Fernando Alonso

Moto Cross star David E. Langford continues his tribute to local heroes in motorsport

Joe Johnson
Fernando Alonso winning the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2003

In June, the new school of technology at Oxford Brookes University's Wheatley campus was officially opened and, among the invited guests, was the current Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso.

Alonso is sponsoring Spanish students who are studying performance engineering with a view to entering the motorsport industry.

He told a press conference that Oxford Brookes is the most prestigious university offering expertise in this area. The facility at Brookes is well known in the world of motorsport, having been established with the backing of Adrian Reynard, the ex-racing champion who originally studied performance engineering at what was then the Oxford Polytechnic in the 1970s.

Alonso has links with the Brookes engineering project as, until fairly recently he was an Oxford resident, and I believe he still owns property in north Oxford.

As a student in the art department and the school of printing during the 1960s and retaining links with the college through illustration work in the Brookes Alumni magazine The Oak, I was kindly invited to the opening of the new school of technology where I had the opportunity of meeting the guests from the world of Formula One.

Unfortunately the McLaren driver was testing in France and could not attend, but the keynote address was given by David Richards, CBE, who took over the management of BAR Honda at the end of the 2001 season.

Alonso was born on July 29, 1981, in Oviedo, northern Spain. He shot to fame in 2002 as the youngest driver ever to win a grand prix. He eventually displaced the seven times world champion Michael Schumacher, a remarkable performance by any standards.

Alonso may have the honour of being Spain's first Formula One world champion but Spain has a glittering history of producing phenomenal motorcycle champions. Probably the greatest of all time was Angel Nieto who won no less than 13 world championships in the ultra lightweight classes, mainly on Spanish Bultaco and Derbi machines.

Another was Santiago Herrero, who was well on the way to world championship status when he was killed in the 250cc TT during the 1970 Isle of Man race, riding for the Spanish Ossa factory.

Ossa pulled out of the world championships after this sad event but the totally fearless Herrero was irreplaceable anyway; there was quite literally no-one around at the time who could make the Ossa go as fast as he could.

Fernando Alonso's achievement could set a precedent, he has certainly inspired a following for Formula One racing never seen in Spain before – and he could eventually follow Nieto's example by having a museum dedicated to his achievements in Madrid.

Alonso's mother worked in a department store, his father José Luis was an explosives expert in the mining industry. José was an amateur kart racer and had built a pedal kart for his eight-year-old daughter Lorena. She showed no interest in the sport, but her younger brother Fernando took to it like a duck to water.

When he was old enough to compete he, along with his father acting as mechanic, took part in kart races around Spain but lacked the financial requirements needed to develop a career in motor sport.

However, his victories ensured much needed sponsorship and his career evolved naturally via this route and in 1988-89 he was the champion of Asturias and Galicia in the karting 'rookie' class.

In 1990 in the kart 'cadet' class, he became champion of Asturias and the Basque country, becoming Spanish champion in the junior karting class of 1995 and third in the world championship. The following year saw him win the junior class world championship and in 2000 he was fourth in the Formula 3000 racing car world championship after winning at Spa Francorchamps driving for the Minardi team.

In 2001 Alonso was recruited to drive the Minardi Formula One car in which he came tenth in the German Grand Prix, progressing to become a test driver for the Enstone-based Renault team in 2002. The following year he was a full team driver, achieving sixth place in the world championship after winning his first grand prix in Hungary, less than a month after celebrating his 22nd birthday.

In 2004 Alonso was fourth in the world championship and in 2005 became the youngest driver ever to win the world title, He followed this up with a second world championship in 2006 and after changing teams for 2007 he is the new Vodaphone McLaren team leader alongside Britain's Lewis Hamilton.

The future looks good for Formula One with a new British hope but with the added enthusiasm from a Spanish following, Alonso is not going to hand his title over without a tough battle ahead. The rest of the season will have us armchair racers on the edge of our seats, something that has not happened since Damon Hill won the world championship in 1996.

• If you have any experiences in motorsport you would like to share, please contact me via the website: www.Britishartists.co.uk or call 01865 434359. Commissions welcome, any subject considered.
September 2007 Oxfordshire Limited Edition