May 15, 2006 3:00 am
Fernando Alonso became the first Spaniard to win his home Grand Prix when he beat Michael Schumacher by almost 20 seconds at Barcelona on Sunday, writes James Allen at the Circuit de Catalunya.
It was the world champion's third win in six races this season and consolidated his position at the top of the drivers' championship. He now leads Schumacher by 15 points.
Ferrari had shown in the practice sessions that their Bridgestone tyres were very consistent and Schumacher even allowed himself to express confidence in winning the race, but Alonso simply drove away from him, no doubt inspired by the capacity 130,000 crowd. As more rubber went down over the weekend, the track went towards the Michelin tyres and Alonso was relentless in producing 66 almost perfect laps to offer his rivals no hope.
Alonso's team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella got between Alonso and Schu- macher at the start and Alonso was able quickly to open up a 12-second gap over the German, who leapfrogged Fisichella at the first pit stops.
Ferrari had opted for a different strategy, with Schumacher carrying six laps more fuel than the Renault. But when the time came for Schumacher to push, the speed was not there and instead Alonso was able to maintain his advantage. "This is the best feeling I have had in an F1 car," he said, "even better than Brazil last year where I won the world championship. I didn't enjoy that as much as today."
Meanwhile, Formula One moved a big step closer to ending the threat of a manufacturer-led breakaway series yesterday when all the manufacturers signed a memorandum of understanding with F1's commercial rights holders, Bernie Ecclestone and the CVC Capital Partners group. The MoU document paves the way for a new Concorde agreement, which will bind all parties in to F1 until 2012. The terms were not given but it is understood the 11 teams will share 50 to 60 per cent of all the sport's commercial revenues, beginning this year, a significant shift in distribution of F1 income.
*The latest prognosis on Wayne Rooney's fractured metatarsal suggests he will be back in training within three weeks, writes Jonathan Wilson . However, the real positive for England this weekend was the reminder that the Manchester United forward is not the only match-winner in the country. As Liverpool triumphed over West Ham on penalties in the best FA Cup final for at least 16 years, their driving force, once again, was Steven Gerrard.
Certainly there has been no final to match it since Manchester United's 3-3 draw with Crystal Palace in 1990, and some were reaching back even further in their comparisons, perhaps most pertinently to the final of 1953, when Blackpool beat Bolton 4-3.
Then too there was a comeback from two goals down, and then too one man, Stanley Matthews, dominated. Not only did Gerrard score two magnificent equalisers on Saturday - the first a precise hit from thigh height, the second a scintillating drive from 35 yards - but it was from his cross that Djibril Cisse volleyed Liverpool's first to begin the fightback. "What can you say about him?" asked the French forward. "He was amazing."
The question then is whether Gerrard can transfer club form to country. He is yet to produce the kind of commanding performance for England that he does so often for Liverpool. "He has to be free to play," Rafa Benitez said, and it was noticeable that when he needed an extra push with 19 minutes remaining, he introduced Dietmar Hamann, a holding midfielder.
That gave Gerrard a base so he could forget about his defensive duties, a freedom he never enjoys with England because of the presence of Frank Lampard. The balance between the two has yet to be satisfactorily established, which is why there is a perceived need for a midfield anchor, probably Michael Carrick. If Rooney is not there, Lampard, Gerrard and Carrick can all play in the centre; the fractured metatarsal may turn out to be an opportunity.
*It defies belief, given their dominance of the first two days, but somehow England have still not quite won the first Test, writes Jonathan Wilson . With Sri Lanka leading by just 22 runs with four second-innings wickets standing, Andrew Flintoff's team should still wrap up victory on Monday, but yesterday was hugely frustrating, partly because of the diligence of the Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawar- dene, who compiled an ex- cellent 119, partly through an absence of luck and partly through their own failings. Ball and edge steadfastly refused to come into contact, and when they did, chances fell short or were not taken. Paul Collingwood at least was diving up and to his right as he put down Farveez Maharoof, but there were no such excuses for Andrew Strauss, who shelled a straightforward slip catch from Jayawardene when he had made 58. It summed up England's raggedness that Jayawardene's century was brought up with four overthrows.
*In rugby union, the second of Sunday's Guinness Premiership semi-finals saw Leicester beat London Irish 40-8, writes Huw Richards at Welford Road . The victory ensured that one of the two teams who have dominated English rugby's professional era retains a chance of this season's title. The other, Wasps, had their three-year hegemony ended by regular season leaders Sale, who beat them 22-12 at Edgeley Park.
Leicester will pursue their first title in four years and seventh in all at Twicken- ham on May 27. Their intent yesterday was evident in fast and frantic open stages as their for- wards established a clear ascendancy. Wing Alesana Tuilagi crossed for Tigers, then scrum-half Harry Ellis underlined their authority with a superb solo try that propelled them towards a 20-5 half-time lead. A try from Geordan Murphy and two from replacement wing Leon Lloyd, plus 15 points from Andy Goode's boot, completed Tigers' victory.
*In golf, Swede Johan Edfors won the British Masters at The Belfry.
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