<
>

Alonso finishes second in Brazil, wins F1 title again

SAO PAULO, Brazil -- Fernando Alonso won his second straight
Formula One championship Sunday by finishing runner-up to
Felipe Massa in the Brazilian Grand Prix, a race that marked the end of
Michael Schumacher's mighty career.

Schumacher, a seven-time Formula One champion, needed to win his
final race before retirement to keep alive his remote chance of
another title. But the German punctured a tire less than 10 laps
into the race, dropped out of contention early and finished fourth.

Alonso entered the race needing to finish eighth or better to
secure the championship. Last year, he became F1's youngest
champion by finishing third.

Massa, Schumacher's Ferrari teammate, won the race from the pole
before an adoring home crowd at Interlagos. Honda's Jenson Button
was third.

As soon as Alonso crossed the finish line, the Spaniard thanked
his crew over the radio in French (Renault's engines are built in
France) and English (the team is based in Britain). He helped
Renault also clinch the constructors' title but will race for
McLaren next year.

"Thank you, thank you," said Alonso, who waved a Brazilian
flag before his fans. "Both championships again. It's been a
pleasure for me. I wish you the best."

In Spain, tens of thousands of jubilant Spaniards waved banners
in honor of Alonso. A crowd of 6,000 poured into the streets of
Oviedo, his hometown. People danced in the Plaza de America square
and splashed in a fountain, Oviedo's traditional gathering place
for triumphant sports moments. Many fans, wearing the
blue-and-yellow colors of Renault, chanted, "Champion Alonso."

"Alonso's heroic deed will be bigger with the years to come,"
Jaime Lissavetsky, Spain's sports minister, said moments after the
race.

Schumacher's trouble made things easier for Alonso, who started
in fourth place but moved up to second halfway through the 71-lap
race.

Schumacher jumped from 10th to seventh on the first lap, but a
flat left-rear tire entering the ninth lap shattered his chances.
He had just passed sixth-placed Giancarlo Fisichella on the outside
of the first turn when the tire blew, forcing him to slowly return
to the pits.

He changed tires and returned to the track in 18th place, more
than a minute behind race leader Massa and out of the running
barely 15 minutes into the race.

Schumacher caught Fisichella on the 63rd lap and had a chance to
move to fifth. This time, Fisichella went off the track and
Schumacher went past, pursuing Raikkonen with six laps left. At the
start of the 69th, Schumacher moved on the inside and passed
Raikkonen for fourth, with wheels almost touching around the first
turn.

Raikkonen will replace Schumacher at Ferrari next year, starting
with the 2007 opener at the Australian Grand Prix on March 18.