. "No, I just want to tone down the euphoria I see in the media. As far as my spiritual state is concerned, I feel a thousand times better than I did a few months ago."
Next week will see the Spaniard return to Montmeló for more testing ahead of the first race of the season - to be held in Melbourne on 16 March. Who knows, he may just surprise everyone at that race.
[Copyright EL PAÍS / S. HUNTER 2008]
Subject: Spanish news