SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium, Sept 2 (Reuters) - Ferrari's Formula One leader Fernando Alonso suffered his first retirement in more than a year at the Belgian Grand Prix on Sunday, but still felt a lucky man.
The Spaniard was shunted out in a spectacular first corner pile-up, triggered by Frenchman Romain Grosjean colliding with McLaren's Lewis Hamilton.
The Lotus flew across the front of Alonso's red Ferrari, fortunately missing the double champion's helmeted head by centimetres.
After the impact, Alonso remained in the car, which started smouldering as a marshal rushed to it with an extinguisher, in a worrying moment for his watching team and all Ferrari fans.
"I feel OK, just a little bit of pain on the back, just because of the hit," he said after going to the medical centre.
"There is disappointment because of the lost race points, but also lucky because in five days I can be back in the car in Monza."
The next race is Ferrari's home Italian grand prix and Alonso will go there with a 24-point advantage in the championship, with eight races remaining.
Team principal Stefano Domenicali was a relieved man, especially because the team had lost communication with Alonso after the impact.
"Having a car flying almost over his head could have been really dangerous," he said.
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh, who was celebrating a pole to flag victory by his driver Jenson Button, agreed that Alonso could consider himself fortunate.
"It looked scary, didn't it?" he told Reuters. "It just reminds us...we become slightly nonchalant. We see so many big enormous shunts and we are just used to the driver hopping out. Fortunately on this occasion he did.
"You realise that they come inches away from not hopping out of the car on those incidents so...fortunate for him and the sport that we got away with a big accident today."
Alonso and Domenicali both felt that young and inexperienced drivers like Grosjean, who was handed a one-race ban for the incident, needed to be disciplined to prevent repeats in future.
"I think that certain drivers should try and take fewer risks at the start: it's a bit of a tendency currently in the junior formulae," said Alonso.
"It would be better if right from the start of their career, they got used to respecting more strictly the rules relating to behaviour on track."
The crash left the leader one race short of equalling Michael Schumacher's record of 24 successive points-scoring races, and the Spaniard and his team felt sure he would have been on the podium otherwise.
"Today, looking at the pace of the race, he would have been easily on the podium and easily second. It's easy to say after but honestly looking at the pace...it's a big disappointment," said Domenicali. (Editing by Matt Barker)