Alonso's tribute to Madrid victims

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Fernando Alonso fervently hopes to dedicate a victory in Malaysia this weekend to the victims of the Madrid bombings.

Fernando Alonso fervently hopes to dedicate a victory in Malaysia this weekend to the victims of the Madrid bombings.

The sport of Formula One and world politics do not often cross over, but speaking with quiet dignity yesterday, the 22-year-old from Oviedo in Spain's Asturias region said he plans to race with Spanish flags on his helmet and on the sleeve of his racing overalls as a sign of respect for his countrymen who died in the atrocities.

"I was in the Maldives when the bombings happened," he said, "and without the internet it was hard to find information, but this was ordinary people, like me, like you, workers, children going to school.

"I would like to express my condolences to all of the families who lost loved ones. I would love to dedicate a victory to them. We know that victories are always hard to come by in Formula One, but this would be one of the best moments of the year to win."

Last year Alonso set a little piece of history here by becoming the first Spaniard to start from pole position, and he finished third in the race to claim his first podium. In Melbourne a fortnight ago, his Renault, though unable to keep up with the Ferraris, had the legs of the fancied BMW-Williams driven by title hopes Juan Pablo Montoya and Ralf Schumacher. The man that much of the local advertising has centred around, however, is the championship leader, Michael Schumacher.

Once the sight of any race car engulfed in flames was completely infra dig, such were the risks of the sport, but it is a sign of the growing confidence within it, as the 10th anniversary of Ayrton Senna's death at Imola approaches in May, that safety levels have never been higher. The Malaysian Grand Prix is billed as the hottest race of the year, and the advertisements deliberately reflect that.

The big question will be tyre performance on the smooth yet abrasive circuit, and this may well be the race that will determine the true pecking order of the season.

Renault, Williams, McLaren, BAR and Jaguar have high hopes that their Michelin tyres will be more competitive at track temperatures that could reach well into the 40s, but following last week's test session at Valencia in Spain, there are some rivals in the paddock who firmly believe that the Bridgestone-shod Ferraris will still be around seven-tenths of a second faster per lap than their opposition.

Ferrari's dripping-tap financial philosophy has enabled the Italian team to keep spending on every area of their car's development, as even McLaren and Williams, for so long their chief opposition, have had to face up to financial realities.

"We are a private team," Sir Frank Williams said in February, "and it is important to remember that we do not have an unlimited budget."

Certainly, Toyota, for example, are spending a lot more. It is not so much a matter of Williams doing a bad job against Ferrari, but rather that Ferrari have a bigger budget and can therefore play a more technically advantageous game.

Ralf Schumacher, the winner here for Williams in 2002 and a driver whose prolonged negotiations have left him and his manager, Willi Weber, in no doubt that Williams are not oozing dollars, acknowledged that yesterday when he said: "We have no significant changes on the cars here because of the shortage of time between the first two races.

"We certainly didn't expect to be behind Ferrari in Melbourne and the race there was a different world for us. We woke up pretty quickly, but how well we go here this weekend will be critical for our title attack."