VALENCIA, Spain, June 23, 2011 (AFP) - Two-time Formula One world champion and avid poker player Fernando Alonso has his eyes set on a possible triumph on home soil this weekend when he leads Ferrari into the European Grand Prix on the hybrid street circuit.
The 29-year-old Spaniard, who has not tasted victory in Valencia since the 'European' race moved to eastern Spain three years ago, last won the event when it was held at the Nurburgring in Germany in 2007.
That success came during a year of controversy, distress and uproar when he was paired at McLaren with Lewis Hamilton, the 2008 champion then registering his talent and determination in his rookie season in Formula One.
For Alonso, that is long ago and forgotten, at last, after two more seasons at Renault and his maiden year as leader of the scarlet scuderia in 2010, when another prodigious talent burst on the scene in the shape of Sebastian Vettel.
The 23-year-old German, who has begun the defence of his drivers' world title with a run of success that has lifted him clear as this year's runaway leader for Red Bull, won last year's battle on the streets of Valencia.
Neither have fellow former world champions Hamilton and Jenson Button tasted success here, and, like Alonso, hope that their team, McLaren can supply a car to do the job this weekend." I know that our fans are eagerly awaiting our first win of the season and I can assure you that the same goes for all of us," said Alonso this week as he looked ahead to Sunday's showdown.
"At the last two races, we showed we were clearly capable of winning and, especially in Monaco, we came pretty close, but I believe that even in Canada I could have fought for it all the way to the end -- given what we had seen in qualifying.
"Now we go to a track with reasonably similar characteristics to Montreal and there is no obvious reason why we should not be competitive here too."
Alonso, a keen poker player, believes that luck has deserted him on track this season - so far. In the parlance of cards-players, he said he feels he is due a good hand soon.
"I always believe that luck, and bad luck, balance out by the end of the season and maybe this unwritten rule also applies to race tracks," he said. "If that's the case, I would be more than happy if last year's misfortune was paid back now!
"In fact, it seems that in general so far this season, luck has not come our way: in the race in Montreal, not one damned thing went right." Like Alonso, Button will go into this weekend's Grand Prix with a determined look and a spring in his step, the McLaren man having secured his first victory of the year in spectacular style in Montreal two weeks ago.
"I think that proved that we can challenge and beat Vettel and we know we can fight for the world title," he explained. "I wouldn't say that winning in Montreal has given me extra motivation, because I was already totally committed, but I think it will help to sharpen the focus and conviction of everyone in the team.
"I'm looking forward to Valencia. I had a good race there last year and I think the track shares some of the characteristics of Montreal and Monaco, so I'm confident that we'll be competitive again."
The other man in the title race pack, Hamilton, will also sport his customary confidence, albeit with a sense of trepidation after his last two races saw him involved in four major incidents, visits to the stewards office
and a splash of stories about his future and his 'aggressive' driving style.
Having reflected on it all, and buoyed by the backing of men like F1 ring-master Bernie Ecclestone and seven-times champion German Michael Schumacher, Hamilton has vowed to carry on attacking, as always.
"I've always gone well at Valencia and I enjoy attacking the track," he said. "Those last two races were particularly frustrating for me because we showed we had the pace to win both of them, yet I only came away with eight points.
"I need to put that behind me now and concentrate on what lies ahead. And I need some points." Despite his Montreal win, Button remains 60 points behind Vettel while Hamilton is a further 16 points adrift.
The Valencia circuit, however, has shown it can produce drama and results and, like some neutrals, most of Vettel's rivals will probably hope he is about to suffer some of the bad luck that, so far, has belonged to Alonso and Hamilton.