Malaysia 2003: Fernando Alonso Makes History with Maiden Pole Position

Fernando Alonso and Jarno Trulli withstood Michael Schumacher’s late-session attack to maintain an all-Renault front row in Sepang, even though the track temperature was dropping rapidly during the session – 49 degrees celcius when Alonso went fastest, 46 when Trulli made his run and only 38 degrees for Schumacher’s qualifying lap. In theory, the falling temperatures should have given the German the advantage.

Nine Spaniards have raced in Formula 1, but 21 year-old Fernando Alonso is the only one to achieve the distinction of starting a Grand Prix from pole position. He also takes away from Rubens Barrichello the accolade of being the youngest-ever driver to achieve a fastest qualifying time.

Fernando could’ve also become the first Spaniard ever to win a Grand Prix, but that achievement would have to wait for another race weekend. In the 1956 British Grand Prix playboy racer Marquis Fon de Portago finished second for Ferrari, but the careers of fellow countrymen Francesco Godia, Alex Soler Roig, Emilio de Villota, Adrian Campos, Luis Perez Sala, Pedro de la Rosa and Marc Gene have between them never seen a trip to the top step of the podium – although de la Rosa and Gene were 2003 test-drivers for McLaren Mercedes and BMW Williams respectively, and could’ve undoubtedly return to the race-grid given time.

“It is a very special day for me,” Alonso said. “It feels like a dream. I was aiming for a good place on the grid but expected to see my name slipping down the list at the end of the session. But it didn’t happen and I got a great surprise when Michael finished his lap.”

In the race, surprise polesitter Fernando Alonso had not let the pressure get to him, and calmly led the field into – and out of – turn one, before streaking away at a rate of knots that confirmed suspicions that the Renaults were not exactly the heaviest cars in qualifying. Anyone expecting the Spaniard to pit inside ten laps, however, was to be proved wrong, as Alonso led for 14 laps before having to call in for fuel and tyres.

When all is said and done however the Renault that people were watching was that of Alonso. Pole position was converted into a podium finish. Along the way Fernando had gearbox trouble and suffered because of a fever but he made it home and, according to team boss Flavio Briatore, the team “proved our choices in terms of strategy were correct”.

Fernando has achieved his first F1 podium, making him only the second Spaniard in Formula 1 history, to reach the top three.

“It was unbelievable, the first real test for me also physically in a competitive car, I remember, the race was very tough. I enjoyed it, first pole-position, first podium in the career. You’ll never forget that day.” Fernando said when asked about the race in 2015.

Peter Windsor jokingly asked, if he regret not having more fuel in qualifying, but Fernando with a smile quickly turned his words down, saying it was a “trade-off”. It was a “nice experience”, he added.