Alonso's emergence has restarted the jaded sport's engines
with Richard Drew
I have a model of a Renault Megane Cabriole car in my house. I've had it about a year now. In the last couple of weeks I'm sure the value of it has rocketed. The reason is on the front of the box. There on the clear plastic window, in a silver scrawl, is the signature of the new Formula One world champion. It doesn't look much like his name, but trust me, it is.
I had the chance to meet Fernando Alonso last year in Singapore. He was on his way up to Malaysia for the grand prix at Sepang and was taking time out to help his employers market one of their more sedate cars. With him was Jarno Trulli, before he deserted Renault for Toyota.
Of the two, I warmed to Trulli the best. Easy going, happy to chat, he was every inch the urbane Italian. Posing for pictures with his Singaporean fans wasn't a chore.
Alonso, on the other hand, seemed much less approachable, perhaps even a tad tetchy. Promotional duties done, he was gone, and I was left a little disappointed.
I must have caught him on a bad day.
Commentators talk of his 'sense of fun' and 'boyish approachability'. His celebrations in the pit lane after clinching the title in Brazil highlighted the way the sport has been energised by an infusion of Latin enthusiasm. It sure makes a change from the Teutonic inevitability of the last goodness knows how many years.
Whatever his temperament, there's never been any doubting the young Spaniard's driving talent.
Ever since he arrived at Minardi at the tender age of 19 he's caught the eye with his raw speed. That he has become the youngest ever world champion will surprise few in the business.
This year he has thought his way to the championship, handling his early season lead with great care as McLaren came roaring back. The pressure was all on him, and he has handled it with aplomb.
Only once did he make a big mistake all season, crashing into the barriers in Canada. Kimi Raikkonen was left waiting for a slip up that didn't come. Alonso may have had to cede wins to his Finnish rival, but he was never far behind. Thirteen podiums this season is testament to the reliability of the car and his prudence in driving it. Not for him the tactic of trying to force your title rivals off the track during the race.
You have to feel a little sorry for Kimi Raikkonen. He's an equally fast driver and almost as youthful. If only his McLaren hadn't conked out on him more often than a teenager's first old banger.
Having also met Kimi in person, I can report that he certainly doesn't share Fernando's Latin temperament. I guess you had probably worked that out already, but under that cool exterior he must be seething at how the season has worked out.
McLaren's one-two in Brazil highlighted the team's superiority at the moment and must have deepened Kimi's sense of injustice. Still, there's not much he can do but arrive in Melbourne next March hoping his luck, and his car, hold out better in 2006.
That's what is so exciting about F1 at the moment, the sense we are entering a new era, hopefully a golden one. Schumacher's hegemony of recent years was the product of genius from driver and team, but let's face it, it wasn't always exciting. The prospect of two young, hungry drivers slugging it out toe to toe for next year's world title is a mouth watering one. If we're really lucky Jenson Button may decide that he's had enough of getting into a contractual pickle and decide to enter the fray as well.
Meantime we'll have to settle for Renault and McLaren going all out for the constructors title. Who says Formula One is boring?