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August 22, 2009

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Alonso fastest on Valencia circuit

RENAULT'S Fernando Alonso, whose participation in Valencia was confirmed only this week, topped the timesheets in practice for his home European Grand Prix yesterday.

The double world champion lapped the Mediterranean port's street circuit with a quickest time of one minute 39.404 seconds, despite an earlier collision with BMW-Sauber's Nick Heidfeld.

Brawn GP's Formula One championship leader Jenson Button was second fastest, 0.774 slower than the Spaniard, with Brazilian teammate Rubens Barrichello third.

Barrichello had set the pace in the morning with a time of 1:42.460.

Alonso had been in danger of missing Sunday's race after his Renault team was handed a one-race ban in Hungary last month but the team had that overturned at an appeal hearing in Paris last Monday.

Ferrari stand-in Luca Badoer completed 62 laps, more than a race distance, in the two sessions. The 38-year-old Italian, preparing for his first start in a decade after Brazilian Felipe Massa was seriously injured in Hungary, was more than a second slower than everyone else in the opening session.

However, with retired seven-time champion Michael Schumacher watching from the pit lane wall, he lifted himself off the bottom in the afternoon to end up 18th and ahead of McLaren's world champion Lewis Hamilton. The Briton had been third in the morning.

Schumacher, who retired in 2006 and is now 40 years old, would have taken Massa's place but the German had to abort his planned comeback due to a neck injury suffered in a bike crash earlier in the year.

Button's time sent a clear indication that his Mercedes-powered team has got to the bottom of the problems that kept him off the podium for the past three races.

The Briton, who leads Red Bull's Australian Mark Webber by a comfortable 18.5 points after winning six of the first seven races of the year, was quickest for much of the opening session.

France's Romain Grosjean made an assured debut after replacing Brazilian Nelson Piquet at Renault, lapping 17th and 13th fastest, respectively. Spanish rookie Jaime Alguersuari also put on a good show for the locals, although the grandstands looked very empty, with the 13th best time for Toro Rosso in the morning. He slipped to 19th after lunch.

Meanwhile, a Malaysian motorsport outfit is harboring ambitious plans to break into F1 with a southeast Asian team by 2016.

Southeast Asia has already produced two F1 drivers and currently stages grands prix in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore but has never had a team in the sport's premier category.

Malaysian-based Meritus Racing team has rapidly progressed up the Asian motorsport ladder, winning 32 international titles in just 12 years, and is currently the only Asian team granted a licence to race in the GP2 Asia series, an F1 feeder series.

Its next step is to expand into GP2 Europe -- F1's development series for drivers and teams -- by 2011, before seeking a place on the F1 grid five years later.

Team boss Firhat Mokhzani said the plan was within the grasp of Asia's most successful motorsports team.

"Meritus are the only Asian team to be given an entry licence to race in the GP2 Asia Series and this is partly because of our engineering success and our 32 Asian motorsport titles and dominating Formula BMW and Formula V6 series for the last six years," Firhat said. "These are the Asian stepping stones to racing in the pinnacle of motorsports, Formula One," he said.


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