Alonso reliant on tyres to regain grip

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The Independent Online

For a man who lost the lead of the world drivers' championship for the first time on Sunday afternoon - though he is equal on points with the Chinese Grand Prix winner, Ferrari's Michael Schumacher, the German has had one more win - Fernando Alonso, of Renault. remained remarkably upbeat yesterday about his chances of retaining his crown and denying Schumacher an eighth title as the circus heads to Suzuka, Japan, this weekend. But the Spaniard called on his tyre-makers, Michelin, to give him something more for the races in Japan and Brazil.

"This [the Chinese Grand Prix] was a difficult race for the team because we lost a very good opportunity," he said. "I built up a good lead in the first 20 laps, but my front tyres were badly worn - and the conditions were difficult as the track was drying very slowly. We made the decision to change the fronts for a new pair, and it was the wrong one - as we saw with 'Fisi' [his team-mate, Giancarlo Fisichella] and Michael, who kept all four tyres on the car and were much quicker.

"After that, the only thing we could do was go to dry tyres as early as possible - and hope to catch up the time to Michael. In the end, there were not enough laps left. So it was a bad day, but this is a fantastic fight for the championship, and I go to Japan feeling really confident. We had the quickest car today, and we have two more good chances to win. I believe we can do it.

"For Suzuka and Brazil we need to believe in our tyres. At the moment both cars, the Renault and the Ferrari, seem very similar in terms of performance."

Germany's Bild newspaper, the country's best-selling daily newspaper, who had all but written off Schumacher's hopes when he trailed Alonso by 25 points in July, led the country's celebrations yesterday, inventing a new compound term for his heroics. "Schumisupermega-turbogeilgöttlichgigagalaktisch!" [Schumi super mega turbo cool divine giga galactic] the paper wrote in a headline, continuing: "He showed the world who's the best, cuts Alonso to shreds and shuts [Renault's team principal] Flavio Briatore's trap."

For his part, Briatore does not believe the fight is over. "We are all very sorry for Fernando," he said. "He was simply fantastic, and dominated in both the wet and the dry. After a performance like that, there is nothing more frustrating than to see a win slip through your fingers. Looking further ahead, though, we had the quickest car today and both championships are equal. We know we have the team and the performance to win."

The engineering chief, Pat Symonds, agreed. "We are making no excuses," he said. "This is a race we should have won, because the Renault and its Michelin tyres were dominant in all conditions. The fact we did not do so is intensely frustrating for the entire team.

Fernando drove brilliantly from the start, and as we approached the first stop, told us on the radio that his front tyres were very badly worn. In consultation with Fernando and Michelin, we decided to change them - and leave the rears on. It soon became clear that the track was drying quickly, and that the decision had been the wrong one. As a result, we took the risk of stopping very early to switch Fernando to dry tyres - in the hope he would be able to gain time on the leaders. A delay in that pit stop cost us more time: we know that the nut fell out of the wheel gun, but not yet why. Afterwards, Fernando once again drove fantastically to close in on Michael, but we simply ran out of laps.

"The Michelin tyres were superior in the wet and the dry today, and it was easy to get the best out of the car in the changing conditions. We now go to the final races with renewed confidence."

Honda's test driver Anthony Davidson will join his fellow Britons Jenson Button and David Coulthard on the grid next year when he joins Takuma Sato in the Super Aguri Honda team. It is expected that the news will be announced in Tokyo this week, before Sunday's Grand Prix.

Looking further into the future, South Korea is to host a grand prix from 2010 at least until 2016. Bernie Ecclestone, the sport's commercial promoter, and Park Joon Yung, governor of the South Cholla province, have reached an agreement with an option for a further five years.

A track will now be built in the province, with a completion date scheduled for 2009. It will host its first race in October the following year. The track will be constructed at a cost of around £140m.