NASCAR & Auto Racing

McLaren drivers Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton will compete in Belgian GP

SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium – World champion Fernando Alonso is coming off a victory at the home of his rivals. He is within striking distance of regaining the lead in the drivers’ standings. And at the Belgian Grand Prix, he is on a track that should suit his powerful car just fine.

Still, there was little cheer for the McLaren driver on the eve of Friday’s first practice sessions for Sunday’s race.

In Paris, his team was stripped of all points in the constructor’s championship for the year and received a $100 million fine for its involvement in a spying scandal that has rocked the sport.

The McLaren team was punished by the World Motor Sports Council for allegedly using leaked secret technical documents belonging to F1 rival Ferrari.

Alonso and teammate and world standings leader Lewis Hamilton were not punished, leaving the race for this year’s title unaffected.

“I am not thinking about anything outside the paddock,” the Spaniard said before the ruling. “My 100 percent concentration will be on this paddock, on this track and on winning this race.”

Alonso should consider himself lucky, since Hamilton surely would have preferred the fir-scented woods in southern Belgium to the spy hearing in Paris.

Recently, momentum has shifted away from the British rookie and back to the defending world champion. Alonso is trailing Hamilton by three points, 92-89, compared to a 14-point gap after the French Grand Prix on July 11.

Alonso switched to McLaren this season and he said that, finally, he is feeling at ease.

“I’m more comfortable now, with the car, with the team, with everything.” Early on, Alonso said, “I was always with some doubts. Now I have everything under control.”

With the additional experience as a double world champion, it should make for a thrilling climax over the last four races – Belgium, Japan, China and Brazil.

Up to Sunday’s race at Monza, it was a tight race with Ferrari, where Kimi Raikkonen finished third and Felipe Massa was forced to retire. Raikkonen now has 74 points, five more than Massa. Then, McLaren made its move with a 1-2 finish.

Massa realizes the title race is slowly slipping away.

“I’m still fighting. I still keep my head up and try to win as many races as possible,” the Brazilian said.

Spa-Francorchamps returns to the Formula One circuit after a one-year gap for renovation works to the 7.004-kilometer (4.325-mile) track, the longest on the tour.

The drivers could not be happier.

“We all love Spa,” said Alonso, who finished second to Raikkonen two years ago.

It is seen as Formula One’s ultimate dare-to-be-brave test, with drivers gathering speed on a downhill before heading back up and attacking the blind, uphill Raidillon section.

“Eau Rouge is just awesome,” Hamilton said. “It is so quick and I look forward to it every single lap. It is definitely one of the pleasures of being a Formula One driver.”