Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso of Spain checks his car before...

Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso of Spain checks his car before the second practice session of the Formula One Chinese Grand Prix at in Shanghai on April 15, 2011. AFP PHOTO / LIU Jin (Photo credit should read LIU JIN/AFP/Getty Images) Credit: Getty/LIU JIN

There's a great story behind those Hollywood good looks and those Formula One driving titles.

It's a tale of a child gifted beyond his years. It's a story of chance and opportunity, sacrifice and courage.

It's the story of Fernando Alonso, who is more than a 29-year-old driving sensation Formula One, the pinnacle of open-wheel auto racing.
He's a personal sensation and a father's salvation.

The story goes something like this.

As a boy, Jose Luis Alonso used to stay awake at night dreaming of go-kart racing in the Spanish countryside. Unable to afford equipment to begin a career of his own, Jose always promised himself he would pass the passion down to his children.

When his first child was born, a girl the family named Lorena, Jose Alonso worked day and night trying to instill the same fever into her.
Speed. It coursed through his veins and danced in his dreams.

The father would work during the day as an explosives expert in the tiny Spanish town of Oviedo and at night he would work on his own go-kart in a shop behind the house.

When Lorena turned 8, her father entered her into local competitions. The experiment was a complete failure. She had little skill and no interest.

But destiny was waiting in the wings.

Lorena's three-year-old little brother, a son Jose named Fernando, had a passion that matched that of his father.

Realizing the boy's interest, Jose modified the pedals on the family go-kart so the boy could drive. And , boy oh boy, could the boy drive.
"At the beginning it was just a game, but when he was 5 or 6 years old, it was clear that he was outshining other children of his age," Jose Alonso wrote in a biographical entry on Fernando's Web site.

Before his sixth birthday, Fernando had already earned his first victory, winning the first event he entered and then winning seven more times that year to take the title.

Every weekend the boy and his father - who served as Fernando's mechanic - would travel from circuit to circuit, collecting victories at each stop along the way. Where there were no race tracks, Jose Alonso would create his own.

"We had to build the circuits with bales of straw so the kids could race," Jose Alonso wrote.

By the time Fernando was 8, he began moving to different circuits and different leagues, driving against older children with more money and bigger sponsors. Fernando kept winning and he was eventually spotted by Genis Marco, the owner of Genikart, a motor importing company. Marco's company gave the 11-year-old boy a test, placing him in a race against other more accomplished drivers. Fernando won that race, too, and began winning karting championships for Marco and even started working in the garages as a mechanic for 7- and 8-year-old boys' teams.

After more driving championships in karting, Fernando moved into the Nissan Championship, another step up the open-wheel ladder and, after six wins and nine pole positions in 1999, he received an opportunity to test a Formula One car. On Dec. 13, 2000, in the pouring rain at a Spanish circuit, Fernando took his test alongside six other potential drivers.

"At the end of the day, Alonso was by far the fastest," said Cesare Florio, ex-sporting director for Lancia, Ferrari, Ligier, Prost and Minardi teams. "You could see that he had everything - cool, concentration, intelligence - gifts that, together with talent, go to make a champion."
When Fernando tested again, he was the only driver to improve his times, lap after lap. Florio had a 10-year contract drawn up on the spot, "before word got around F1 about Fernando and someone stole him from us," Florio said. "In 40 years, I have had over 300 drivers and I had never seen any like this one."

After a brief stint in Formula 3000, Fernando moved up to F1 as a test driver and then full-time driver in 2003, winning his first race in Hungary at 22 years of age plus 16 days.

After three third-place finishes and one second in 2004, 2005 was his breakout year. He won the championship and repeated the feat in 2006.
Says Florio: "He is one of the drivers that comes up every 10 years."
Fernando's life is hardly the same. His dark hair and good looks have attracted modeling and promotion deals. His victories have turned his personal life upside-down.

To get away from it all, he even purchased a home in sleepy Oxford, England - a long way from the Monaco lifestyle other drivers lead - before moving to Switzerland.

And who is watching nearby all the time? His father, beaming with pride at the boy prodigy, the thrill of speed welling up inside of him with each turn of a tire.

"Seeing my father's face after every win is the best reward he could give me," Fernando once wrote.

The feeling is most assuredly mutual.

Steven Reive is a feature writer with Wheelbase Media. He can be reached on the Web at by using the contact link. Wheelbase supplies automotive news and features to newspapers across North America.

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