Alonso wins Bahrain grand prix

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Fernando Alonso opened up a commanding lead in the drivers' world championship after winning the Bahrain grand prix for Renault, writes James Allen. It was the Spaniard's second successive victory, the third in a row for Renault and the French marque's 100th in Formula 1. The team have now finished on top in every qualifying session and race in 2005.

The race was the hottest in F1 history with a track temperature of 55°C and an air temperature of 42°C. The heat took its toll as only 13 of the 20 starters made it to the chequered flag. Toyota got its best result in Formula 1 with Jarno Trulli second and Ralf Schumacher fourth, while McLaren Mercedes put Kimi Raikkonen on the podium, with Pedro de La Rosa, substituting for the injured Juan Pablo Montoya, the star of the show in fifth. The Spaniard gave great entertainment with a series of battles throughout the race. But McLaren's problem continues to be qualifying. They started from 8th and 9th and had to fight hard to get through the field.

Ferrari gambled on their new car five weeks ahead of schedule. It backfired with the team leaving Bahrain empty handed. World champion Michael Schumacher retired with hydraulic failure while Rubens Barrichello struggled to finish 9th. It was Schumacher's first retirement for technical reasons in three and a half years.

At the start, Schumacher battled with Alonso with Trulli close behind. After Schumacher's retirement on lap 12, Trulli closed on Alonso. But in the middle part of the race, Alonso was able to pull out a winning margin. "It was the hottest race I ever did, but the car was perfect," said Alonso. "Schumacher was quicker than me in the early stages, but I knew that even if he had passed me, my car would have been stronger at the end."

The teams now head back to Europe for an intensive test programme before the San Marino grand prix in three weeks' time. The order in the manufacturers' championship is Renault, Toyota, McLaren, but that picture could well change as the development race hits full stride.

* Munster completed a chastening few weeks for Irish rugby as they went out of the Heineken European Cup with a 19-10 defeat by Biarritz at a tumultuous Estadio Anoeta in San Sebastian, writes Huw Richards. Following less than 24 hours after Leinster's 29-13 home defeat by Leicester, Munster's loss means the Irish Heineken challenge has gone the same way of the hopes for a Six Nations Grand Slam that were still being warmly cherished less than a month ago.

It leaves the competition largely in French hands with Biarritz joining Stade Français and Toulouse in the final four, the third time France has had a semi-final trio. On neither previous occasion, though, could it take the trophy.

Munster, whose unrequited pursuit of the title is the Heineken's great romantic narrative, miss the semis for the first time in five seasons. Their defeats over the past six seasons have been by a total of only 20 points, this the first by a margin of more than a single converted try. But, as on those previous occasions, they were beaten by a better team. An unquenchable fighting spirit, combined with Biarritz's propensity for switching off, meant that unlike Newcastle in their 48-8 loss to Stade, or Northampton in going down 37-9 at Toulouse, they at least made a game of it.

A 45th minute try by flanker David Wallace, picking up from the back of a scrum five yards out, put them back into contention after Biarritz had led 16-0 from Dimitir Yachvili's three penalties and conversion of Argentinian centre Martin Gaitan's 12th minute try, following a one-sided first-half. But, again Munster found spirit will take you only so far against the strongest opposition. Guile, imagination and change of pace were as absent as they have been throughout their Heineken campaigns. Had Brian O'Driscoll been born, like his mother, in Cork rather than Dublin they might have won the Heineken more times than Leicester or Toulouse. Instead they will be watching when the two-time winners clash in three weeks' time, while Biarritz go on to play Stade.

* A month ago, playing the theme from The Great Escape at West Brom’s home of the Hawthorns would have been an act of the bleakest irony. As it rang out at the final whistle on Sunday, though, it summed up the mood of hope that Bryan Robson has brought to West Brom, writes Jonathan Wilson. History is against them - no team bottom on Christmas day has avoided relegation from the Premiership - but the 1-0 defeat of Everton was their third win in four games and they now lie third from bottom, behind Southampton only on goal difference. It was scrappy, frantic and often fractious, but West Brom fans won't care.

Everton's form, meanwhile, continues to slide. Sunday's was their fourth defeat in their past five league games, and Liverpool are now just a point behind in the hunt for the fourth Champions League place. They may feel unfortunate not to have nicked an equaliser in a nerve- racking late siege, and it took a fine parry from Russell Hoult to keep out Marcus Bent's swerving drive, but West Brom fully deserved their victory. The win was finally secured by Zoltan Gera's 63rd minute header, the Hungarian leaping above Joseph Yobo to guide Jonathan Greening's cross just inside the post. It was only West Brom's 14th home goal of the season, the lowest tally in the Premiership.

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