If he was not quite the forgotten world champion, Fernando Alonso nonetheless enjoyed far less attention in the build-up to this season than perhaps he deserved. Yesterday, he reminded the racing world of his qualities, rushing to victory in his first race for Ferrari and leading a one-two for the Italian team with Felipe Massa in second.
The Spaniard got his world championship campaign off to the best possible start after overtaking Massa's car in the first corner and then chasing down Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull. The German appeared to have the race in his pocket until his engine suffered a broken exhaust, and after passing him on the 34th lap Alonso drove away to an easy victory. Lewis Hamilton finished third, Michael Schumacher sixth and current world champion Jenson Button had to settle for seventh.
"It is a very special day for me," Alonso, the 2005 and 2006 champion, said. "It is not always easy coming to a new team, so to be able to reward all of the people who have done so much to contribute to this special moment really means a lot."
Massa also overtook Vettel at the start of the 35th lap but could not challenge Alonso because of temperature and fuel problems with his car. After a troubled qualifying, Hamilton was able to push his McLaren much harder in the race to deny Vettel a podium three laps later.
Schumacher's return to Formula One was marked by a steady if unspectacular drive, but the 41-year-old German was unable to match the pace of his younger team-mate Nico Rosberg all weekend. Rosberg was fifth.
The race marked the first without any refuelling stops for 17 years, and came to life after an initially dull start when all of the cars were heavy with a lot more fuel than they carried in recent seasons. BBC commentator Martin Brundle said: "It made it worse, it was boring." Fellow former driver Jacques Laffite was also dismissive, but Hamilton thought it made the race more interesting. "It creates a different challenge and it definitely did make the racing more exciting, in terms of being able to overtake," he said. "We have an interesting season ahead and the critical part will be trying to understand the tyres and knowing when to attack and when not to."