Motorsport: Spanish drivers eager to please home fans

By Guy Hedgecoe

VALENCIA, Spain - Fernando Alonso is determined to repay his Spanish fans with a good performance in the European Grand Prix in Valencia on Sunday.

The Ferrari driver is a hero in his homeland and the only Spaniard to have won the world championship - in 2005 and 2006. However, he has never managed to drive to his potential in Valencia, finishing sixth last year and pulling out after a collision in the race's debut in the city in 2008.

"Hopefully we will put on a good show for all the people here," Alonso said. "We are lucky to have this opportunity in front of our own people."

The former Renault and McLaren driver has not won a race since the year's opening Grand Prix, in Bahrain in March.

However, third place at the Canadian GP on June 13 has made Alonso and Ferrari look like contenders again. Alonso is fourth in the overall standings, 15 points behind leader Lewis Hamilton who is on 109 points.

"Hopefully we can continue the performance we saw in Montreal," he said. "In Turkey we were not quick enough. So let's try to confirm the feeling from Canada and being competitive here again and hopefully finish on the podium again."

With Sauber's Pedro de la Rosa and Toro Rosso's Jaime Alguersuari also racing, Spanish fans have three drivers to shout for.

De la Rosa, in particular, is determined to come good in his first Formula One race in Valencia.

"For me it's a second opportunity in my home country in front of Spanish fans. In Barcelona I didn't manage to finish and here I hope we will, and I hope to fight for the points as well," he said. "It's an opportunity which I hope doesn't slip through my fingers."

The 5.5-kilometre Valencia street circuit is on the site of the America's Cup port, skirting the city's harbour. Valencia is not as tight as Monaco, although overtaking chances are relatively few, making pole position particularly valuable.

"This is a street circuit but on some corners you have a lot of run-off and quite a bit of space for a street circuit," said Williams driver Nico Hulkenberg. "Personally I like the track a lot, there is something about it, the way the corners are and the curves and the atmosphere."

Renault's Robert Kubica also likes the circuit.

"(It's a) heavy braking track so a lot of long straight lines ending with heavy braking," he said. "It's very important to have good braking stability and good traction."

Renault is planning to employ a different exhaust system for the European GP and Kubica is cautiously optimistic.

"I think we will have a better performance from our car," he said. "I don't know how it will be compared to our main competitors because we don't know how big a (change) they are bringing here."

Among those competitors is Ferrari, which is introducing a much-anticipated aerodynamic improvement to its car.

While Alonso and teammate Felipe Massa should benefit, the Spaniard is wary of his rivals' own car changes.

"We are happy with the job done these couple of weeks, so we arrive here in Valencia with a good package in our car, but we remain very calm about our expectations because we know that the other teams were not watching TV these last two weeks," he said. "So I think everybody will bring updates here - hopefully ours is a little bit better than theirs."

Last year's race winner Rubens Barrichello of Williams has had a torrid season so far, managing only seven points from eight races. However, he says that obstacles such as a lack of rear-end grip when turning at low speed are being resolved.

"The devices that we took to Canada should work better here," he said. "We have a little step on the front wing that we had in the race there, so I'm quite hopeful."

Though the Valencia race is only in its third year, a number of drivers - and teams - already have points to prove on the circuit.

World championship leader Hamilton of McLaren has said he is desperate to win here, following two second-place finishes on the track and he is looking for a third consecutive win on Sunday. Teammate Jenson Button is second in the standings on 106 points.

Red Bull, by contrast, has never won any points in Valencia - last year Mark Webber finished ninth and Sebastian Vettel withdrew.

Webber, third overall, has shown strong street-circuit form this season, winning in Monaco in style, and if Red Bull can find the speed that gave it pole position in the season's first seven races, it will be tough to beat on Sunday.

- AP

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