Alonso and his art of winning

Fernando Alonso, who put Lewis Hamilton in his place at Monaco.-AP

Whatever Lewis Hamilton contrived to throw at his team-mate, Fernando Alonso had an answer, picking his way through the slower traffic with a perfectly judged blend of decisiveness and caution, writes Alan Henry.

If Lewis Hamilton is still on a learning curve he could have no better teacher than his team-mate, Fernando Alonso, who delivered a psychologically crucial victory through the unforgiving streets of Monte Carlo, stamping his mastery over his eager young apprentice.

For Hamilton, who had arrived in the sun-drenched principality determined to score his first win in only the fifth race of his fledgling Formula One career, it was a timely reminder that winning world championships requires more than brilliant precocity. Alonso, at 25, is hardly an old hand but the hard-bitten experience accumulated in winning consecutive drivers' titles was an advantage that Hamilton simply could not match.

The two McLaren-Mercedes drivers dominated the weekend from the moment Alonso pipped the young pretender to pole position in the qualifying session. They then settled down to give the rest of the field a relentless high-speed driving lesson, keeping the crowd on the edge of its seats for the entire 78-lap distance. Alonso led for the lion's share, Hamilton only popping in front for short periods coming up to his refuelling stops.

Whatever Hamilton contrived to throw at his team-mate, Alonso had an answer, picking his way through the slower traffic — an ever-present bugbear on this circuit — with a perfectly judged blend of decisiveness and caution. The Spaniard's success not only carried him into the joint championship lead with Hamilton but also removed any lingering notions that he had been slightly depressed by his young rival's pace over the past few races.

Hamilton freely admitted he was very glad that his McLaren was a mechanically robust car because he had brushed the guard rail on several occasions in attempting to keep the pressure on Alonso. After the second round of refuelling stops the McLaren personnel on the pit wall told both drivers to ease their pace and bring the cars home in one piece, although Hamilton made it clear that instructions to slow down were largely ignored.

"It was really something special for me," said Alonso. "The team gave me such a nice car for 78 laps. I had a good race apart from losing several seconds behind Jarno Trulli's Toyota as I came up to the first refuelling stops."

In the end a succession of very quick laps just prior to his second refuelling stop on lap 44 ensured Alonso entered the closing phase of the race maintaining the upper hand he had held all weekend.

From the start McLaren had been confident that their MP4-22 would have the edge over the rival Ferrari F2007 in which Felipe Massa had won the previous two races. Their predictions were correct although many observers were sceptical in the extreme to hear the British team's principal, Ron Dennis, say that both drivers had been told to slow down from an early stage of the race. If that was the case it seemed odd that both Alonso and Hamilton lapped faster than their qualifying times during their chase. Dennis added that both drivers had been instructed to hold position after the second round of refuelling stops to ensure they did not jeopardise their one-two success.

Massa, who finished a distant third ahead of Giancarlo Fisichella's improving Renault, was impressed with the speed of the McLarens. "Definitely they showed incredible pace," said the Brazilian. "Even if I had pushed 150% it would have changed nothing."

In the qualifier, Hamilton had set out to demonstrate that his accident during free-practice session on May 24 had in no way dimmed his enthusiasm in the battle for pole position. Heavy rain injected a tantalising element of unpredictability into the equation during the morning's free-practice session but qualifying turned out to be dry and the two McLarens fought an epic battle.

For much of it Hamilton seemed to have the upper hand by a wafer-thin margin but in the end it was Alonso who squeezed into pole position by a fraction less than 0.2sec. On the inside of the second row Massa saved the day for Ferrari with third place on the grid despite having one of his qualifying laps ruined when his team-mate, Kimi Raikkonen, glanced a barrier, breaking his car's rear suspension and skidding to a halt in front of the Brazilian. Both McLaren drivers lost fractions of a second during their battle for pole, Alonso behind Nico Rosberg's Williams and Hamilton when he was momentarily balked by Mark Webber's Red Bull.

The Spaniard and the Briton were incredibly well matched in this exacting and unforgiving environment, but if pit-lane speculation that Hamilton was running with more fuel than the world champion in order to run a longer stint at the start of the race was correct then the 22-year-old from Hertfordshire looked as though he was in a very strong position indeed. As the race began, however, he played safe, tucking in behind Alonso from the off and never seriously challenging. Fisichella's fourth place was certainly a morale-booster for the Renault squad, albeit a far cry from Alonso's victory for the French team here 12 months ago. The lapped Italian driver finished ahead of the BMW Saubers of Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld and the final championship points were scored by Alex Wurz's Williams and Raikkonen.

Aside from Hamilton the British contingent had a dismal time. Jenson Button's Honda trailed home 11th, three places ahead of David Coulthard's Red Bull, and Anthony Davidson was a distant 18th for the Super Aguri team, having picked up a penalty for ignoring blue overtaking flags.

� Guardian Newspapers Limited 2007