By becoming the youngest man ever to win the Formula One World Champion, and the first Spaniard ever to do so, Fernando Alonso has carved out a niche for himself in Spain's Sporting Hall of Fame. The 24 year old has quietly and undemonstrably ploughed a lone furrow in an unfamiliar field, overcoming a series of hurdles, which, until recently, would have been considered insurmountable.
Alonso was the first Spaniard to start a Formula One Grand Prix in pole position, the first to achieve a podium finish, and most importantly, the first to win a Grand Prix; it was at the Hungaroring circuit in Budapest in 2003, and the young Asturian dominated the race from start to finish. In doing so, Alonso became the youngest man to win a Grand Prix, beating by 77 days the record set by Bruce McLaren in Sebring in 1959, when the New Zealander was 22 years and 104 days old.
In recognition of his recent exploits, Alonso has been voted the 25th winner of the Prince of Asturias Sports prize, becoming the youngest man ever to do so. Since it was first awarded in 1987, previous winners of the prestigious prize include; Sebastian Coe, Severiano Ballesteros, Sergei Bubka, Miguel Indurain, Javier Sotomayor, Martina Navratilova, Hassiba Boulmerka, Carl Lewis, the Spanish marathon team, Arantxa Sánchez Vicario, Steffi Graf, Lance Armstrong, Manuel Estiarte, the Brazilian football team, the Tour de France, and last year's winner, Hicham El Gerrouj. The jury was presided by Juan Antonio Samaranch, and was made up of leading sportsmen, politicians, a large number of sports writers and journalists, as well as the Duke of Palma, Iñaki Urdangarín.
Born in Oviedo on the 29th July 1981, young Fernando showed early signs of his burgeoning talent, and was already racing go-karts at the age of just three. In 1988, the 7 year old prodigy won the Infants Karting Championship of Asturias, winning every race he took part in. The following year, he extended his horizons, winning both the Asturian and Galician infant titles. When he was nine, Fernando moved up a level to Juniors and won both the Asturian and Basque Country titles at his first attempt.
Moving up to the national championship the following season, the ten year old finished runner-up, but won the title in 1993, 1994 and 1995. He was singled out as a High Level Performer in 1995, when he finished third in the World Junior Championships, which he won aged 15 the following season.
After winning everything there was to win at Junior level, including one European Karting title, Alonso switched to racing cars in 1999, when he won nine races in the Euro-Open Movistar Series. In 2000, Alonso moved up a class into Formula 3000, winning the Belgian Grand Prix, and finishing runner-up in Hungary. The same year he was signed up by Benetton-Renault, who loaned him out to the Minardi team, for whom he made his F1 debut in 2001.
The following year, Alonso rejoined the Renault team as test driver and in 2003, made his racing debut for the team as second driver to Jarno Trulli. Alonso notched his first couple of points for the team in his first race and achieved his first pole position in the second in Malaysia. He achieved his first podium place in Seprang the same year, and enjoyed mixed fortunes in the accident-strewn Brazilian Grand Prix, when he finished third but was unable to take the podium as a result of injuries sustained in a spectacular collision, which landed him in hospital. Alonso finished the season with a highly creditable 55 points, sixth overall, only three fewer than Rubens Barrichello, and more than drivers of the calibre of David Coulthard.
In his second season, Alonso struggled with a new car, that was at times, vastly inferior to the Ferraris, BARs, Williams, and McLarens, but achieved top-three placings four times, and finished the season fourth overall, behind Schumacher, Barrichello and Button.