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Formula one grand prix 2006

Brazilian GP: Massa the victor, Alonso the champ Sunday October 22nd. 2006

Massa wins in Brazil, in front of his home crowd

Felipe Massa won his second grand and Fernando Alonso secured his second World Championship as Michael Schumacher bowed out of F1 in style.

The Interlagos circuit

The slim possibility of Schumi snatching an eighth title effectively ended when his Ferrari suffered a puncture from debris on the track on Lap 9 as he passed Giancarlo Fisichella.

While the German, in his customary never-say-die fashion, battled back into the points, his sterling efforts were not sufficient to deny Alonso retaining his Drivers' Championship.

In front of a partisan Sao Paulo crowd, Massa produced a flawless performance to become the first Brazilain to win his home grand prix since 1993.

Alonso, after a steady drive, finished second, while Honda's Jenson Button took third.

Race Report:Conditions were bright and sunny for the race with an above-expected ambient temperature of 24C giving a track temperature of 45C. It was set to favour the Bridgestones, but that had been the prediction in Japan also, and in the race Michelins had proved to be a fair match.

Felipe Massa was hoping to buck the trend - the last eight polesitters had failed to win at Interlagos and a Brazilian hadn't won the race since Ayrton Senna in 1993.

The Ferrari Tiposi

As the lights went out he made a clean getaway and Renault survived their first potential hurdle of a first corner pile-up, though neither Alonso or Fisichella gained a place from 4th and 6th.

Michael Schumacher starting from 10th was covered by the two BMW-Saubers and tried to sneak through up the inside into Turn 1 but had to back off. Heidfeld and Kubica were deeply involved in an intra-team battle as they raced down to Lake Descent corner and after swinging to the inside Michael swung back out to the outside.

It seemed like there was no way through, but Kubica tried to take Heidfeld on the inside and forced them both wide and a grateful Schumi nipped through on the inside into 8th place. This soon became 7th as brother Ralf Schumacher made way for his brother before the start/finish line.

The two Williams contrived to have one of the most stupid accidents of the season, courtesy of Nico Rosberg failing to brake in time at Lake Descent and cannoning into the back of Mark Webber. Webber limped back to the pits to get a new rear wing, but Patrick Head advised that there was too much damage at the rear end to continue.

Rosberg needed to get back to the pits for a new nose, too, but threw his Williams against the tyre barriers at the exit of Juncao. The impact was similar to the accident suffered by Alonso in his first season for Renault. It spread debris across the track and immediately brought out the Safety Car.

So at the end of the first lap it was Massa leading from Raikkonen, Trulli, Alonso, Barrichello, Fisichella, Michael Schumacher in 7th, Ralf Schumacher, Robert Kubica, Jenson Button and de la Rosa. Heidfeld having lost places after running wide at Lake Descent. On lap 2 both Fisichella and Schumacher got past Rubens Barrichello to take up 5th and 6th positions.

The Safety Car picked the field up at the end of Lap 2 and so the field cruised while the marshals swept up the considerable amount of debris left on the circuit. It was in again at the end of Lap 6, and even though there has been an instruction to drivers to stay closer to the Safety Car, Massa left an entire straight between his car and the Mercedes before he floored the throttle.

Nobody gained a place into Turn 1, but Michael Schumacher was all over the back of Giancarlo Fisichella going into Turn 1. In the first lap after the re-start Felipe Massa stretched out a 2.7 second lead.

Next lap round Michael Schumacher came up the outside of Giancarlo Fisichella going into Turn 1, the Senna 'S', and locked his brakes hard to stay in front. Fisi, stuck to his racing line and the rear wheel of the Ferrari came past just in front of his wing end-plate.

Moments later the Ferrari slowed and Fisichella was back past him. Schumacher had a puncture. There was conjecture that he might have got it from diving back in front of Fisi's front wing too closely (or looked at another way - Fisi not braking in time), but Bridgestone later estimated that it was caused by a piece of track debris getting into the sidewall behind the Safety Car..

Whatever the cause, Schumi had to limp back to the pits for a very early first pit-stop and he rejoined the race in 19th place. He was 19th because his brother retired his Toyota after a failed rear central element of the suspension system. A lap later and Schumi was 18th - exactly the same fate befell Toyota team-mate Jarno Trulli. Both Toyotas were out because of the notoriously bumpy Interlagos track and very poor Toyota engineering.

On Lap 11 Massa had pulled out a 6.8 second lead over Raikkonen and only mechanical reliability looked likely to stop him from taking the win.

In fact such was Massa's pace and Schumacher's deficit in a now fueled up heavy car that he was in danger of being lapped. Massa's lap times slowed as a result and on Lap 15 he dropped into the 1:14s while the men behind him were doing 1:13s.

David Coulthard's final race of the season came to an end and he retired his Red Bull elevating Michael to 17th place.

On lap 20 the positions were: Massa leading by 10.6 seconds from Raikkonen, two seconds in front of Alonso, with Fisichella 5th, Barrichello 6th and a fast-closing Jenson Button in 7th place. Button, who had started from 14th on the grid, had benefited from four people retiring in front of him but was making the most of his opportunity. Former Honda team-mate Takuma Sato was also doing well in the SuperAguri, up to 12th place.

Ferrari gave Massa the go-ahead to accelerate and he responded by putting in a Fastest Lap on Lap 23 - a 1:12.877 - which put him dangerously close to Schumacher again, though the reason was soon clear, because he was in for a pit-stop the next lap.

With all the front-runners stopping, Schumi gained back 20 seconds on the field and began to pick up places. On lap 20 he had been 15 seconds behind Monteiro and still last in 17th place. By Lap 32 he was up to 11th place, though many of the people he was overtaking made no attempt to defend their positions.

Giancarlo Fisichella had a tussle with Rubens Barrichello as they came in for their pit-stops. The Renault was already cruising down the pitlane as Honda released Rubens' car into the Renault's path, Fisi squeaked through in front but it was mighty close.

Jenson Button, who hadn't been dueling in the Top 10 in Qualifying had been given more fuel than his Honda team-mate and didn't come in for another four laps. He was able to jump both Fisi and Rubens for a net 4th place.

Similarly when Alonso stopped much later than Raikkonen he was able to pass him for a net 2nd place. Pedro de la Rosa was one-stopping and so for a time his car muddled the true positions of the front runners.

On Lap 29 Button steamed up the inside past Kimi Raikkonen into Turn 1 for a net P3. Button looked to be the man on the charge, while his team-mate could find no way past Fisichella.

On Lap 33 the positions were: Massa leading by 21 seconds, de la Rosa (not stopped) 0.7 in front of Alonso who was 0.9 in front of Raikkonen, who was 2.9 in font of Fisichella who was 0.7 in front of Rubens Barrichello with Kubica in 8th and Heidfeld in 9th.

Alonso was being held up by de la Rosa, but there was no urgency to pass him with Schumacher so far back and so he just waited till de la Rosa pitted at the end of Lap 35.

Michael Schumacher's charge continued and both BMW-Saubers - who had run farewell messages to Schumi on their rear wings in practice - moved over almost as they were being lapped to let him through. He took 8th place off Heidfeld on Lap 36

In his final race Schumi was flying and on Laps 37 and 38 he set new Fastest Laps with a 1:12.832 and then a 1:12.438.

Schumi then took P7 off Kubica on Lap 39 but ran wide in Turn 1 and Kubica was back past again. Schumi gathered himself up and was back through on Lap 41, this time taking the Pole in a breathtaking move up the inside as both cars steamed uphill. Michael will have been very relieved to find that Robert wasn't attempting to make a pit-stop at the time.

It was still very close up at the front and on Lap 42 second placed Alonso led Button by 0.8, Raikkonen by 2.5, Fisichella by 4.5 and Barrichello by 5.6 seconds. Takuma Sato was still going well for SuperAguri with a lap time of 1:13.768 he was the fourth fastest driver on track.

Into the final round of pit-stops and Schumacher's charge was unabated. He had been fueled long after his unscheduled early stop and didn't come in again till Lap 47. Crucially his swift passes of the two BMWs had got him out in front of Pedro de la Rosa who wasn't stopping again.

With fresh Bridgestones on he put in a new Fastest Lap on Lap 49 with a 1:12.385 and swiftly closed up on Rubens Barrichello in 6th place.

By Lap 51 he was past the Brazilian, Rubens not defending the line into Turn 1 and allowing his former team-mate through. Michael was picking off places one by one and his next target - Giancarlo Fisichella - was the first to put up a real defence.

All the attention was elsewhere from the P1 position as Felipe Massa continued serenely on his way at the front.

Button, Raikkonen and Alonso all pitted without problems (on Laps 50, 51 and 54 respectively) and though they had been running closely their positions didn't change.

On lap 53 Michael Schumacher was only 0.5 behind Fisichella in 5th and threatening. On Lap 54 he was inadvertently baulked by Sakon Yamamoto who chose the wrong moment to go off track and came back on only to delay Schumi.

The positions at the end of Lap 55 were: Felipe Massa, 26 seconds in front of Alonso, who was 1.8 in front of Button, who had a second on Raikkonen, who was 3.8 in front of Fisichella, who had Michael Schumacher only 0.7 behind. Rubens Barrichello was 7th, Pedro de la Rosa 8th and Takuma Sato an amazing 10th.

Fisichella defended the way other drivers had decided not to, and he kept Schumacher at bay for ten laps until on Lap 63 he braked too late into Turn 1, ran wide and Schumacher slipped past.

Heidfeld's race came to an end with a suspension failure on Lap 64, his car's suspension failing under braking for Turn 1 and going straight on. It brought out waved yellows which meant no overtaking at Turn 1 till the BMW was cleared.

With eight laps to go Schumi homed in on his next target Kimi Raikkonen. Raikkonen, too decided to defend his position and on Lap 66 Schumi was forced to try the outside line around Mergulho, a place that sees few overtaking manoeuvres and none on drivers of Raikkonen's caliber. It didn't work.

Because of waved yellows at Turn 1, his favourite overtaking spot had been temporarily denied. However once the yellow flags disappeared he was back at it. Schumacher stuck close to the pitwall at the start of Lap 69 and made a brave pass on Raikkonen who ran side by side through the Senna 'S' but had to give way to an irresistible Michael.

Schumi was still on the charge but with two laps left he was 6.9 seconds behind Jenson Button's 3rd place. Jenson was harrying Fernando Alonso to the line and the Spaniard had to turn the revs up on his Renault to keep the Brit at bay.

Felipe Massa duly took his second Ferrari win, the greatest moment in his F1 career to date, followed home by Alonso and an impressive Jenson Button. Michael Schumacher put in the Fastest Lap of the race a 1:12.162 on Lap 70 as he took 4th place after a memorable drive.

The never-give-up attitude of the seven-time World Champion had been exemplified in his final drive, when only a puncture stood between him and a win. It might not have been fair to Massa, but it would have been a suitable finale. As it was, his 4th place was almost as good.

Fernando Alonso duly took a deserved second World Championship. His drive was not as impressive as Schumacher's, but he did everything he had to and withstood a lot of pressure from an on-form Button.

A great end to a great season.

FH

Result of the Brazilian GP on Sunday October 22nd. 2006

PositionDriverTeam TyresTimePoints
1.MASSAFerrariB1:31:53.75110
2.ALONSORenaultM+ 18.6588
3.BUTTONHondaM+ 19.3946
4.M.SCHUMACHERFerrariB+24.0945
5.RAIKKONENMcLarenM+ 28.5034
6.FISICHELLARenaultM+ 30.2873
7.BARRICHELLOHondaM+ 40.2942
8.DE LA ROSAMcLarenM+ 52.0681
9.KUBICABMW-SauberM+ 1:07:6420
10.SATOSuper AguriB+ 1 lap0
11.SPEEDToro RossoM+ 1 lap0
12.DOORNBOSRed BullM+ 1 lap0
13.LIUZZIToro RossoM+ 1 lap0
14.ALBERSSpyker F1B+ 1 lap0
15.MONTEIROSpyker F1B+ 2 laps0
16.YAMAMOTOSuper AguriB+ 2 laps0
Did not finish:-
17.HEIDFELDBMW-SauberM+ 7 laps0
18.COULTHARDRed BullM+ 56 laps0
19.TRULLIToyotaB+ 61 laps0
20.R. SCHUMACHERToyotaB+ 62 laps0
21.WEBBERWilliamsB+ 70 laps0
22.ROSBERGWilliamsB+ 71 laps0


Drivers' Standings after the Brazilian GP on Sunday October 22nd. 2006

DriverNationalityTeam Points
Fernando AlonsoSpainRenault134
Michael SchumacherGermanyFerrari121
Felipe MassaBrazilFerrari80
Giancarlo FisichellaItalyRenault72
Kimi RaikkonenFinlandMclaren Mercedes65
Jenson ButtonGreat BritainHonda56
Rubens BarrichelloBrazilHonda30
Juan Pablo MontoyaColombiaMclaren Mercedes26
Nick HeidfieldGermanyBMW-Sauber23
Ralf SchumacherGermanyToyota20
Pedro de la RosaItalyMclaren Mercedes19
Jarno TrulliItalyToyota15
David CoulthardGreat BritainRed Bull14
Jacques VilleneuveCanadaBMW-Sauber7
Mark WebberAustraliaWilliams BMW7
Robert KubicaPolandBMW-Sauber6
Nico RosbergGermanyWilliams BMW4
Christian KleinAustriaRed Bull2
Vitantonio LiuzziItalyToro Rosso1
Christijan AlbersHollandSpyker F10
Franck MontagnyItalySuper Aguri0
Robert DoornbosHollandRed Bull0
Sakon YamamotoJapanSuper Aguri0
Yugi IdeJapanSuper Aguri0
Scott SpeedItalyToro Rosso0
Tiago MonteiroPortugalSpyker F10
Takuma SatoJapanHonda0


Latest news from the BBC:- http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/motorsport/formula_one/6055480.stm
Brazilian race build up:- http://www.planet-f1.com/News/Story_Page/0,15909,3210_3265_1603027,00.html

What nobody seems able to explain is who would win the championship if Michael Schumacher were to win the Brazilian Grand Prix and Fernando Alonso was to come in 9th position or lower and score no points at all.
This would give both drivers 126 points.

This would leave them with 126 points each.

As it is this did not happen.

Drivers' Standings after the Japanese GP on Sunday October 8th. 2006

DriverNationalityTeam Points
Fernando AlonsoSpainRenault126
Michael SchumacherGermanyFerrari116
Felipe MassaBrazilFerrari70
Giancarlo FisichellaItalyRenault69
Kimi RaikkonenFinlandMclaren Mercedes61
Jenson ButtonGreat BritainHonda50
Rubens BarrichelloBrazilHonda28
Juan Pablo MontoyaColombiaMclaren Mercedes26
Nick HeidfieldGermanyBMW-Sauber23
Ralf SchumacherGermanyToyota20
Pedro de la RosaItalyMclaren Mercedes18
Jarno TrulliItalyToyota15
David CoulthardGreat BritainRed Bull14
Jacques VilleneuveCanadaBMW-Sauber7
Mark WebberAustraliaWilliams BMW7
Robert KubicaPolandBMW-Sauber6
Nico RosbergGermanyWilliams BMW4
Christian KleinAustriaRed Bull2
Vitantonio LiuzziItalyToro Rosso1
Christijan AlbersHollandSpyker F10
Franck MontagnyItalySuper Aguri0
Robert DoornbosHollandRed Bull0
Sakon YamamotoJapanSuper Aguri0
Yugi IdeJapanSuper Aguri0
Scott SpeedItalyToro Rosso0
Tiago MonteiroPortugalSpyker F10
Takuma SatoJapanHonda0


The 2006 formula one grand prix season


DateGrand PrixCircuit
March 12th.BahrainSakhir
March 19th.MalaysiaSepang
April 2nd.AustraliaMelbourne
April 23rd.San MarinoImola
May 7th.EuropeNurburgring
May 14th.SpainBarcelona
May 28th.MonacoMonte Carlo
June 11th.Great BritainSilverstone
June 25th.CanadaMontreal
July 2nd.United StatesIndianapolis
July 16th.FranceMagny-Courts
July 30th.GermanyHockenheim
August 6th.HungaryBudapest
August 27th.TurkeyIstanbul
September 10th.ItalyMonza
October 1st.ChinaShanghai
October 8th.JapanSuzuka
October 22nd.BrazilInterlagos


Drivers and teams for the 2006 formula one grand prix season


TeamDriver Driver Test DriverTest Driver
RenaultGiancarlo FisichellaFernando AlonsoHeikki Kovalainen
McLaren MercedesJuan Pablo MontoyaKimi RaikkonenPedro de la RosaGary Paffett
FerrariMichael SchumacherFelipe MassaMarc GeneLuca Badoer
ToyotaRalf SchumacherJarno TrulliOlivia PanisRicardo Zonta
Williams BMWMark WebberNico RosbergAlex WurzNarain Karthikeyan
HondaJenson ButtonRubens BarrichelloAnthony DavidsonJames Rossiter
Red BullDavid CoulthardChristian KlienRobert Doornbos
BMW-SauberJacques VilleneuveNick HeidfeldRobert Kubica
Midland F1Christijan AlbersTiago MonteiroGiorgio MondiniFabrizio Del Monte
Toro RossoScott SpeedVitantanio LiuzziNeel Jani
Super AguriTakuma SatoFranck MontagnyYuji IdeSakon Yamamoto


Japanese GP: Winners and Losers Sunday October 08 2006

"In Formula 1 anything can happen - and it usually does": Echoes of Murray Walker were probably not running through Michael's head as he took the long walk back to the Ferrari garage

Winners
Star of the Race
Fernando Alonso, Renault, 1st
Alonso finished almost half a minute in front of his team-mate on a track where Fisichella is no slouch. There is no question that the pressure from Alonso made the Ferrari team run Michael Schumacher's engine beyond the tolerances they were happy with..

Alonso's lap times were consistent throughout the race, and even when Schumacher exited on Lap 37 he was the fastest man on track. It was a justifiable reward for all the pressure he has applied this season and the paltry support has got from his team-mate.

Overtaking Move Of The Race
Fernando Alonso, Lap 13, on Ralf Schumacher into Turn 1. Even though Alonso will have been aware that Ralf Schumacher was about to pit in one or two laps' time, such was his urgency that he decided not to wait.

The move was yet another clanger dropped by the TV producer covering the race who seemed obsessed with finding out whether Takuma Sato had clinched that all-important 18th place rather than seeking out any on-track action.

Everything else significant happened in the advertising breaks.(This is when you need to switch over to Radio 5 Live)

Thanks to Alonso's pass of Schumacher, he was able to get in front of Massa at the pit-stops, and then pressure Schumacher after that. And so it brought its own reward.

Felipe Massa, Ferrari, 2nd
Massa did precious little wrong in the race, though he was guilty of a bit of gamesmanship in Session 3 of qualifying. There was little reason to hold up Alonso on Saturday and as Ross Brawn had already said there should be no games playing by team-mates it was hard to understand what he was doing.

Flavio Briatore came out with a great quote about Massa afterwards. "He is a kid, he is a little kid. Little in every sense."

There are those who have witnessed Massa's teensy prima donna act throughout his F1 career (even at Sauber) that would perhaps agree.

However in the race he drove well.

Giancarlo Fisichella, Renault, 3rd
Fisichella's tears on the podium and his general glumness after last weekend's Chinese GP are the final expression of a struggle going on within the Renault team.

Now it becomes clearer what Fernando was alluding to in an interview with a Spanish journalist right after the Shanghai race. When Alonso said he was getting "no support from his team," he was referring to Fisichella.

Throughout the season Fisi's been unable to take points off Schumacher while Massa's been able to get himself ahead of Alonso quite a few times.

At the Chinese GP Renault made a poor tyre choice (with Alonso's input) at the first pit-stop and Fisichella, with Schumacher in tow started to catch him at a rate of four seconds a lap in the middle stint.

This season Ferrari have used Massa as a brake, to hold up Alonso and let Schumacher increase his lead over the Spaniard. What Alonso expected Renault to do was tell Fisichella to do the same. He needed a few more laps for his tyres to wear down and scrub in and then he could fend for himself. They didn't.

Instead Fisichella romped up to the back of Alonso with a grateful Michael Schumacher hardly believing his luck. Alonso clearly didn't want Fisichella to overtake him and when he did, he fought back.

What Ferrari thought was a co-ordinated attempt to keep Michael behind was actually a very public Renault spat.

Perhaps Fisichella was going for the win so that he could dedicate it as a suitable gesture it to his dying friend. It didn't happen. As we all saw, he messed up on dry tyres, let Michael past and had to settle for third place. A big (but not unexpected) balls up from Fisi could well have been the reason for his dismal demeanour on the podium in China.

Today he kept in touch and didn't get too far adrift even though the evidence is clear that the gap between Schumi and Massa, or Ralf and Jarno, or Heidfeld and Kubica isn't nearly as big as between Alonso and himself.

Jenson Button, Honda, 4th
Button had a solid race after an unusually good start, getting ahead of Fisichella on the opening lap. At Suzuka's final race it was good for the track's owner, Honda, to get a victory over the "auld enemy" Toyota.

Kimi Raikkonen, Mclaren, 5th
Kimi took advantage of Toyota's intra-team struggle to take 5th place from 11th on the grid. Much better than he woud have expected.

Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica, BMW-Sauber 8th and 9th
The most cheering moment of the race was when Robert Kubica's engineer got on the radio to him in the closing stages of the race and yelled, "Go and pass Heidfeld! You are allowed!"

Kubica had fought his way back after an off-track excursion around the grass at the back of Degnas 1 and 2 which was almost as long as a World Rally Championship stage. Yet still he was able to close up on Heidfeld.

Respect to Dr.Mario Theissen.

Takuma Sato, Honda, 15th
Taku san continued his run of form at Suzuka by coming home in 15th. Never has a 15th placed driver received such love from a crowd or such TV coverage. He managed to stay in front of Scott Speed and Tiago Monteiro in a car put together in Scrapheap Challenge, which is no mean feat.

2007 will be better.

Losers
Michael Schumacher, Ferrari, DNF
Ultimately, this is one of the reasons we watch F1 right till the end of the races. One of Murray Walker's classic quotes is: "In F1, anything can happen...and it usually does."

And today it happened to Michael.

With only one engine failure in six years he could hardly complain that Ferrari have been a bit casual with their quality control, but it would have to happen at the penultimate race of his career. Because it leaves him and the team with no time to react at all. Ferrari of course will never 'fess up to a mistake like that, even if it did prove to be a contributary factor.

Certainly there was something up with Massa's engine as well, because at a time when you expected him to try and exert pressure on Alonso, he went slower.

Ross Brawn, Ferrari TD
Ross Brawn is rumoured to be taking a sabbatical - a year away from Ferrari in 2007 The Planet-F1 team sincerely hopes it's not illness-related because Brawn seems to grow more and more ashen from race to race.

Even in victory last week there was little colour to his cheeks and he has clearly lost weight. However he still came out with a laughable comment about "team orders" in the FIA Friday press conference.

It was a bit like the poacher telling the gamekeeper he couldn't shoot at the birds.

Toyotas, 6th and 7th
The team had flattered to deceive in last year's Japanese GP qualifying and though they were much more competitive in 2006, their second pit-stops on Laps 29 and 30 left them with enormous fuel loads.

Ralf Schumacher, who's been driving round Suzuka in Formula Nippon and F1 for 12 years was clearly quicker but Trulli wouldn't move over.

As a result, Fisichella, Button and Raikkonen were all able to get past them. By the end of the race Trulli had pulled out a small gap, but Ralf may have given up by that time - 8th placed Heidfeld was a long way behind.

Perhaps Jarno was making a point to his team bosses - "let the overpaid one get past me if he is SO good" etc (Ralf is rumoured to earn almost double what Trulli earns)

Red Bull
A very forgettable race for Red Bull, distinguished only by DC's pop at his team's professionalism after qualifying - "...we have to ask the question, do we have the right people?"

David - call me Mr.Motivator - Coulthard

Perhaps Christian Horner is asking himself the same thing too after such a public dig...

Mark - git orf me barra, I'm a big fat cheeky cockney geezer wot sits in ve studio now - Blundell Mark's just a bit too comfortable in theTV studio. We need him by the motorhomes to get the full Blundell gaffe magic. However this race he had a bit of competition from Louise.

Louise Goodman to Ferrari's Stefano Domenicali: "Stefano, tyres are going to be important, who's got it right - Bridgerlin?"

However we did have evidence that Mark's quest for deep historical and philosophical truths is ongoing. "China - I fink a lot of us are left finking - what really happened there?"

Plus the gratifyingly Blundell-esque:

"I fink he pulled everything out of the bag that was underneath him."

With one race left, we're hoping for a big finale in Brazil...Steve.

Japanese GP Report: Schumacher down, likely out of title hunt by Michael Kelley Oct. 9, 2006, 5:44 PM ET

Alonso wins in Japan, 
Schumacher does not finish

Fernando Alonso's engine failure at the Italian Grand Prix a month ago gave new momentum to Michael Schumacher's hopes of earning an unprecedented eighth driving title. Schumacher returned the favor in spectacular fashion at Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix to all but ensure Alonso's second consecutive championship.

"Now we are nine points behind in the constructors' classification and we will do all we can to win this title in Brazil. As for the drivers', it is lost. I don't want to head off for a race hoping that my rival has to retire. That is not the way in which I want to win the title." -- Michael Schumacher

Schumacher's first major engine failure in more than six years couldn't have come at a worse time, as he had a relatively comfortable margin over Alonso's Renault and looked likely to take the win and a two-point lead into the final race in Brazil after trailing by as much as 25 points in June. Instead, he's left wondering what might have been as he faces a double-digit deficit with very little time to overcome it.

Alonso was, understandably, overjoyed at his unexpected opportunity to snatch victory from defeat and took full advantage, even taking the time to wave Schumacher goodbye as he passed the stricken Ferrari. He's now in position to become the first driver other than Schumacher to take back-to-back driving championships since Mika Hakkinen did so for McLaren-Mercedes in 1998-99. His comments after the race had the relieved tone of a death-row inmate who'd earned a last-minute reprieve from the governor just as the switch on the electric chair was about to be thrown.

"This win is a surprise for us all, a beautiful surprise," Alonso said afterward. "When I saw the problem of Michael I just didn't believe what I was seeing because it's not often that you see a mechanical problem from a Ferrari. It was the biggest surprise of the race for sure. Now we feel confident for Brazil but we are taking nothing for granted. We have a good situation for the championship but we will be racing the same way, to win."

Schumacher, for his part, must lead the pack home in Sao Paolo on Oct. 22 and hope Alonso doesn't finish in the points to earn a final driving title, a prospect he doesn't seem to have much faith in. He all but conceded a second-straight championship to Alonso after Sunday's race and with good reason: Alonso has scored in every race but two this year, one of those following his first engine failure in three years at Monza and the other when he lost a tire in Budapest. Schumacher has already announced his retirement effective after this season.

Still, give credit where credit is due: Alonso did a fine job of advancing from sixth on the grid to second, putting himself in position to benefit from Schumacher's demise. He did so by passing both Toyotas early in the race and later got by pole sitter Felipe Massa's Ferrari when it made a premature pit stop due to a punctured tire. Reigning world champion Fernando Alonso, left, 
was pleased with the victory while teammate Giancarlo Fisichella 
was understandably emotional over the recent death of a young friend.

Credit must also go to Giancarlo Fisichella, Alonso's teammate, who advanced from sixth on the grid to finish third, thereby helping Renault to a nine-point advantage over Ferrari in the constructors' standings. Fisichella was carrying a heavy emotional burden after the death of his friend Tonino Visciani, 33, of a heart attack on Thursday and he wept on the podium after the race.

Schumacher must have felt like crying as well after his engine expired in a huge plume of smoke at the Degner curves just after his second pit stop and with only 17 laps remaining. Instead he seemed remarkably calm afterward, taking the time to shake the hands of his Ferrari mechanics after making his way back to the pits and refusing to cast aspersions about the cause of his misfortune.

"Incidents like today's can happen and they are part of racing," Schumacher said in a statement. "You win together but you also lose together. That is Formula One. We can be proud of what we have achieved since Canada: no one could have thought we would be back in the fight for the championship, but we did it. Now we are nine points behind in the constructors' classification and we will do all we can to win this title in Brazil. As for the drivers', it is lost. I don't want to head off for a race hoping that my rival has to retire.

"That is not the way in which I want to win the title." Schumacher and Alonso

There is precedent for a team winning a constructors' title without taking the driving crown and Schumacher helped set it in 1999, when he finished second to Hakkinen at the season-ending Japanese GP but helped give Ferrari its first championship of any kind in 20 years.

While the thought of doing so again must bring a hollow feeling to Schumacher's innards, he'll doubtless give full effort for the last race of his career in an attempt to go out a winner in whatever form is available.

Doing whatever it takes to win has, after all, been his credo for 16 seasons.

There's no reason to change it now.

Japan Notebook

The Honda Motor Co.-owned Suzuka International circuit held its swan song F1 race meeting this weekend as the track that has hosted a grand prix for 20 consecutive years will be replaced next year by the Toyota Motor Corp.-owned Fuji International Speedway, which has undergone a multimillion-dollar upgrade in preparation. It's the second established venue to fall off the F1 calendar in two years, following the demise of the beloved Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium. Suzuka was host to several memorable racing moments: Kimi Raikkonen's penultimate-lap pass of Fisichella in 2005 to earn victory from 17th on the grid and the infamous 1990 collision between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost that gave Senna his second world title are among the best known. No Japanese team or driver has ever won the Japanese GP. The Super Aguri team celebrated its home race by bringing both cars home in one piece, with Takuma Sato finishing 15th and Sakon Yamamoto 17th. It was just the third time this season both Aguris were running at the checkered flag.

Michael Kelley

Result of the Japanese GP on Sunday October 8th. 2006

PositionDriverTeam TyresTimePoints
1.ALONSORenaultM83:53.41310
2.MASSAFerrariB+ 16.108
3.FISICHELLARenaultM+ 23.906
4.BUTTONHondaM+ 29.905
5.RAIKKONENMcLarenM+ 43.504
6.TRULLIToyotaB+ 46.703
7.R. SCHUMACHERToyotaB+ 48.802
8.HEIDFELDBMW-SauberM+ 76.001
9.KUBICABMW-SauberM+ 76.900
10.ROSBERGWilliamsB+ 1 lap0
11.DE LA ROSAMcLarenM+ 1 lap0
12.BARRICHELLOHondaM+ 1 lap0
13.DOORNBOSRed BullM+ 1 lap0
14.LIUZZIToro RossoM+ 1 lap0
15.SATOSuper AguriB+ 1 lap0
16.MONTEIROSpyker F1B+ 2 laps0
17.YAMAMOTOSuper AguriB+ 3 laps0
Did not finish:-
18.SPEEDToro RossoMlap 480
19.WEBBERWilliamsBlap 400
20.M.SCHUMACHERFerrariBlap 360
21.COULTHARDRed BullMlap 360
22.ALBERSSpyker F1Blap 210

Chinese GP Report: Schumi claims dramatic win & title lead Sunday October 01 2006

Schumacher wins in China

Ferrari's Michael Schumacher snatched a thrilling victory in the Chinese Grand Prix to take the World Championship lead with just two races of the season remaining.

Schumacher's first victory in Shanghai means he is now level on points with Renault driver Fernando Alonso, but is top having won one more race than the Spaniard this season.

Alonso's bid to win the race was effectively ended by crucial errors in his pit stops, though he finished strongly to take second.

His team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella finished third while Jenson Button took fourth place on the final lap and Pedro de la Rosa ended in fifth place.

Honda's Rubens Barrichello and BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld took sixth and seventh while Williams' Mark Webber took the final point in eighth place.

Race Report: It was a damp Shang circuit at the start of the Chinese GP, but at least it had stopped raining. With a high humidity and a temperature of 22C there was expected to be slow evaporation on the track, so all the teams were opting for Intermediates.

Off the line there was a chance for mayhem in the poor visibility that would ensue from 88 intermediate tyres kicking up the spray, As it was, everyone behaved themselves, aided by the wide expanses of tarmac of F1's second newest track.

The two Renaults led easily of the line, but it was Kimi Raikkonen starting from 5th who had the most dramatic getaway steaming around the outside and temporarily taking 3rd place off the two Hondas before he lost traction as oversteer snapped in around the outside of Turn 1 and Jenson Button snatched back 3rd place.

Michael Schumacher had no problem retaining his 6th place and it was a sign of his pace to come that he was able to keep up with Rubens Barrichello easily despite the gloomy predictions of the performance of the Bridgestone tyres in mixed conditions.

Further back Pedro de la Rosa got past Nick Heidfeld and Scott Speed saw his opportunity to pass the BMW-Sauber, too.

Raikkonen looked in purposeful mood and by the time he'd reached the back straight, the McLaren was breezing past the Honda of Button well before the braking zone.

So as the cars crossed the line on Lap 1, it was Alonso, from Fisichella, Raikkonen, Button, Barrichello, Michael Schumacher, Pedro de la Rosa, Speed, with Heidfeld in 9th, Liuzzi 10th, Coulthard in 11th and Mark Webber 12th.

Casualties of the opening lap were Robert Doornbos, his first Red Bull start ending with a trip back to the pits for a new front wing, and Rober Kubica who ran wide in Turn 1 and lost a lot of places. As the opening laps unfolded Fernando Alonso unleashed a series of fast laps and built a very big gap to team-mate Fisichella. By Lap 5 it was up to 6.7 seconds with Alonso lapping in the late 1:44s and Championship rival Michael Schumacher circulating in the early 1:47s.

However Schumacher was sticking to his task and steadily closing up on Rubens Barrichello's fifth place, while Raikkonen was also closing on Fisichella. Further back David Coulthard had collected a gaggle of cars including Webber, the recovering Robert Kubica, Nico Rosberg, Jarno Trulli, Massa and Ralf Schumacher.

Around Laps 7 and 8 Felipe and Ralf swapped positions four times, with Massa running wide onto the grass at the final corner and losing the place before re-exerting his authority later the following lap.

On Lap 8 Michael Schumacher got past Rubens Barrichello with a burst of engine revs from the turned up Ferrari, Schumi having the fastest middle sector of the race so far. By lap 11 he was only 2.7 seconds behind a struggling Jenson Button and a lap later he was just 0.6 seconds back.

Meanwhile Raikkonen had hauled in Fisichella and on Lap 13 eased past him going into Turn 6 as elsewhere on the circuit Takuma Sato and Sakon Yamamoto contrived to collide with each other. On the same lap, Michael passed Jenson on the long back straight to take a firm grasp of 4th place.

At the end of Lap 14 Button radioed back to the pits that he had no tread left on his rear tyres which was the reason for his sudden drop in lap times and pitted soon after for a new set, the first front-runner to come in. He rejoined in 9th and looked to be executing the typical "Honda fade" that we have seen so many times this year.

At the front Schumacher's progress was relentless and by Lap 16 he was just two seconds behind Fisichella, and by Lap 18 he was just 0.9 seconds behind. At one point Alonso had a 25 second gap to Schumacher and on lap 18 it was still as high as 20 seconds.

Cameras switched to a touring Kimi Raikkonen with his engine sounding like it was on the rev limiter - yet another McLaren retirement for the Finn on Lap 19. He had pitted once and was still running in P4 when the fault occurred. Having better luck was Robert Kubica who had carved his way up to P7 from his opening lap mistake.

Just as Renault were making decisions about bringing Fernando Alonso in for his first pit-stop the team mysteriously lost power on the pitwall, forcing Pat Symonds, Flavio Briatore and the engineers into the garage.

What happened next was to affect the rest of the race because in his pit-stop the team elected not to change the rear tyres, but did change the front tyres. It was to give him chronic understeer in the laps ahead.

Schumi stopped on Lap 20, Alonso at the end of Lap 21, but Giancarlo Fisichella kept going until the end of Lap 23. When he merged he was a couple of seconds in front of Michael Schumacher, but the shocking thing was the rate at they were catching Alonso.

At this stage the track was drying rapidly and on lap 23 we had three successive fastest laps.
M. Schumacher 1:43.279
Heidfeld 1:43.276
Kubica 1:42.072

The Pole, after his extraordinary Monza podium was flying, while Fernando Alonso was lapping in the 1:46s.

It looked like we were getting close to the time when dry tyres would be the things to have, but when Sauber gave them to Kubica he couldn't keep them up to temperature and on his outlap he went flying off the slippery track losing bucketloads of time and eventually returning to the pits for Intermediates. It cost him two or three Championship points and he would end the race back in 13th place.

Back at the front things were getting serious. On Lap 26 the times were:
Alonso 1:47.213
Fisichella 1:43.535
Schumacher 1:43.382

Lap 27 was a carbon copy of Lap 26 as Fisi and Schmui caught the helpless Alonso at three or four seconds a lap, the Spaniard's car undresteering all over the place.

By Lap 28 the front three were all together as Renault decided how to manage the situation with a sluggish Alonso, a much quicker Fisichella hounded by Schumacher.

Fisi got past Alonso on the back straight and then gave up the place again in the hairpin, but on Lap 29 he passed him for real and went away leaving Alonso to fend off Michael Schumacher himself. It didn't last long, and the minute Alonso ran wide at an apex, the Ferrari used its superior grip to nip through on the inside and on Lap 31 he took over P2 with Alonso seemingly unable to do anything but watch.

In fact at this stage Alonso's third place looked under threat given the pace of his car.

Now in P1 Fisichella set about putting in some fastest laps and by Lap 34 he had got it down to 1:41.322. Now it really did look like it was time for dry tyres.

Jenson Button was the first to try for "slicks" followed rapidly by Felipe Massa, both had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

On Lap 35 Alonso pitted for the second time to take on slicks, but his right rear tyre wouldn't go back on and the pit-stop took 19 seconds against an expected 7. All chances of him making a miraculous comeback were surely over now. His first lap on dry tyres was cautious, but he soon started to put in Personal Best times.

By Lap 37 Michael had closed right up on Fisi thanks to the help of some backmarkers and followed his gearbox for the next two laps.

On Lap 39 the Ferrari pitcrew rushed into the pitlane ready for his second stop, and then rushed back into the garage again. Either it was a last minute decision from Schumi not to come in (based on Fisi not coming in in front of him) or a bit of gamesmanship is hard to say. A lap later they did the same again, though this time Schumi did come in for his stop.

Renault responded by bringing in Fisichella the following lap, but by this time Schumacher had got his dry tyres up to temperature and Fisichella didn't have either Schumacher or Alonso's gift for going fast with uncertain grip. Fisi exited the pitlane a long way in front of Michael but ran wide in Turn one. He was just making his way back onto the dry racing line when Schumacher arrived on it and (thanks to putting two tyres up on the kerb) was through.

The adoring Chinese crowd went wild as their man took P1. It was now a foot race to the finish with everyone on dry tyres and a determined Fernando Alonso in third place. The Renault driver mounted a staggering challenge reeling off a series of Fastest Laps as he whittled the gap down from 20 seconds.

On Lap 44 Alonso took two seconds out of Schumacher with a Fastest Lap of 1:38.525, the gap narrowed and narrowed, but it looked like he didn't have enough laps left. He overtook Fisichella on Lap 48 for P2. By Lap 49 the gap was down to 12.6 seconds but a dawdling Liuzzi cost him precious time and he gained nothing at all on Lap 50.

The rain started to fall on Lap 51 which would have been great news for the Michelin runners had it come ten laps earlier (the Michelin "slick" working better than the Bridgestone in slightly wet conditions)

There were intense battles further back down the field. Felipe Massa has been frustrated behind the one-stopping David Coulthard and finally lunged up the inside of him at the hairpin to take 9th place only to have the two of them collide. Massa was out on the spot and DC continued with impaired steering through left-handed corners.

Jenson Button had caught up team-mate Rubens Barrichello in 5th place, and having no team orders they were free to race. On Lap 49 he went momentarily off the dry line, went straight onto the grass and Pedro de la Rosa was up into 6th place leaving Jenson back in 7th. Then it was de la Rosa's turn to go off line on Lap 55 and Button took the place back.

Alonso's late charge was relentless and by Lap 54 the gap was down to 7.8 seconds, by Lap 55 it was 6.6 seconds and at the line he had reduced Schumacher's lead to 3.1 seconds, but all too late. Had he not suffered the jammed rear wheel at the pit-stop then he would have won, but that's racing. Ferrari's pitwork had been superior. Schumacher's innate opportunism and his never-say-die attitude had prevailed yet again.

However, the drama wasn't over yet. Nick Heidfeld had been blocked by Christijan Albers a few laps earlier, had pulled alongside him on the back straight and wagged the finger. Then, he'd blown his braking for the hairpin, slid off line and lost several seconds. As a result, the late-charging Button - who'd got past Barrichello for 5th in a five-car melee around Turns 1, 2 and 3 -was closing in on him on the final lap.

Sato seemed unaware that there were four cars right behind him as he concentrated hard on Albers' gearbox.

Down the back straight they came, Heidfeld in 4th, closely followed by Button, Barrichello and Pedro de la Rosa. Unfortunately in front of them the SuperAguri was still unaware of anything going on.

Sato suddenly saw a wall of motorcars coming towards him in his mirrors and decided to go left and run wide at the corner allowing cars to come past on the inside.

Heidfeld, having messed up by going onto the wet line in front of Albers made the mistake of sticking behind the SuperAguri on the dry and Button neatly flicked to the inside boxing Heidfeld in.

Behind him Rubens left this braking very late to keep back the McLaren of Pedro de la Rosa, missed his braking point and ran into the back of an innocent Heidfeld, who almost passed the contact on to Jenson Button.

Button escaped through to 4th, de la Rosa took 5th, having started the lap 7th and Barrichello came home 6th, though stewards will surely take the place off him for causing an avoidable accident. Heidfeld got 7th place and a valiant Mark Webber finally scored some points for Williams in P8.

An exciting end to an exciting race, which surely now looks like going down to the wire.

FH

Result of the Chinese GP on Sunday October 1st. 2006

PositionDriverTeam TyresTimePoints
1.M.SCHUMACHERFerrariB010
2.ALONSORenaultM+ 3.1008
3.FISICHELLARenaultM+ 44.1006
4.BUTTONHondaM+ 1:12.0005
5.DE LA ROSAMcLarenM+ 1:17.1004
6.BARRICHELLOHondaM+ 1:19.1003
7.HEIDFELDBMW-SauberM+ 1:31.9002
8.WEBBERWilliamsB+ 1 lap1
9.COULTHARDRed BullM+ 1 lap0
10.LIUZZIToro RossoM+ 1 lap0
11.ROSBERGWilliamsB+ 1 lap0
12.DOORNBOSRed BullM+ 1 lap0
13.KUBICABMW-SauberM+ 1 lap0
14.SATOSuper AguriB+ 1 lap0
15.SPEEDToro RossoM+ 1 lap0
16.ALBERSSpyker F1B+ 3 laps0
17.YAMAMOTOSuper AguriB+ 4 laps0
Did not finish:-
18.R. SCHUMACHERToyotaB+ 7 laps0
19.MASSAFerrariB+ 7 laps0
20.TRULLIToyotaB+ 18 laps0
21.MONTEIROSpyker F1B+ 19 laps0
22.RAIKKONENMcLarenM+ 38 laps0


Italian GP Report: Schumi closes the gap Sunday September 10 2006

Michael wins in Italy

Michael Schumacher stormed to within two points of World Championship leader Fernando Alonso by winning the Italian Grand Prix at Monza today.

The seven-time world champion held off McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen by eight seconds to win his sixth race of the season, the 90th of his career.

Those 10 points slashed Alonso's advantage to just two after a rare Renault engine failure robbed the World Champion of third place.

Alonso had overcome a controversial penalty in qualifying to fight up to third from 10th on the grid but he retired in a plume of smoke with just 10 laps remaining.

Not only did that failure put Alonso's second world title in jeopardy, it left Ferrari in the lead in the constructors' championship by three points.

Alonso's late drama overshadowed a stunning performance from Robert Kubica, who became the first Polish driver on a Formula One podium, with third place for BMW-Sauber.

Giancarlo Fisichella was the only Renault running at the finish, in fourth, while Jenson Button took fifth, just ahead of Honda team-mate Rubens Barrichello.

Toyota's Jarno Trulli held off the other BMW-Sauber to claim seventh.

Race Report: Warm sunshine bathed the track with an ambient temperature of 28C and 40C on the track.

Raikkonen led off the grid as the lights went out and Michael Schumacher starting from P2 immediately came under pressure from Nick Heidfeld who was actually ahead going into Turn 1, but allowed Schumacher too much room into the chicane and the Ferrari slipped past on the outside line.

Behind him Robert Kubica got a great start and was up past Felipe Massa and team-mate Heidfeld on the opening lap. Further back Fernando Alonso (who had been demoted from 5th to 10th place on the grid) made places past Rubens Barrichello and Giancarlo Fisichella and was up to 8th place by Turn 1 and 7th place by the Lesmo bends.

For the opening charge at Monza it was an amazingly clean start, with only Ralf Schumacher taking the option of cutting the chicane.

At the end of the opening lap it was; Raikkonen, Schumacher, Kubica, Massa, Button, Heidfeld, Alonso, de la Rosa, Fisichella, Barrichello and Rosberg.

Heidfeld had been demoted from 2nd to 6th on the opening lap and was now under pressure from Alonso who looked like he'd turned the "overtake" button on and closed right up on the BMW. He got past him into the braking zone of Turn 1, but even though he'd got his car in front, had to go on at the chicane (very much the style of some overtaking moves at the Canadian GP).

At the front of the race Kimi Raikkonen was putting in fastest laps but not escaping Michael Schumacher who was never more than two seconds behind him in the opening stint.

On Lap 9 Rosberg's Williams trailed to a halt with hydraulics failure, his 4th consecutive DNF.

The most hotly contested place was 3rd held by Kubica with Massa right on his tail for successive laps. They were not that far in front of Button versus Alonso. Alonso looked like he was being held up by the Honda, with the car understeering through the fast turns.

At the end of Lap 14 McLaren's Pedro de la Rosa was the first man in for a stop, followed a lap later by the leader of the race, Raikkonen. The Finn rejoined in 7th place, but a lap later Michael Schumacher came in, too and emerged well in front of the McLaren.

This left Robert Kubica in the lead, at Monza the cathedral of motorsport, in only his third GP.

At the end of Lap 19 Massa and Alonso pitted. Massa rejoined and almost struck Jarno Trulli going into the first chicane. Alonso wasn't able to jump Button in the pitstop, but was very close to him as the Honda emerged and nailed him going into Turn 2.

Unfortunately for them both they were jumped by Nick Heidfeld who had a very speedy pit-stop. Too speedy it turned out, as he had to come back in for a pitlane speeding penalty a few laps later which dropped him to P11.

At the front of the race Michael Schumacher had established a two second gap to Raikkonen on Lap 20, which had grown to just 3.3 seconds by Lap 31.

So just after half distance, when all of the major players had made their pit-stops (Barrichello, Trulli and Fisichella were one-stopping) the order was:

Schumacher 2.3 seconds in front of Kimi Raikkonen (Michael lost a second on one lap when he almost tripped over Liuzzi's Toro Rosso at the first chicane). Raikkonen was a massive 21 seconds in front of Kubica, who had 2.6 seconds on Massa who was 2.5 seconds in front of Alonso.

Button was 6th, Fisichella 7th, Heidfeld 8th and Rubens Barrichello 9th.

The big battle shaping up was for 3rd, 4th and 5th between Kubica, Massa and Alonso which was sorted out by the second pit-stops.

Raikkonen pitted on Lap 38 and rejoined second, Schumacher pitted on Lap 39 and rejoined in the lead. Surprisingly Felipe Massa also came in on Lap 39 and had a much longer pit-stop than Schumacher because they were so close together for the Ferrari pitcrew.

When Kubica and Alonso both came in on Lap 41 the Renault team got Alonso out faster than the BMW team could release Kubica. Even though Alonso was alongside Kubica, the BMW lollypop guy let him go and they ran side by side down the pitlane. Alonso took the place, though and they then lined up: Alonso, Kubica Massa.

Everything changed on Lap 43, though, because going down the start/finish straight the normally bullet-proof Renault engine blew. Alonso's grid-place demotion had undoubtedly made him stress his engine in a bid to grab third place. Third was the most he was ever going to get out of the afternoon, and having fought for it, he had to retire in exactly the same place that Mika Hakkinen once had to endure the taunts of a jeering tifosi

Alonso was out and while Kubica managed to avoid the smoke and oil, Felipe Massa was caught daydreaming and only saw it late. His reaction was to stand on the brakes in a plume of tyre smoke and go straight on at the chicane.

It flat-spotted the Ferrari's tyres and he was forced to lap slowly, pit for a new set and rejoin the race in 9th place.

This was the last major drama of the race as Schumacher had edged out a seven second gap to Raikkonen who had a massive lead over Kubica in third place and started lapping in the 1:25s to preserve his second place.

The only dice on the track was for 7th, 8th and 9th with Jarno Trulli driving defensively and keeping Nick Heidfeld and a frustrated Felipe Massa at bay.

An exultant Michael Schumacher duly won his 5th Italian GP, his 90th career win and unquestionably the most emotional. As Michael was parking his car in parc ferme, so a Ferrari press release was confirming that he would be quitting racing at the end of 2006.

It was always going to be bigger news than the race itself, but the result had certainly sweetened any regrets that Schumacher might have had about stopping driving for Ferrari. The closest we came to anyone admitting the real reason for his retirement came from Willi Weber who contradicted Schumacher's press release which said Michael wanted to spend more time with his children.

"I don't think this is the main reason, I think that he doesn't have the power to make his job as 100% as he did in the past." Meaning that Ferrari's hire of Raikkonen would deny him the No.1 status he'd enjoyed since he arrived in 1996.

Almost overlooked was a titanic drive by Robert Kubica who claimed a podium in only his third drive. He withstood tremendous pressure from Massa and outdrove his team-mate. This time BMW will have definitely asked him to pick up some "marbles" on the way back to the pits to ensure he made the right weight.

FH

Result of the Italian GP on Sunday September 10th. 2006

PositionDriverTeam TyresTimePoints
1.M.SCHUMACHERFerrariB010
2.RAIKKONENMcLarenM+ 8.0008
3.KUBICABMW-SauberM+ 26.406
4.FISICHELLARenaultM+ 32.0005
5.BUTTONHondaM+ 32.6004
6.BARRICHELLOHondaM+ 42.4003
7.TRULLIToyotaB+ 44.6002
8.HEIDFELDBMW-SauberM+ 45.3001
9.MASSAFerrariB45.9000
10.WEBBERWilliamsB+ 1:12.6000
11.KLEINRed BullM+ 1 lap0
12.COULTHARDRed BullM+ 1 lap0
13.SPEEDToro RossoM+ 1 lap0
14.LIUZZIToro RossoM+ 1 lap0
15.R. SCHUMACHERToyotaB+ 1 lap0
16.SATOSuper AguriB+ 2 laps0
17.ALBERSMidland F1B+ 2 laps0
Did not finish:-
18.MONTEIROMidland F1B+ 9 laps0
19.ALONSORenaultM+ 10 laps0
20.DE LA ROSAMcLarenM+ 33 laps0
21.YAMAMOTOSuper AguriB+ 35 laps0
22.ROSBERGWilliamsB+ 4 laps0


Turkish GP: Massa wins as Alonso thwarts Schu Sunday August 27 2006

Felipe Massa wins in Turkey

Felipe Massa followed Jenson Button's example by claiming his first Formula One win with a superb display in the Turkish Grand Prix.

Just three weeks after Button took his first victory, Massa led from pole position in Istanbul to break his duck in his 66th race.

The 25-year-old drove a flawless race, withstanding pressure from Ferrari team-mate Michael Schumacher and World Champion Fernando Alonso to lead the Renault driver home by 5.5 seconds.

Celebrations were confined to Massa's side of the Ferrari garage though after Schumacher lost ground in the Championship. Despite a valiant late attack on Alonso, the seven-time Champion had to settle for third place.

Jenson Button followed up his breakthrough win with a fourth place for Honda and he was the only driver able to live with the top three's pace.

McLaren's Pedro de la Rosa pulled off a one-stop strategy to perfection to take fifth place from 11th on the grid, Giancarlo Fisichella recovered from a first lap spin to claim sixth, while Toyota's Ralf Schumacher was seventh.

Rubens Barrichello completed the top eight in the other Honda.

Race Report: The sun beat down on the Istanbul Speed park with an ambient temperature of 35C and the track way up at 52C. Istanbul circuit

Michael Schumacher started the race from the dirty side of the grid in P2 and with the Renaults likely to start quickly it was going to be touch and go into the first corner between himself and Alonso starting from P3.

As the lights went out Polseitter Felipe Massa was quickly way and it looked like Alonso had got round the outside of Schumi to take second place into Turn 1. But the seven times World Champion was having none of it; recovered well and stuck his car up the inside of Alonso's forcing him out wide and to follow him through.

Giancarlo Fisichella - who was also trying to get up the inside at the same time got his front chopped across by Alonso. He had to take avoiding action to stop crashing into Alonso's rear tyre and spun right in front of the field losing his front wing in the process.

Behind there was the usual chaos when a front-runner spins in Turn 1. Everyone took avoiding action, not helped by Christian Klien who came in far too quickly and locked up, sliding straight through the mess. Raikkonen was forced out wide and was collected by Scott Speed's Toro Ross, Kimi's rear tyre getting punctured and shredded on the way back to the pits.

Nick Heidfeld, who's been particularly combative in starts this year lost out again when Fisi spun into him and had to return to the pits for a new nose while BMW team-mate Robert Kubica took advantage and moved up to 8th place.

The spin shuffled the order considerably, Mark Webber was through to 4th, Button stayed 5th and the amazing Nico Rosberg was up to 6th place followed by Tonio Liuzzi in 7th.

So as they came round at the end of the lap it was Massa leading from Schumacher, Alonso, Button, Webber, Rosberg, Liuzzi, Kubica, Klien depite his inept braking, de la Rosa in 10th and Coulthard in 11th.

Monteiro and Sato collided, with Monteiro out on the spot and Sato limping back to the pits for 15 laps of repairs before the Japanese was finally released onto the track again for some development time. There was a lot of carbon fibre avoidance in the frenetic opening two laps as the leaders had to take unusual lines to avoid hitting the fragments of various front wings littered around the track. For a few moments it looked like the Safety Car might have to be deployed, but Race Director Charlie Whiting sat on his hands and it continued with waved yellow flags warning of the various danger points. One of the Pit Babes

Raikkonen's opening lap with a flailing, shredded rear tyre had done a lot of damage to the rear of his car and though the McLaren team sent him on his way again, the car's handling was not there. The Finnish driver got as far as Turn 8 on Lap 3 and then headed for an abrupt halt in the tyre barrier.

Felipe Massa sprinted away from his team leader at the front while Robert Kubica continued his great form from Hungary by taking Nico Rosberg for 6th place on Lap 4 and two laps later he was onto Mark Webber's gearbox.

Tonio Liuzzi's unexpectedly high placing was soon under threat from a lot of fast cars and by Lap 5 both Pedro de la Rosa and Jarno Trulli were past him. The wide corners of the Istanbul Speed Park allow drivers to run through corners side by side and so there was terrific overtaking action all round the circuit as the "natural order" of cars tried to re-establish itself.

At the front there were four drivers in a race of their own. On Lap 7 it was:
1. Massa 1:29.665 (Fastest lap) 3.6 seconds clear of Schumacher
2. Schumacher 1:30.077 5.4 seconds ahead of Alonso
3. Alonso 1:30.109 3.1 seconds ahead of Button
4. Button 1:30.968
All the other drivers were lapping in the 1:32s.

Then, on Lap 8 the balance started to change as Schumacher started to lap quicker than his Ferrari team-mate. Schumi began to put in a series of fastest laps and what seemed like his inevitable move to the front had begun.
Lap 9 Schumacher Fastest lap 1:29.356
Lap 10 Schumacher Fastest lap 1:29.326
Lap 11 Schumacher Fastest lap 1:29.177
Lap 12 Schumacher Fastest lap 1:28.791
Now the top four were all putting in 1:29s while the rest of the field were doing 1:31s.

By Lap 13 the gap to Massa was two and a half seconds, while Alonso was just over eight seconds back. Then, we had the incident that was to change the course of the race with Tonio Liuzzi losing control of his car at the downhill exit of Turn 1. The Toro Rosso sat straddled across the kerb with the transmission locked and marshals unable to move it away.

It was almost instantly collected by Robert Kubica who ignored the significance of the waved yellow flags going into the braking zone and cleared the car by a few centimetres. The Safety Car was immediately deployed to assist with the car's removal and this prompted a mad scramble for the pits by the leading teams as the window of first round pit-stops was not too far away. The front six came in with sixth place Kubica being the last of the opportunist stoppers.

The protocol of the Ferrari team is to bring the leading car in first and let the cars queue up in the pitlane, because to let one of the cars go for another lap is to lose a big advantage. And so Michael Schumacher had to wait while the No.2 car of Massa was serviced before he collected his own fuel and tyres.

In the same time Alonso was able to come in for his pit-stop and exit in front of Schumacher. Jenson Button wasn't that far away from following him through. Such was the top four's advantage that they didn't lose their places in relation to the rest of the field and so as they lined up behind the safety Car they were still 1-4, though now with Schumacher in third place.

So the order on Lap 15 was: Massa, Alonso, Schumacher, Button, Rosberg, Klien, de la Rosa, Trulli, and Barrichello in 9th place.

On Lap 16 we were racing again and everyone expected Schumacher to close on Alonso and start pressuring him. It didn't happen. Instead Massa started opening the gap to Alonso, while amazingly Alonso started edging out the gap to Schumacher.

On Lap 19 Massa had a 2.4 gap to Alonso who was 2.3 seconds ahead of Schumacher. Further back there was a lot of wheel-to-wheel action with Fisichella taking Kubica, Barrichello dicing with Trulli and de la Rosa putting a move on Klien.

By Lap 23 Massa's gap was up to 4.2 seconds and Alonso had ground out an advantage of 2.8 seconds to Schumi. Sakon Yamamoto dropped his Super Aguri beyond the exit of Turn 1, but this time it was off the track and no need for the Safety Car.

Two laps later and Williams' reliability suffered a further blow when Nico Rosberg's engine lost water pressure and he cruised sadly back to the pits, giving up his 5th place in the process.

Despite impeccable manners from backmarkers the gap between Alonso and Schumacher was steadily growing. He may have had no mass damper and Michelin tyres but on Lap 26 he had gained a 3.5 second advantage. This was added to by a whole four seconds on Lap 28 when Schumacher ran wide on the monstrous double apex left-hander Turn 8.

The Ferrari scootered off the tarmac onto the run-off, and though Schumi went back onto the grass momentarily, he decided that the run-off would be a better traction option and rejoined the track further down the hill. Ultimately it cost him the race. Had he been just 3.5 seconds behind Alonso, he would have made the time up when Alonso pitted early for his second stop.

Pedro de la Rosa stopped for his solitary pit-stop at the end of Lap 28 and rejoined in 7th place.

Though the Renault team thought Schumacher's errant Lap 28 might be caused by tyre problems, he managed to keep Alonso pegged at around eight seconds for the next seven laps. Meanwhile at the front, Felipe Massa was getting on with the job of leading the race. The top four were putting in successive fastest laps and on Lap 35 we had the rare sight of the podium places each setting the fastest lap and each beating the guy in front of them on the track.

Lap 35.
1.Massa 1:28.426 Fastest Lap
2.Alonso 1:28.284 Fastest Lap
3.Schumacher 1:28.193 Fastest Lap

Alonso's lead over Schumacher was now 8.1 seconds, while Jenson Button in fourth was a massive 37.3 seconds ahead of Pedro de la Rosa. The front three were still giving it everything.

Lap 38
1.Massa 1:28.123 Fastest Lap
2.Alonso 1:28.245 Personal Best
3.Schumacher 1:28.355

At the end of Lap 39 Felipe Massa dived down pitlane for his second stop and he was immediately followed in by Alonso and Jenson Button. Alonso's gap to Schumacher was 7.2 seconds when he stopped. If Michael Schumacher could put the hammer down now - like we'd seen so many times in the past - then he might sneak ahead.

Lap 40 for Schumi was slow, but Lap 41 was a Fastest Lap of 1:28.106. The Ferrari driver was 0.6 quicker than Alonso in just one sector of the circuit and was enjoying a clear edge. But he had only fuel to take him to Lap 43 and after he pitted he was still behind the Renault, though now tantalisigly in sight.

What's more, the Ferrari was clearly much quicker than the Renault in the final stint, particularly under braking. Alonso's edge was when it came to the high speed corners and he would stretch out a lead in Turn 8 which would immediately get closed up by Schumi under braking in Turns 1, 7 and 12.

We were all set for a nail-biting finish. On Lap 45 with thirteen laps left Massa led by 10.8 seconds, Alonso was 0.4 ahead of Michael Schumacher. Two laps later and Massa led by 11.2 seconds, Alonso had a 0.3 gap and Button was a further 11.3 back. Alonso for Renault

The order on Lap 47 after the final pit-stops was: Massa, Alonso, Schumacher, Button, de la Rosa, Fisichella, Ralf Schumacher, Barrichello, Trulli, Webber and Coulthard in 11th.

On Lap 50 Alonso and Schumacher ran side by side into Turn 7, but Alonso made sure he had the important inside line and was able to edge out the gap again through Turn 8. He didn't look like he could resist Michael for long, though. Massa was by now thirteen seconds ahead of them both. The Ferrari team had a dilemma in that the longer Alonso stayed in front of Schumacher, the more obvious would be the team orders if Schumacher got in front.

Team orders are just as banned as mass damper systems in F1 and though teams may play covert team orders, this would be very overt.

However first Schumacher had to get past the Renault and Alonso was putting up fierce resistance, changing the engine settings all the way round the lap to keep his advantage. To his disadvantage the Renault engine unit was on its third race in order to give him a new power unit for Monza.

Through the final eight nail-biting laps the two World Championship contenders ran nose to tail, a pass likely at any second. Then, on Lap 54 Schumacher ran wide at Turn 8 giving Alonso a breathing space of 1.4 seconds. At the front Massa was doing his best to slow down in order to let his team leader through should it become necessary. He let his lead slide from thirteen seconds to seven in case the call came.

On the final lap Alonso drove the wiliest of lines, making absolutely sure that Schumacher couldn't make a lunge at the final corner and taking it very acutely, so much so that he compromised his speed onto the straight. In the drag to the finish line Schumacher almost got alongside and was just 0.1 behind at the finish.

Alonso had done the impossible and kept Schumacher at bay on a track (unlike Imola) where there are many overtaking points. An afternoon of damage limitation had ended with him extending his World Championship lead. "It was almost like winning," said a creditably deadpan Pat Symmonds for Renault.

Almost overlooked was the fact that an emotional Felipe Massa had just won his first career GP, a tremendous and deserved achievement. In Qualifying and the race Schumacher made two key mistakes, Massa made none.

"Thank you, thank you. Sorry about Michael, but thank-you!" yelled an excited Massa down his race radio.

Button came home in an untroubled fourth place, and though Fisichella was right behind 5th placed de la Rosa, he had to settle for 6th, while Ralf Schumacher resisted it a late race charge from Barrichello to take 7th ahead of the Brazilian's 8th.

It was a dramatic race and the perfect advertisement for the sport - two epic grands prix in a row can do nothing but good for F1.

FH

Result of the Turkish GP on Sunday August 27th. 2006

PositionDriverTeam TyresTimePoints
1.MASSAFerrariB1:28:51.08210
2.ALONSORenaultM+ 5.5758
3.M.SCHUMACHERFerrariB+ 5.6566
4.BUTTONHondaM+ 12.3345
5.DE LA ROSAMcLarenM+ 45.9084
6.FISICHELLARenaultM+ 46.5843
7.R. SCHUMACHERToyotaB+ 59.3372
8.BARRICHELLOHondaM+ 1:00.0341
9.TRULLIToyotaB+ 1 lap0
10.WEBBERWilliamsB+ 1 lap0
11.KLEINRed BullM+ 1 lap0
12.KUBICABMW-SauberM+ 1 lap0
13.SPEEDToro RossoM+ 1 lap0
14.HEIDFELDBMW-SauberM+ 2 laps0
Did not finish:-
15.COULTHARDRed BullM+ 3 laps0
16.ALBERSMidland F1B+ 12 laps0
17.SATOSuper AguriB+ 15 laps0
18.ROSBERGWilliamsB+ 33 laps0
19.YAMAMOTOSuper AguriB+ 34 laps0
20.LIUZZIToro RossoM+ 45 laps0
21.RAIKKONENMcLarenM+ 56 laps0
22.MONTEIROMidland F1B+ 58 laps0


Hungarian GP: Button Claims Maiden F1 Win Sunday August 06 2006

The conditions were very wet,
but soon the circuit dried out
causing many difficult tire change problems.
The teams that got it right were the most successful

Never let it be said again that the Hungarian GP is boring. Whilst F1's annual trip to Budapest is normally a precursor to a stolid procession of formation driving, the 2006 Hungarian GP provided enough riveting on-track drama to justify a claim to be the best grand prix in living memory as Jenson Button transformed water into champagne by claiming his maiden victory.

Unseasonal rainfall sprinkled stardust on a race about which no single adjective could provide sufficient enthusiasm. While Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso both snatched race-ending disaster from the jaws of a decisive break in the World Championship, and the hapless Kimi Raikkonen squandered yet another race-winning opportunity, Button breathed new life into a career that was in danger of disappearing in Alonso's slipstream.

Button's win occured in his 113th grand prix and was the first by a Brit since David Coulthard took victory three long years ago.

In a tale of never-ending drama, Sunday's narrative was driven by Alonso, Schumacher and the flawless Button.

This itself was an anomaly from the standard story of the Hungarian GP. Having each started outside of the top ten at a circuit where overtaking is normally impossible, a long and frustrating race should have lay in wait. Instead, the trio took full advantage of the sodden conditions to charge through the field on the opening laps.

It was Schumi who made the first thrust, swatting aside the midfield runners to hurtle into fifth by the second corner.

Alonso's response was instant and breathtaking. Almost swallowed up in a pack of cars at the opening corners, the World Champion swiftly passed the BMWs, forced the struggling Felipe Massa aside, and by the second lap had caught and overtaken team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella.

The coup de grace was still be applied, however.

Despite his fine start, Schumi's Bridgestone tyres were clearly inferior to the Spaniard's Michelins and within half a lap the Renault was all over the back of the Ferrari.

Their skirmish was compelling, niggily, and utterly one-sided. Such was Alonso's superiority that, having been squeezed on to the grass at the last corner of lap three, he simply responded by overtaking Schumi's flagging Ferrari around the outside as if he was lapping a backmarker.

It was the first occasion this season when the two World Championship protagonists had swapped positions on the track.

While Alonso disappeared into a ball of spray to chase down the McLarens of De la Rosa and Raikkonen, Schumi faced a battle of survival. Within five laps, the pair were separated by over 15 seconds.

All the while Button had been making his own unobtrusive way through the field. Honda team-mate Rubens Barrichello, slipping and sliding around the Hungaroring, had erred by choosing full wet tyres and the sight of the intermediate-shod Button sweeping past Schumacher to take fourth was an indication of just how catastrophic the Brazilian's selection had been.

Ferrari, too, were in disarray, stuck in motor racing's equivalent of being caught between a rock and a hard place. In conditions neither wet enough or dry enough for their tyres to match Michelin's, Schumi lacked pace on the full wet tyres, while the Bridgestone intermediates of team-mate Felipe Massa were so bereft of grip that he averaged one off-track excursion per lap before he eventually succumbed to reason and pitted for wets.

An afternoon that had already been reduced to an exercise in damage limitation was to be plunged into further into the mire when Schumi added injury to insult tagging the blameless Giancarlo Fisichella, ripping off his front wing. At the obligatory pit-stop for repairs, the German swapped full wets for intermediates as the rain began to ease to a patter.

Fisichella's joy was short-lived. Attempting to take full advantage on the empty track in front of him, the Italian pushed too hard and slide off the track into the barriers.

Drama was unfolding at a breathtaking rate. On lap 25, Alonso, now in third place, heaped indignity onto misfortune by lapping Schumacher.

On lap 26, race leader Kimi Raikkonen, in the process of being caught by team-mate Pedro de la Rosa, misjudged the speed of backmarker Tonio Liuzzi and spectacularly crashed into the Toro Rosso and out of the race.

With debris strewn across the track, the safety car was summoned. Its appearance gave fans a brief respite to a reflect on a race which had already undone the Williamses of Kimi Rosberg and Mark Webber, Red Bull's Christian Klien, while Renault called in Alonso for what was effectively a free pit-stop. The Renault now led, followed by Button and then De La Rosa.

The conditions and race fell into a brief lull at this stage, with Button reeling off fastest lap after fastest lap to reduce Alonso's lead to five seconds, Schumi producing another spin but holding on for eighth.

Lap 40 recorded the end of the lull as the name of Michael Schumacher appeared on the fastest laps chart again. Suddenly, the Ferrari/Bridgestone package was near its optimum. David Coulthard was little more than an observer as the rejuvenated Ferrari swept past the Red Bull.

With thirty laps remaining, Alonso's lead had been trimmed to a mere three seconds by Button and Schumi had recorded the first lap time below the 1min 30 mark. Nick Heidfeld, swallowed up at the second attempt, was his compatriot's next victim.

Slap-and-dash pit-stops temporarily delayed Schumi and Button's advances. Intriguingly, with dark clouds poised precariously over the track, neither team opted to change their drivers' tyres, both continuing on well-used intermediate tyres.

Entering the final quarter, the race was still fascinatingly poised.

Button returned to the track in second place and immediately responded by taking two seconds out of the Spaniard's lead. Renault reacted by calling in Alonso for dry tyres. It was to prove to be the pivotal moment of the race - and very possibly the World Championship.

Hampered by what was later to be confirmed as a drive-shaft failure, the Renault crawled around the first corner, and crashed in the second.

In an instant, Schumi was promoted to second and World Championship favourite and Button was leading the grand prix.

Jenson Button wins

The sun was shining on the Honda both literally and metaphorically. A final stop to switch to dry tes was navigated without undue bother and with ten laps remaining he held a comfortable lead of around 15 seconds.

The window for the intermediates tyres had slammed shut and Schumi was struggling again. He held off the fast-closing McLaren of Pedro de la Rosa with the usual combination of defiance, bravery and dubious manoeuvring before eventually giving way, but disaster was imminent.

The plucky Heidfeld had been in no mood to relinquish his position to Schumi barely twenty laps previously and, relishing the chance to take his revenge, swiftly homed in on the Ferrari. The result should have been a formality but, unwisely, Schumi sought to fight the inevitable with catastrophic consequences.

The pair tangled into the chicane as Heidfeld muscled past. The result was third place for the BMW-Sauber and a broken Ferrari suspension.

It was to be the penultimate act in a riveting drama.

For as Schumacher nursed his stricken car back to the pits, cursing a squandered opening to close the gap on Alonso, Button carefully completed the final miles to end the longest run without a British win in Formula One history.

BUT Robert Kubica was later disqualified because his car was found to be two kilograms underweight after his tires were worn down. Thus Felipe Massa was declared 7th. earning 2 him points instead of 1 and Michael Schumacher was declared 8th. earning him 1 point, so closing the gap on Fernando Alonso to only 10 points.

Result of the Hungarian GP on Sunday August 6th. 2006

PositionDriverTeam TyresTimePoints
1.BUTTONHondaM1:52:20.94110
2.DE LA ROSAMcLarenM+ 30.8378
3.HEIDFELDBMW-SauberM+ 43.8226
4.BARRICHELLOHondaM+ 45.2055
5.COULTHARDRed BullM+ 1 lap4
6.R. SCHUMACHERToyotaB+ 1 lap3
7.MASSAFerrariB+ 1 lap2
8.M.SCHUMACHERFerrariB+ 1 lap1
9.MONTEIROMidland F1B+ 3 laps0
10.ALBERSMidland F1B+ 3 laps0
11.SPEEDToro RossoM+ 4 laps0
12.TRULLIToyotaB+ 5 laps0
13.SATOSuper AguriB+ 5 laps0
Did not finish:-
14.ALONSORenaultM+ 19 laps0
15.RAIKKONENMcLarenM+ 44 laps0
16.LIUZZIToro RossoM+ 45 laps0
17.ROSBERGWilliamsB+ 51 laps0
18.FISICHELLARenaultM+ 52 laps0
19.KLEINRed BullM+ 63 laps0
20.WEBBERWilliamsB+ 68 laps0
21.YAMAMOTOSuper AguriB+ 70 laps0
Disqualified:-
22.KUBICABMW-SauberM+ 1 lap0


German GP: Schumi Applies Pressure With Strong Home Win Sunday July 30 2006

Schumacher wins at Hockenheim

Michael Schumacher scythed into Fernando Alonso's world championship lead with a brilliant victory in the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim.

Schumacher delighted his home crowd with a consummate display to hold off team-mate Felipe Massa by 0.7 seconds and win for the third consecutive race.

But a fine day for Ferrari, which included Bridgestone's 100th Formula One win, was made even better by Renault's lacklustre display.

Alonso struggled all weekend at Hockenheim and offered little in the race, finishing fifth to see his standings lead slashed to 11 points.

Kimi Raikkonen returned to the podium in third after starting from pole position, giving McLaren's engine partner Mercedes a pleasing result on home turf.

Jenson Button finally returned to form with fourth place to end his five-race points drought, although the Honda driver just missed a podium when he was overtaken by Raikkonen with nine laps to go.

Giancarlo Fisichella was sixth for Renault, finishing under pressure from Toyota's Jarno Trulli, who fought from the back of the grid to seventh. Christian Klien took the last point for Red Bull.

Race Report: The European heatwave has produced an almost unbroken sequence of hot races and the German GP was no exception as the cars left the grid on the parade lap it was unbroken sunshine and 33C ambient with 48C on the track.

Raikkonen led the field round after his surprise Saturday pole. When the lights went out Raikkonen was swiftly away - though given the rumour that he only had 11 laps of fuel on board this was no surprise. Behind him both Ferraris slotted into position, Felipe Massa covering Schumacher's rear. However it was the Renaults who were making major moves, with Alonso immediately past Barrichello in P6 and Button starting from P4. By the short distance to Turn 1 Fisichella had gone round the outside of Button and Alonso up the inside.

So as they sped towards Turn 2 the Renaults were up into 4th and 5th from P5 and P7. Further back Rubens Barrichello got another dreadful start.

As the cars headed for the hairpin on the first lap the field spread wide on the straight. Alonso clearly wasn't expecting what happened next. Jenson Button launched his car up the inside in a well-judged move that caught Fernando off guard. Button was back into 5th and Alonso was lucky to keep hold of 6th as Pedro de la Rosa tried to outdrag him to the next turn.

Further back Ralf Schumacher ruined what could have been a great afternoon for Toyota by braking too late and sliding into David Coulthard's Red Bull. The Scotsman's car was bumped onto his two outside wheels and lost five or six places as a result. It necessitated a return to the pits for Scumacher while Coulthard continued, though now behind his team-mate.

Nico Rosberg exited the race at the right-hand turn leading into the Stadium complex, his car getting into a wobble as he passed a Midland and sweeping off the track into the barrers

Both BMW-Saubers were also involved in first lap contact. Heidfeld steamed down the inside going into Turn 2 and was tapped at the rear giving him a puncture. Villeneuve needed a new nose and so the BMW pit became a very busy place all of a sudden.

As the cars crossed the line at the end of the first lap the order was: Raikkonen, Schumacher, Massa, Fisichella, Button, Alonso, de la Rosa, Webber, Barrichello and Klien in P10. Coulthard had dropped to 14th place. On Lap 2 Button continued his progress by passing Fisichella for 4th place. A lap later and the McLaren of de la Rosa was cruising to a stop with no engine after what Pedro thought was an electrics problem cut the power suddenly.

In the opening laps the times from the two Renaults made it clear that they would be no match for the Ferraris. By Lap 5 Alonso was already 12.5 seconds behind leader Raikkonen who was opening up a small gap to Schumacher. What was worse for Alonso was that he was being dropped by 5th placed Fisichella.

On Lap 8 Raikkonen had a 3.1 second lead over Michael Schumacher, while Fisi was putting in a 1:17.293 and Alonso a 1:18.316. To put this in perspective, a lap later and Michael Schumacher put in the Fastest Lap with a 1:16.455, Raikkonen put in a 1:16.696 and Alonso a 1:19.170!

However Raikkonen's afternoon soon changed as he had to duck into the pits at the end of Lap 10 for more fuel. The post-Qualifying report from the Technical Delegate had stated that McLaren had opted to change their fuel sensors and it was believed that Raikkonen's low fuel was a mistake not a headline-grabbing stunt to grab pole in front of the massed Mercedes employees in the Merc grandstand.

Raikkonen wouldn't have done so badly out of this unexpectedly early stop but he had a small three-stop load of fuel inserted but was still stopped for 15 seconds while mechanics worked on a stuck right rear tyre. He rejoined behind Barrichello in 8th place.

By Lap 12 Alonso was a massive 6.1 seconds behind Fisichella and only 2.6 in front of Mark Webber who was closing in on the World Champion. He had Barrichello and the stopped-once Raikkonen on his tail.

Before Webber could get onto the back of Alonso, Rubens slipped up the inside of the Williams driver into the hairpin and took 6th place off him. The Honda driver was immediately up with Alonso and dragging with him Webber and Raikkonen.

However at the end of Lap 18 Rubens had to pit. The pit-stop went according to plan, but no sooner was the car back out on track than it was on fire and inevitable retirement. The other Honda, piloted by Button, had stopped at the end of Lap 16 and came out behind Kimi Raikkonen, but soon passed him on track to be in an effective third place once the pit-stops had played out.

In actual third place - once the Renaults had stopped on Laps 19 and 20 - was Mark Webber who was having a storming race, putting in a series of Personal Best lap times. Armed with the Bridgestone tyre the Williams team were looking at a big points haul in Germany.

The Ferraris pitted and rejoined in order - P1 and P2, and though Michael Schumacher was only just in front of Felipe Massa nobody got particularly excited. By this stage they had an effective half minute lead over the next car and the race for them was down to reliability. All the action would be behind them with the two Renaults, a Honda, a McLaren and a Williams battling it out for third to seventh places.

On Lap 22 the Feraris were lapping in the 1:16s and everyone else was lapping in the 1:18s, but by Lap 24 they had started to cool the place into the 1:17s.

Mark Webber put in six successive PB times before stopping at the end of Lap 28. Meanwhile Jarno Trulli, who had been making good progress after starting from 20th on the grid, made his first pit-stop and rejoined just in front of team-mate Ralf Schumacher in 9th place.

And so the positions on Lap 31 after the first round of pit-stops were Michael Schumacher, Massa, Button, Fisichella, Webber, Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen (who had actually stopped twice now), Klien, Trulli, Coulthard.

At the end of Lap 33 Jacques Villeneuve slammed his BMW-Sauber into the barriers outside the final turn. Nick Heidfeld had come in on Lap 11 after his opening lap puncture had caused too much damage for his car to continue.

On Lap 37 Ralf Schumacher's afternoon got even worse. Apart from causing an accident on Lap 1 and taking his front wing off, after his pit-stop he was hauled in for speeding in the pitlane.

At this stage of the race it looked as though Button had a Honda podium sewn up and all the battles would be for 4th. On Lap 37 4th place Fisichella led Mark Webber by 1.4 seconds, Webber was 2.4 seconds in front of Alonso who was 3.9 seconds in front of Raikkonen in 7th place.

However Fisichella suddenly started lapping in the 1:19s allowing Webber to close right up and pass him fairly effortlessly on Lap 39. Fisi pitted for the second time on Lap 40 and Alonso was able to take his team-mate's place through the pit-stops. However Raikkonen used the opportunity to close right up on Alonso.

Button pitted from third place on Lap 41 when he was 12.3 seconds ahead of fourth place Mark Webber. Webber pitted at the end of Lap 49 at which point the order was: Schumacher, from Massa in a race of their own, Raikkonen in third (with one stop still to go), Button, Trulli (with one stop still to go) Webber, Alonso, Fisichella and Klien.

When the strategy panned out Button would be left in P3, but he needed to keep his defecit to Raikkonen constant. On Lap 52 he was twelve seconds behind the McLaren and 4.4 seconds in front of Webber. However the Honda was suddenly running very slow, only able to put in mid 1:18s or worse.

On Lap 55 Raikkonen pitted and rejoined just in front of Webber. The McLaren exited the pitlane right in front of the Williams and they ran side by side into Turn 2, but crucially Kimi had the inside line and took 4th place. Great racing to watch.

The Mclaren soon reduced the defecit to Button's Honda and by Lap 56 was right on his tail thanks to the fastest middle sector of anyone in the race.

On Lap 58 the two cars ran side by side through the hairpin and the McLaren simply outdragged the Honda on the run up to the next turn - the same way that Raikkonen had passed Trulli at Magny Cours.

On the same lap Mark Webber suddenly slowed from 5th place, his Cosworth engine sounding terminal. He managed to get it back to the pits just before it expired. The newly-announced Williams/Toyota engine deal for 2007 cannot com soon enough for a team with the second worst reliability record on the grid.

This unexpectedly promoted Alonso into 5th place and suddenly Fernando had a sniff of 4th place because the Honda was fading so badly. On Lap 28 Button did a 1:19.486 and Alonso a 1:18.213

On Lap 60 (of 67) the gap was down to 6.7 seconds and closing at 1.2 - 1.5 seconds a lap. Alonso could reel him in before the flag. But on Lap 61 the Renault went too fast into the first right-hander into the Stadium complex and ran onto the grass. Luckily he had Fisichella behind him to protect him from the rapidly closing Jarno Trulli in 7th place.

Fifth place was as high as he would get and though the gap to Button was now 9.3 seconds and he reduced it before the line, there was no realistic chance of taking 4th place. Fisichella acted as Alonso's tailgunner to the line.

Michael Schumacher duly took the win in front of a severely reduced Hockenheim crowd - sections of the stadium looked embarrassingly empty - followed home by Felipe Massa. If the previous two wins had been easy, this was even easier. The Bridgestone tyre had a clear advantage as witnessed by Mark Webber's pace and Trulli's progress to 7th place from virtually last on the grid.

Kimi Raikkonen took third despite his disastrous first pit-stop, Button hung on for 4th place while Alonso had to settle for 5th. It could have been a lot worse for him. Fisichella shadowed him to the line in 6th ahead of Trulli 7th and a distant Christian Klien in 8th place. Despite four tours down the pitlane Ralf Schumacher was 9th. Starting from 8th on the grid, this was an afternoon in which his Bridgestone-shod Toyota should have been on the podium.

Schumacher's 89th win, his 4th German GP victory was more significant for reducing the Championship lead of Alonso to 11 points. If he wins all the remaining races now, he will be World Champion.

Result of the German GP at Hockenheim on Sunday July 30th. 2006

PositionDriverTeam TyresTimePoints
1.M.SCHUMACHERFerrariB1:27:51.69310
2.MASSAFerrariB+ 0.7208
3.RAIKKONENMcLarenM+ 13.2066
4.BUTTONHondaM+ 18.8985
5.ALONSORenaultM+ 23.7074
6.FISICHELLARenaultM+ 24.8143
7.TRULLIToyotaB+ 26.5442
8.KLEINRed BullM+ 48.1311
9.R. SCHUMACHERToyotaB+ 1:00.3510
10.LIUZZIToro RossoM+ 1 lap0
11.COULTHARDRed BullM+ 1 lap0
12.SPEEDToro RossoM+ 1 lap0
13.ALBERSMidland F1B+ 1 lap0
14.MONTEIROMidland F1B+ 1 lap0
Did not finish:-
15.WEBBERWilliamsB+ 9 laps0
16.SATOSuper AguriB+ 30 laps0
17.VILLENEUVEBMW-SauberM+ 35 laps0
18.BARRICHELLOHondaM+ 48 laps0
19.HEIDFELDBMW-SauberM+ 58 laps0
20.DE LA ROSAMcLarenM+ 64 laps0
21.YAMAMOTOSuper AguriB+ 65 laps0
22.ROSBERGWilliamsB+ 66 laps0


So that's it - Schumacher moves up to 89 points and now trails Alonso by only eleven.
If Schumacher wins every race from here on in he will win the championship - even if Alonso finishes every one second.
There are 7 more races in the series.

French GP Report: Record Eighth Win For Schumi Sunday July 16 2006

M. Schumacher, Ferrari, first; Alonzo. Renault, second

Michael Schumacher bolstered his World Championship ambitions with a dominant victory in the French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours.

The Ferrari driver disappointed most of the capacity 84,000 crowd with a masterful display, controlling the race from pole position.

Schumacher took the flag 10.1 seconds clear to become the first driver to win a grand prix eight times and further trim Fernando Alonso's championship lead.

Felipe Massa finished third behind Fernando Alonso, having led him for most of the race. Ralf Schumacher continued Toyota's resurgence with a superb fourth place while McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen took fifth place. It was another woeful race for the Honda team who retired both cars before the finish. Race Report The ambient temperature was 34C and the track at 47C as they lined up for yet another sun-drenched start in 2006. Takuma Sato looked like he was having trouble finding any kind of gear as he started the parade lap and would take no part in the race.

As the lights went out it was assumed that Fernando Alonso, starting from 3rd on the grid, would very likely get the jump on Felipe Massa in 2nd as they headed into the first two high-speed corners.

Michael Schumacher was easily away into the lead from pole and as the cars streamed towards Golf and Estoril, Alonso and Massa ran side by side with the Renault on the inside. But it was Alonso who braked first, allowing Massa to run second and as the Brazilian's Ferrari headed into the braking zone for the Adelaide hairpin he blocked the inside line forcing Alonso onto the outside line.

There was no way round the outside and it almost opened the door for Jarno Trulli to snatch third place for Toyota. It was perfect driving from Felipe Massa, under pressure, and it immediately changed the Renault team's strategy for the race. (Though we were yet to find this out).

Behind them there was little shuffling of the order, though Mark Webber managed to snatch 8th place from 10th on the grid, Juan-Pablo Montoya's replacement Pedro de la Rosa going backwards.

As they crossed the line at the end of the opening tour it was Michael Schumacher leading from Massa, Alonso, Trulli, Ralf Schumacher, Raikkonen, Fisichella, Webber, de la Rosa and Heidfeld.

Immediately Schumacher set about opening up a gap to his team-mate, though none of the front three were dawdling. Each car was quick in one of the sectors and on Lap 4 we got the unique sight of Massa setting the fastest time (purple sector) for Sector 1, Alonso the fastest for Sector 2 and Schumacher the fastest in Sector 3.

Massa's time was the most significant because his speed down to the Adelaide hairpin meant that Alonso wasn't able to get close enough to overtake.

By Lap 6 Schumacher had opened a gap of 3.2 seconds and though Alonso was able to take a serious look down the inside of Massa into the Adelaide hairpin on Lap 7, that was the closest he would get to overtaking him. Gradually, little by little, the No.2 Ferrari began to pull away from the Renault and on Lap 14, the Brazilian had inched it out to 1.5 seconds.

In front of him Michael Schumacher engaged in short spurts of speed, putting in one fast lap and then easing off the pace for a few laps, before renewing his efforts. Thus we got Fastest Laps for Michael on Lap 5, Lap 8, Lap 11 and then on Lap 14 he reduced it to 1:17.581, giving himself a 6.2 second gap to Massa.

Behind the front three there was no overtaking as everyone settled in to let the strategy work itself out. Tiago Monteiro's hydraulics failed on Lap 12, sending the Midland MF1 into a spin and launching it over the kerbs with the car at 45 degrees in the air before thumping down again.

Pedro de la Rosa was very frustrated to have ended up behind the slower car of Mark Webber but despite several 'looks' into the Adelaide hairpin, could find no way past.

By the end of Lap 16 it was time for the first pit-stops and Felipe Massa came in first prompting a cascade of drivers to follow suit. The likely strategy was that all the front-runners would be on three-stoppers, thanks to the short pitlane at Magny Cours, while some of the mid-grid cars would run two stops.

Alonso, Raikkonen, de la Rosa, Fisichella and Michael Schumacher all came in for their first stops between Laps 16 and 18, leaving the two Toyotas leading the race.

It then became apparent that both leader Jarno Trulli and P2 Ralf Schumacher were only going to be stopping twice and that armed with the better- performing Bridgestone tyre, they could be serious contenders for podiums.

Trulli's stop when it came on Lap 20 was uneventful, but a problem on the left rear tyre of Ralf's Toyota, on Lap 22, kept him stationary for 17.2 seconds.

So the positions on Lap 23 were Michael Schumacher, 6.1 seconds clear of Felipe Massa, who was 5.0 seconds in front of Fernando Alonso, who had 4.1 seconds on Jarno Trulli in 4th place. Jarno was 2.8 seconds ahead of Kimi Raikkonen in 6th. Giancarlo Fisichella was 7th ahead of Ralf who had fallen back to 8th place.

Heidfeld in 8th, Coulthard in 9th and Speed in 10th had yet to stop. After the pit-stops, though, Trulli began to fall away from Fernando Alonso and fell into the clutches of Kimi Raikkonen.

On Lap 27, the McLaren-Mercedes tried the outside route around Trulli going into Adelaide, could find no way past, ducked up the inside and then outdragged the Toyota down to the next turn. The fact that Kimi soon pulled out a three second gap was significant, Trulli reporting that the Toyota engine suffered a "drop off" after the first pit-stops.

The gaps between the front four cars remained fairly static until Raikkonen initiated the second round of pit-stops at the end of Lap 33, rejoining in P7. Massa followed soon after.

All eyes turned to Fernando Alonso who was hurling his Renault over the Magny Cours kerbs trying to wring the maximum speed out of it. He was frustrated at being delayed by lapping 14th, 15th and 16th and seemed to get upset when 14th place Jenson Button didn't get out of the way exactly when he wanted, the Spaniard making a futile hand gesture on the pit straight, more for the benefit of race control than anyone else.

By Lap 37 he was clear and when Michael Schumacher pitted from the lead at the end of Lap 38 the Ferrari emerged just behind (the now leading) Alonso with a pit-stop in hand. Even though there was no need to get in front of the Renault, Michael had a couple of looks into Adelaide and the subsequent corner, trying to make the most of the traction from his newer tyres.

At the same time as this was happening, replays showed a wild spin from Mark Webber brought on by his rear tyre delaminating after coming into contact with his Williams bodywork. Webbo pitted, went out again, came in again and then the team switched the engine off before taking a good look at the problem. Eventually they sent him back out on track a long way down, more to see if they could cure the problem than anything else.

Jarno Trulli pitted for the second time on Lap 39, but a lap later was driving straight into the garage, the problem - fading brakes, the same problem that Ralf had retired with at Indianapolis the race before.

The most significant event of the race occurred on Lap 42 when race leader Fernando Alonso came in for his second pit-stop. The fact that he stopped for nine and a half seconds worth of fuel indicated that Renault had switched him from a three-stopper to a two-stopper.

Rival teams watch each others' fuel stops closely to calculate when they'll be stopping next and by Lap 46 the message had got through to Michael Schumacher who put in the fastest lap of the race with a 1:17.111.

On Lap 47 the order and gaps were: Schumacher - 17.7 - Massa - 10.3 - Alonso - 6.1 - Raikkonen - 16.5 - Ralf Schumacher (who had completed his final pit-stop). At this stage it was still uncertain whether Alonso would have to pit again and Raikkonen was quickly catching him up. However it was less of a chase of Alonso's third place and more of a bid to stay in front of Ralf Schumacher.

Massa and Raikkonen both pitted at the end of Lap 53 and Raikkonen emerged behind Ralf Schumacher's Toyota while Massa had fallen behind Alonso. Given the fact that Massa had much fresher rubber than Alonso it was surprising that he was unable to make any impression, the gap staying at around six seconds until Lap 63 when Alonso started to edge it out. As the laps ebbed away it became quite clear what the teams had already known, that Alonso was only stopping twice.

Michael Schumacher pitted on Lap 55 for the luxury of new tyres and continued serenely to the finish without pushing his car at all.

In fact such was the late pace of the Renault that as the cars crossed the finishing line Alonso was closer to Schumacher than he was to Massa in third. Ralf Schumacher took a well-deserved fourth place easily managing to hold off Kimi Raikkonen's McLaren in fifth. Giancarlo Fisichella's Renault took sixth place, having held up Ralf Schumacher for a lot of the early part of the race. Pedro de la Rosa took seventh on his return to F1, while Nick Heidfeld was the first of the lapped runners in eighth place.

Britain's David Coulthard finished just 3.2 seconds shy of the points positions in ninth.

Michael Schumacher became the first man ever to win a race eight times, another fantastic milestone in his driving career. However at the press conference he looked like a man who would have swapped the record to have his team-mate and his brother in second and third positions and close the World Championship gap just a little quicker.

Renault are expecting to introduce a new aero and engine step at the next race in Hockenheim. It can't come a moment too soon.

FH

Result of the French GP at Magny-Cours on Sunday July 16th. 2006

PositionDriverTeam TyresTimePoints
1.M.SCHUMACHERFerrariB1:32:07.80310
2.ALONSORenaultM+10.1318
3.MASSAFerrariB+12.5466
4.R. SCHUMACHERToyotaB+27.2125
5.RAIKKONENMcLarenM+33.0064
6.FISICHELLARenaultM+45.2653
7.DE LA ROSAMcLarenM+49.4072
8.HEIDFELDBMW-SauberM+ 1 lap1
9.COULTHARDRed BullM+ 1 lap0
10.SPEEDToro RossoM+ 1 lap0
11.VILLENEUVEBMW-SauberM+ 1 lap0
12.KLEINRed BullM+ 1 lap0
13.LIUZZIToro RossoM+ 1 lap0
14.ROSBERGWilliamsB+ 2 laps0
15.ALBERSMidland F1B+ 2 laps0
16.MONTAGNYSuper AguriB+ 3 laps0
Did not finish:-
17.BUTTONHondaMlap 620
18.WEBBERWilliamsBlap 600
19.TRULLIToyotaBlap 400
20.BARRICHELLOHondaMlap 200
21.MONTEIROMidland F1Blap 110
22.SATOSuper AguriBlap 10


Drivers' Standings after the French GP at Magny-Cours on Sunday July 16th. 2006

DriverNationalityTeam Points
Fernando AlonsoSpainRenault96
Michael SchumacherGermanyFerrari79
Giancarlo FisichellaItalyRenault46
Kimi RaikkonenFinlandMclaren Mercedes43
Felipe MassaBrazilFerrari42
Juan Pablo MontoyaColombiaMclaren Mercedes26
Jenson ButtonGreat BritainHonda16
Rubens BarrichelloBrazilHonda16
Nick HeidfieldGermanyBMW-Sauber13
Ralf SchumacherGermanyToyota13
David CoulthardGreat BritainRed Bull10
Jarno TrulliItalyToyota8
Jacques VilleneuveCanadaBMW-Sauber7
Mark WebberAustraliaWilliams BMW6
Nico RosbergGermanyWilliams BMW4
Pedro de la RosaItalyMclaren Mercedes2
Christian KleinAustriaRed Bull1
Vitantonio LiuzziItalyToro Rosso1
Christijan AlbersHollandMidland F10
Franck MontagnyItalySuper Aguri0
Scott SpeedItalyToro Rosso0
Yugi IdeJapanSuper Aguri0
Tiago MonteiroPortugalMidland F10
Takuma SatoJapanHonda0


The gap between M. Schumacher and Alonso is now 17 points. There are 8 more races in the 2006 season.
This means that, even if M. Schumacher wins all of the remaining 8 races and Alonso comes second,
the gap will be one point and Alonso will win the championship.

US GP Report: Schumi closes gap to Alonso Sunday July 02 2006

Schumacher and Massa, 1st and 2nd for Ferrari

Michael Schumacher has breathed new life into the World Championship race by winning the U.S. GP, while the Ferrari team scored their first 1-2 of the season.

Fernando Alonso finished fifth in an ill-handling Renault with team-mate Ginacarlo Fisichella taking third. In between them, Jarno Trulli drove a memorable race from 22nd on the grid to take fourth position.

Alonso had lost just six points in the first nine races, yet at the USGP he doubled that total in just one race.

Race report:The track temperatures on the official gauge were fluctuating tremendously before the start, the figure ranging between 38C and 45C, but by the end of the race they had risen to a Bridgestone-friendly 56C.

As the lights went out Felipe Massa got a much better start than Michael Schumacher and headed up the inside for the lead into Turn 1, Michael Schumacher fell into line behind him, but clearly wasn't expecting the fast-starting Fernando Alonso to drive round the outside of him into the turn.

As expected both Hondas had got off the line poorly and Alonso was immediately past Rubens Barrichello and drove round the outside of Fisichella from P5 on the grid.

Alonso and Schumacher ran wheel to wheel through Turns 1 and 2, but the Ferrari emerged in front. Further back there were two separate accidents as cars tried to make up too many places at once.

One of the worst culprits was Nick Heidfeld in the BMW-Sauber who closed in on Jenson Button from a tight line on the inside going into Turn 2. As the BMW came across at the Honda from one side Montoya was trying to squeeze past him from the other side. Montoya was then caught out by Raikkonen braking slightly early. JPM ran into the back of his team-mate veered inside and hit Button, who moved out and launched Heidfeld into a 540 degree roll. Montoya then bumped Scott Speed who was almost collected by Raikkonen as well who was spun round by Montoya's impact. All of them except Button were out on the spot.

Further back Mark Webber got caught up with a back-of-the grid melee which took out the Williams driver, Christian Klien's Red Bull and Franck Montagny in the Super Aguri. So at the end of Lap 1 we had a Safety Car and seven cars out on the spot, plus Button's Honda with low water pressure and soon to expire.

Expensive crash wreckage

At the end of Lap 1 the order behind the Safety Car was Massa, Schumacher, Alonso, Fisichella, Barrichello, Villeneuve, Ralf Schumacher, Rosberg (who started from 21st having missed a weighbridge check in Qualifying) and Monteiro in 9th. Takuma Sato was an amazing 11th. Though not so amazing when you consider eight cars had gone from in front of him.

Heidfeld and Speed were both very casual about their exits, the German noting, "It's the first flip I ever had in a car." Homeboy Scott Speed took his early exit extraordinarily well. "At the end of the day that's motorsport," he said cheerfully.

The Safety Car came in at the end of Lap 6 and we were racing again, with Massa pulling out a huge advantage as he spotted the Safety Car peeling off left and not diving down the pitlane.

Immediately on the re-start Takuma Sato tried to overtake Tiago Monteiro going into Turn 1 and was a long way short of getting inside the Portuguese driver. So as they made the turn, Monteiro turned in allowing no space for the already-committed Sato and there was a huge impact.

It was reminiscent of the old days of Sato lunging at Rubens Barrichello's Ferrari from too far back. Though both cars hobbled back to the pits and tried to continue, there was too much damage for either to continue.

So at the end of Lap 7 we had 10 cars out from the 22 that started the race. After the restart it was clear that Alonso was holding his team-mate up, and for a couple of laps he had to take a defensive line into Turn 1 to keep Fisichella at bay.

Jarno Trulli had enjoyed a huge bonus with all the cars going out and by Lap 9 had made his way up to 9th place ahead of David Coulthard in 10th.

At the front, the two Ferraris began to edge out a gap, and though Schumi followed Massa at 0.7 seconds on Lap 12, he let the gap go out to over a second, probably because the engine temperatures were climbing as a result of following so closely.

On Lap 15 Alonso decided not to resist Fisichella any longer and simply let his team-mate go by him. At that stage the gaps between drivers were: Massa 1.3 Schumi 7.2 Fisichella 0.6 Alonso. But Fisi would soon enlarge that slight advantage, as Alonso ran onto the grass, reporting huge oversteer on his car.

In clear air Fisichella managed to put in the fastest lap of the race so far, a 1:13.155 on Lap 20, not bad considering the distance Ferrari had been ahead during Qualifying. Two laps later, though, he was running 1:14s laps again.

On Lap 24 Villeneuve parked his BMW-Sauber at the side of the track, retiring from 7th place. Now we had only 11 runners.

At the end of Lap 24 Rubens Barrichello was the first of the two-stoppers to pit. His team-mate had been scheduled to make only one stop, which in retrospect might have been a better strategy.

On Lap 25 the gap between Massa in the lead to Alonso in fourth place was 16.4 seconds and there looked to be no way back for the Renault driver. It was just a question of hanging on for 3rd or 4th place depending on what fuel load he had on board.

Fisi pitted from third place at the end of Lap 29 as Felipe Massa reduced the Fastest lap to 1:12.954. Michael Schumacher pitted at the same time as Fisi. At the end of Lap 30 Felipe Massa pitted too, and though he was stationary for less time than Schumi and had been just over a second ahead, he came out behind Schumacher. Analysis of the lap times showed that Massa, after setting the fastest lap of the race, dawdled in for his pit-stop. A very discreet way of getting Michael ahead. More of the crash

Alonso led for one lap before pitting himself at the end of Lap 31. However there was now a serious threat emerging to his third or fourth place. Jarno Trulli had still not stopped on Lap 34 out of 73 and looked like he was going for one stop. Armed with the heat-loving Bridgestones, the Toyota was working well. Also, Fisi was getting too far ahead to be asked to move over.

On Lap 35 the order, with time gaps was: Schumacher 2.5 Massa 3.0 Trulli (not pitted yet) 6.4 Fisichella 7.2 Alonso 2.1 Ralf Schumacher 5.9 Barrichello in 7th. Rosberg in 8th, Coulthard in 9th and Liuzzi in 10th had all not stopped. Liuzzi would get fed up looking at the Scot's rear wing for most of the race, however there was nothing he could do as the Red Bull was far better on brakes going into Turn 1.

On Lap 37 Coulthard looked to be catching Rosberg, Ralf was gaining ground on Alonso and Jarno was actually catching Felipe Massa. Trulli stopped his Toyota at the end of Lap 39 and would then run till the finish.

Albers was having gear selection problem in the surviving Midland and retired his car on Lap 41. So now there were ten cars left.

Ralf had reduced the gap to Alonso to 1.4 seconds on Lap 42 and with the advantage of Bridgestone tyres it looked like Fernando's 4th place would slip to 5th and when the strategy panned out with Trulli, to 6th (because Jarno was only ten seconds behind and would not have to stop again).

At the front the two Ferraris continued serenely, Michael edging out a respectable gap to his team-mate without over-stressing his engine. The real battle was for 8th, 9th and 10th between Rosberg, Coulthard and Liuzzi. Liuzzi pitted on Lap 40 for his one and only time, Rosberg at the end of Lap 43 but managed to stay ahead of Liuzzi. DC was in front of both of them on track but with his pit-stop still to come he was lapping in the mid-1:15s which was slower than the other two.

It looked like the Scot would fall behind both of them when he finally pitted a massive 47 laps into the race. However as he exited the high-speed Indy pitlane Rosberg was still gunning it down the straight. They arrived at Turn 1 almost together and went through side-by side. Going into Turn 2 Rosberg opted for caution after his Canadian prang the week before and DC had got away with it (though he almost spun it away in Turn 2). He was up into 8th with wheel-to-wheel heroics late in the race, just like last week.

Rubens was the first of the two-stoppers in for a second stop on Lap 49 and rejoined in 7th place. All the front-runners took their stops between Lap 53 and Lap 55. Fisichella just about managed to stay in front of Jarno Trulli who moved in front of both Alonso and team-mate Ralf Schumacher. Ralf easily cleared Fernando Alonso who was slow into his pitbox and slow away, as though here was some kind of problem. So now Fernando was a disatrous 6th.

On new tyres Michael set the fastest lap of the race on Lap 56 with a 1:12.719. A lap later and Tonio Liuzzi finally got his Toro Rosso inside Nico Rosberg's Williams for 9th place.

So on Lap 58 of the 73 lap race it was: Michael Schumacher 12.5 seconds clear of Massa in second. The Brazilian had 12.8 seconds on Fisichella who had a stable 3.4 seconds on Trulli in 4th. Jarno was 8.7 seconds ahead of Ralf who led Alonso by 4.4 seconds, however 7th place Barrichello was only 2.9 seconds behind the Renault. DC was 8th, Liuzzi 9th and Rosberg 10th. They were the only runners.

At the front, the Ferraris could afford to run very cautiously in the 1:14s while there were no late race battles in prospect as all the gaps were stable. However on Lap 64 Ralf Schumacher came into the pits and drove straight into the Toyota garage handing 5th place to Alonso.

Ralf reported that his brake pedal had gone long. Given that he had 60 seconds on 8th place Coulthard it was surprising that he didn't try to drive round it as his lap times hadn't fallen off significantly before he came in, and there were few cars left in the field to trip over him (unlike Canada).

Ralf's demise promoted Liuzzi to 8th which he maintained to the flag, Coulthard took 7th making his all-time total 509 points. Rubens, despite being urged to push and catch Alonso, didn't get anywhere near him as Alonso stuck in some 1:13s laps. Rubens took 6th, Alonso 5th and Jarno Trulli 4th. Fisichella outscored Alonso for only the second time this season with third place, while Schumi came home for his 87th win and Massa for his highest ever finish, second place

Though Michael hugged Massa in Parc Ferme for what was a great bounce-back win for the team, he should really have been hugging the Bridgestone guys. Was this a Renault blip or do we have game on...?

Result of the US GP on Sunday July 2nd. 2006

PositionDriverTeam TyresTimePoints
1.M.SCHUMACHERFerrariB1:34:35.19910
2.MASSAFerrariB+ 7.9848
3.FISICHELLARenaultM+ 16.5956
4.TRULLIToyotaB+ 23.6045
5.ALONSORenaultM+ 28.4104
6.BARRICHELLOHondaM+ 36.5163
7.COULTHARDRed BullM+ 1 lap2
8.LIUZZIToro RossoM+ 1 lap1
9.ROSBERGWilliamsB+ 1 lap0
Did not finish:-
10.R. SCHUMACHERToyotaB+ 10 laps0
11.ALBERSMidland F1B+ 36 laps0
12.VILLENEUVEBMW-SauberM+ 50 laps0
13.MONTEIROMidland F1B+ 62 laps0
14.SATOSuper AguriB+ 67 laps0
15.BUTTONHondaM+ 70 laps0
16.RAIKKONENMcLarenM+ 73 laps0
17.HEIDFELDBMW-SauberM+ 73 laps0
18.MONTOYAMcLarenM+ 73 laps0
19.WEBBERWilliamsB+ 73 laps0
20.SPEEDToro RossoM+ 73 laps0
21.KLEINRed BullM+ 73 laps0
22.MONTAGNYSuper AguriB+ 73 laps0


Canadian GP: Alonso keeps his cool to win Sunday June 25 2006

Alonso wins

Fernando Alonso kept his cool in the Montreal heat to win the Canadian Grand Prix for his fourth consecutive victory to bring a second world championship inexorably closer.

The Spaniard survived spirited early pressure from McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen to complete a pole-to-flag win for the fourth race in succession, his sixth triumph of the season.

Alonso held off the chasing pack and crossed the line 2.1 seconds ahead of Michael Schumacher to stretch his championship lead to 25 points.

Schumacher earned an unexpected extra two points when Raikkonen ran wide on the penultimate lap, dropping to third after a late Safety Car had concertinaed the field

Giancarlo Fisichella overcame a drive through penalty to take fourth for Renault.

Race Report: The ambient temperature was three degrees higher than Qualifying on Saturday, but the track was very much the same as the cars lined up for the start of the Canadian GP at the Isle Notre Dame - 29C ambient and 48C track.

The parade lap was unusual in that P5 on the grid, Michael Schumacher, left a huge gap, virtually the distance between the final turn and the starting grid as they brought their cars into place, making the two Renaults wait an extra six or seven seconds in a hot, stationary position.

It didn't do him any good because as the red lights went out Nico Rosberg in 6th place was immediately past him and Juan Montoya got alongside him going into Turn 1 and the McLaren and Ferrari would duel it out through Turns 1, 2 and 3.

However, further up the grid Giancarlo Fisichella provided yet another reason why the Renault team are trying so hard to sign Raikkonen for 2007. Starting from P2, Fisi jumped forward before the lights went out, stopped in time, but then started again. It didn't give him any advantage over Raikkonen in P3 who went straight past him, but it would mean a trip through the pitlane and dropped places for a jumped start.

Alonso headed off into turn 1 untroubled by Raikkonen. Fisichella slotted into third, Trulli into 4th, Rosberg 5th and Montoya and Schumacher ran side by side. Juan kept the inside line for Turn 3 and muscled it out with Schumi who had far too much to lose, and so wisely took to the grass across the apex of Turn 3. This let Juan Pablo up to 6th with Schumi a disastrous 7th.

At the Casino chicane the two Midlands tangled and went to the back of the field . So the order on Lap 1 was: Start of the Canadian GP

Alonso, Raikkonen, Fisichella, Trulli, Rosberg, Montoya, M.Schumacher, Button, Villeneuve, Massa and Heidfeld in 11th.

Going down the 1km straight Montoya closed right up on Rosberg and looked like taking 5th off him, but the German left his braking way too late, made no attempt to take the chicane and kept his place thanks to a trip over the green 'grasscrete' on the inside of the turn. Montoya was not done with him and charged up the inside of Turn 1 and it was a repeat performance of the opening lap through Turns 1, 2 and 3, but this time with Rosberg attempting to take Turn 3 and wiping his car against the Mclaren which was well up the inside.

Rosberg hit the barriers on the exit of 3 and Montoya hobbled back to his pits for a change of front wing. It was a rookie error from Rosberg, not knowing when to concede a corner, as had been aptly demonstrated by Michael Schumacher on the previous lap where he had let Montoya go when they both could have been out on the spot.

The Safety car was immediately dispatched so that Rosberg's car could be hauled away from the scene. Afterwards Rosberg revealed he didn't even know that Montoya was coming up the inside of Turn 3. Following blasts from team-mate Webber and Rubens Barrichello about his use of mirrors on Saturday, it was another serious error. Rosberg's disappearance and Montoya's demotion left Button in 6th, Jacques Villeneuve in 7th and Felipe Massa up to 8th. The Safety Car came in at the end of Lap 3 and on Lap 4 we were racing again.

On Lap 6 the FIA stewards announced that Fisi had jumped the start and would have to serve a drive-through penalty, and at the end of Lap 7 he took it. The cars had separated out enough for him to drive down the pitlane and for Giancarlo to rejoin in 5th place.

Though Michael Schumacher was lucky to have Montoya, Rosberg and Fisichella remove themselves from in front of him, there was no getting past a stubborn Jarno Trulli in 3rd place. On Lap 9 Schumacher steamed up the outside going into the final chicane, but Trulli took the inside and was easily able to outbrake him.

Further back Juan Montoya was trying to make amends by steaming back through the field and on Lap 11 passed Ralf Schumacher for 13th place. At the same time Kimi Raikkonen was getting very close to Fernando Alonso and on Lap 12 - like Trulli had done with Schumi - braked late and covered the inside line. Though Raikkonen would stay close, he would ever get quite so close again.

Rubens Barrichello had another of his poor starts and all of a sudden was heading into the Honda garage and retirement, reporting that he had felt the Honda engine 'tighten'. He took it back in before the engine unit did what it had done to Jenson Button at Silverstone.

Barrichello's retirement meant that Fernando Alonso was the only driver not to retire from a race in 2006

From a good record to a bad one, Juan Montoya has had a series of dismal races in Canada. Right from his opening 2001 season with Williams where he put it into the barrier he has done badly, culminating with a black flag last year when he exited the pitlane ignoring the Red Light. On Lap 13 he retired from 13th place after he ran too wide in the final chicane and hit the Wall of Champions. Unlucky for Juan.

Michael Schumacher did the same thing on Lap 28, but the Ferrari managed to get away with brushing the wall with both tyres. Having recovered from his drive-through penalty, Fisichella cruised up to the back of Michael Schumacher and though at one stage Trulli pulled a two-second gap on Michael, they were soon back to the three car train - Toyota, Ferrari, Renault.

On Lap 18 the gap at the front between Alonso and Raikkonen was just 1.2 seconds with 3rd place twenty seconds adrift. Felipe Massa overtook Jacques Villeneuve for 7th place, no mean feat considering the Ferrari driver was on a one-stop fuel load.

At the end of lap 23 Alonso pitted and such was the advantage over Trulli/Schumi/Fisi that he rejoined in 2nd place.

On Lap 24 Schumi finally got past Jarno Trulli and when he did, the Toyota driver obviously decided enough was enough and let him through, not challenging into the final turn.

At the end of Lap 24 Raikkonen pitted, but a delay on the rear right wheel meant that he wouldn't emerge close to Alonso at all. In fact from that moment on, Raikkonen was never in a position to challenge, even after the final Safety Car of the race. Fisichella and Trulli also pitted at the same time.

On Lap 25 Ralf Schumacher spun his Toyota at the Casino Hairpin, Ralf reporting that he was getting no grip at all from the rear tyres. A lap later and Felipe Massa overtook the fading Jenson Button's Honda.

It was clear that Ferrari had fuelled Michael Schumacher heavily and it was nearly half distance before he came in for his first pit-stop - the end of Lap 32 - but he took on a very light fuel load. He rejoined third and immediately picked up the pace. Team-mate Massa pitted at the end of Lap 35 and ran till the end. Pits in Canada

The No1 Ferrari was taking to the grasscrete on the inside of the final chicane a lot. By Lap 33 he'd cut the final turn a total of three times, prompting some in the press room to call for gravel to be put on the inside. Schumacher was certainly not the only experienced driver to take advantage there.

Further down the field, the two BMW-Saubers ran long before their first pit-stops, in which they both managed to jump Jenson Button sending the Brith from 7th to 9th.

Once Massa had stopped the order on Lap 37 was: Fernando Alonso, 8.7 seconds clear of Kimi Raikkonen in 2nd place. The Finn was 20.0 seconds ahead of Michael Schumacher in 3rd who was 13.5 seconds clear of Fisichella in 4th. Jarno Trulli had dropped to 5th, Massa was 6th, Villeneuve was 7th, Heidfeld 8th and Button 9th.

On Lap 45, the great volume of small rubber chunks that had been cast off the supersoft tyres was creating a huge area of 'marbles' - a gravel-like surface to drive on, with absolutely no grip at all. Most marbles of all were down at the Casino hairpin and turns which involved heavy braking were a sea of black through which there was a racing line barely a car's width;. It almost looked like it had been raining and a "dry line" was emerging.

The final pit-stops came round. Trulli came in on Lap 48 and gave up his 5th place to Massa, Alonso pitted and left Raikkonen temporarily in the lead. Kimi then understeered wide into the Casino hairpin and lost the back end of his car in a lurid, slidey moment. He kept going, though.

A lot of people were having trouble keeping their cars on the track, Ralf Schumacher seemed to be sliding everywhere and was still continuing despite a very slow Toyota. Fisichella took to the grass and Coulthard did too in his steady pursuit of team-mate Christian Klien. Round the bend

When Raikkonen pitted he had a heart-stopping moment when his engine died, but Michael Schumacher was so far back in third place that the McLaren pitcrew were able to re-start his engine and get him out still in front of the Ferrari and with a pit-stop in hand.

Michael stopped for the second time at the end of Lap 57 and it all looked very steady at the front with huge gaps between the front three, Alonso had 23 seconds on Raikkonen, who had 17 seconds on Schumacher.

Jacques Villeneuve had lost 7th place to Nick Heidfeld in the final pit-stops and was still hoping to catch him before the flag when on Lap 58 he came across Ralf Schumacher on one of his 1:25 second laps trundling through Turn 2 - the second he put his car off the line to lap him, the car became unsteerable and he ran straight on into the barriers at 90mph.

Immediately the Safety Car was out on track and Fernando Alonso would have to endure a tense final few laps as the whole field closed up behind him. Luckily for Fernando he had the lapped Jarno Trulli and Nick Heidfeld between him and Raikkonen for the re-start, while Raikkonen had Button, Klien and Coulthard in between him and Schumacher.

The Safety Car came in at the end of Lap 63 and there were seven laps to the finish. Immediately Alonso streaked out a huge five second advantage on Raikkonen thanks to him leaving Jarno Trulli (one of his buffer cars) so far behind as he raced off to the restart.

On Lap 66 the two Red Bulls were locked in their own fight and it looked like a gentle nudge from Coulthard into Casino that unsettled Christian Klien and let the Scot past into 9th place. He then put a brilliant pass on Jenson Button into the final turn (and far more difficult than it looked) on Lap 68 to take 8th place and the final point.

But all the drama was left to the penultimate lap. Michael Schumacher was moving in quickly on Raikkonen and on Lap 69 the Finn repeated his running-wide-on-the-marbles trick and the Ferrari cruised through to take an extremely fortuitous second place. It was reward nonetheless for incredible persistence when 3rd place looked like all he would get.

Fernando Alonso crossed the line for his first Canadian win, and the first Renault finish in Canada for three years. Schumacher took second, a disappointed Raikkonen third and Fisichella fourth, (a lot less than the Renault 1-2 that had been predicted).

Felipe Massa was fifth, Trulli sixth, Heidfeld seventh and a relieved David Coulthard 8th. The Scot had suffered an engine change and started the race from slap bang last. Afterwards he confessed that the race had been the most difficult Canadian GP he'd experienced with the surface being one of the most unpredictable he'd ever raced on.

It made for the most dramatic race of the year so far, something we could really use right now. World Cup? What World Cup?

Result of the Canadian GP on Sunday June 25th. 2006

PositionDriverTeam TyresTimePoints
1.ALONSORenaultM1:34:37.30810
2.M.SCHUMACHERFerrariB+ 2.1118
3.RAIKKONENMcLarenM+ 8.8136
4.FISICHELLARenaultM+ 15.6795
5.MASSAFerrariB+ 25.1724
6.TRULLIToyotaB+ 2 laps3
7.HEIDFELDBMW-SauberM+ 1 lap2
8.COULTHARDRed BullM+ 1 lap1
9.BUTTONHondaM+ 1 lap0
10.SPEEDToro RossoM+ 1 lap0
11.KLEINRed BullM+ 1 lap0
12.WEBBERWilliamsB+ 1 lap0
13.LIUZZIToro RossoM+ 2 laps0
14.MONTEIROMidland F1B+ 4 laps0
Did not finish:-
15.SATOSuper AguriB+ 6 laps0
16.R. SCHUMACHERToyotaB+ 11 laps0
17.VILLENEUVEBMW-SauberM+ 12 laps0
18.MONTOYAMcLarenM+ 57 laps0
19.BARRICHELLOHondaM+ 58 laps0
20.MONTAGNYSuper AguriB+ 67 laps0
21.ALBERSMidland F1B+ 69 laps0
22.ROSBERGWilliamsB+ 69 laps0


British GP: Another Faultless Display From Alonso Sunday June 11 2006

Silverstone race track

Fernando Alonso dominated the British Grand Prix to win for the third consecutive race and move one step closer to retaining his World Championship crown.

The Renault driver led from pole position and was never in any real danger at a sunny Silverstone, where over 80,000 fans saw home hopes disappear with Jenson Button's early retirement.

Alonso cruised to the chequered flag to win by 13.9 seconds from Michael Schumacher, who battled all afternoon with Kimi Raikkonen for second spot.

Giancarlo Fisichella added to Renault's total with a fourth place which helps the reigning World Champions stretch their advantage over Ferrari in the Constructors' Championship to 31 points.

Fisichella overhauled the other Ferrari of Felipe Massa, relegating the Brazilian to fifth place while Juan Pablo Montoya was well short of team-mate Raikkonen's pace in finishing sixth.

Race Report: The sun beat down in Northamptonshire with an ambient temperature of 26C and the track way up at 40C as the red lights went out.

It's a very short dash to Copse corner and even though Michael Schumacher thought he was better off in P3 than P2, it didn't get him any places off the line and he had to follow Raikkonen through.

Ralf Schumacher got a dreadful start from 7th on the grid and went backwards, while Nick Heidfeld got a blinder and was immediately past Montoya and Barrichello before the fearsome first turn.

Juan Montoya turned into Copse and got a thump from Jacques Villeneuve's wheels in his sidepod, creating a huge hole in the carbon fibre. Luckily for the McLaren he wasn't pushed too far wide, but he immediately had a major aero problem that was to last the afternoon.

That wasn't the bumping and boring over with. Coming into the high-speed Becketts sweeps Scott Speed tried a lunge at Ralf Schumacher that was as ill-advised as Ide's lunge at Albers in the San Marino GP. There was no way he was going to get through on the inside and his front wheel tipped inside Ralf's rear and spun him round.

Ralf applied opposite lock to stop himself going off the circuit, but when the car snapped back onto the track he collected the innocent party of Mark Webber who was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Ralf and Mark were out on the spot, Speed limped back to the pits but wouldn't play any further part in the race. The stewards will be investigating the incident afterwards, but whether they see it the same way as Speed is difficult to imagine - "He (Ralf) didn't quite see me and we tangled. I don't imagine there'll be any issues." Alonso wins the British Grand Prix

The result of the incident was that the Safety Car was deployed and picked the 19 remaining cars for the second lap.

The order was: Alonso, Raikkonen, Schumacher, Massa, Fisichella, Heidfeld, Barrichello, Montoya, Rosberg and Villeneuve.

Jenson Button was up to 14th from 19th on the grid, but even better than that, Jarno Trulli had managed to take 13th place from 22nd on the grid.

While Ralf's car was cleared from the circuit the train of cars circulated behind the Safety Car for two laps. At the end of Lap 3 it came in and Alonso backed the field up to an absolute crawl through Brooklands and Luffield corners.

In fact, so slow was his pace that Raikkonen almost ran into the back of him. It gave the Spaniard very little advantage either as the McLaren was right on his tail through the high-speed corners on the restat lap, Lap 4.

However a mistake from the Finn later in the lap allowed Schumacher to close right up. Going into Abbey, Raikkonen guarded the inside line, Schumacher took the outside line and they both braked together as Schumacher moved in on the Mclaren to be momentarily inside the wheels of Kimi.

Thankfully they didn't touch and Raikkonen took the line into the corner.

Further back, Jenson Button set about closing in on his Honda team-mate, who had moved backwards off the start, as he has done regularly this year. On Lap 5 Button was past Trulli and on Lap 6 he was past Liuzzi up to 12th. Things were beginning to go right for a change.

Alonso set about whittling the fastest lap down progressively over the next laps, but Raikkonen and Schumacher were never far away. In fact even though Alonso put this sequence together.

Lap 6 Alonso Fastest Lap: 1:23.323
Lap 7 Alonso Fastest Lap: 1:23.030
Lap 9 Alonso Fastest Lap: 1:22.997
Lap 10 Alonso Fastest Lap: 1:22.984
Lap 11 Alonso Fastest Lap: 1:22.675
Lap 12 Alonso Fastest Lap: 1:22.448
Lap 13 Alonso Fastest Lap: 1:22.351
Lap 14 Alonso Fastest Lap: 1:22.114

At the end of it, he was only 2.9 seconds ahead of Raikkonen and 4.3 seconds ahead of Schumacher in third place. In fact the front five were all in a gaggle, with Fisichella 6.3 seconds down in fifth place.

On Lap 9, the Silverstone crowd groaned as an oil leak put an end to Jenson Button's race as he ran through the complex; though judging by the pace of the other Honda, a points finish may well have been beyond him today. Michael Schumacher was the first of the front-runners to pit at the end of Lap 18, and this early move immediately explained Schumacher's long face after Qualifying. His P3 had been done on a lighter fuel load than the two cars in front of him on the grid.

After a lull of fastest laps, Alonso lowered it on Lap 19 and on Lap 21 reduced it to 1:21.599

Massa and Raikkonen pitted at the end of Lap 19, Kimi rejoining ahead of Schumacher still, while some quick laps from Fisichella put him ahead of Massa when he came in at the end of Lap 21. In fact, had Fisichella showed Alonso's pace between Laps 18 and 21 then it was possible he could have taken Schimi's P3. As it was he came out right behind Schumacher and had to settle for fourth.

Alonso pitted at the end of Lap 22 and easily rejoined in P1, though the as-yet-unstopped Heidfeld was between him and Raikkonen.

Both BMW-Saubers stopped very late on, Heidfeld on Lap 25 and Villeneuve on Lap 27.

So the order on Lap 28 was Alonso leading, 13.0 clear of Raikkonen, who was 1.6 ahead of Schumacher, who was 3.7 seconds clear of Fischella in 4th place. Massa was 5th, Montoya 6th, Heidfeld 7th and Nico Rosberg 8th. Fisichella had been as close as 1.6 seconds behind Schumacher before Michael began to edge away.

In the middle stint of the race there was very little movement at all between the front runners, though Michael Schumacher was showing signs that he was quicker than Kimi Raikkonen. He reduced the gap to a second but never attempted to get any closer, even though it looked a possibility.

By Lap 40 the gaps between the first five were hardly changed.
The gaps on Lap 28 were: 13.0 - 1.6 - 3.7 - 3.2
The gaps on Lap 40 were: 11.1 - 1.0 - 7.0 - 3.4

Michael Schumacher was the first in for his second pit-stop at the end of Lap 41 and the Ferrari was stationary for 6.3 seconds. What was more significant was that he set two purple (fastest) sectors on his outlap, which would have easily been the fastest lap of the race had he added the first sector of the following tour.

Kimi Raikkonen should have had the advantage of going on for another lap on low fuel, came in at he end of Lap 42, was stationery for 8.0 seconds and came out BEHIND Schumacher. Yet again the seven-times World Champ had turned it on when it really mattered and on new tyres had blitzed the track.

McLaren wouldn't get anywhere near him for the rest of the afternoon.

Fernando Alonso had a trouble-free stop at the end of Lap 44, likewise Massa and Fisichella on Lap 45, and after the BMW-Saubers had pitted late on, the positions on Lap 49 were: Alonso 11.7 clear of Michael Schumacher and both lapping at the same pace. Raikkonen in third, five seconds behind Schumi but going slower and 3.2 seconds ahead of Giancarlo Fisichella who was going half a second a lap quicker. Massa was 5th, Montoya a lonely 6th, Heidfeld 7th and Villeneuve 8th. Out of the points were Rosberg in 9th and a disappointing 10th for Barrichello.

In the closing stages of the race the only likely battle was Fisichella versus Raikkonen. Giancarlo closed to inside a second of the McLaren driver, but where he was actually going to get past the Finn was another thing altogether. "You've got 8k on him on the straight! Come on this is payback for Suzuka!" (the Japanese GP of 2005 where Raikkonen overtook him on the last lap) his engineers yelled at him, but there was to be no way past.

Fisichella's biggest moment had come between Laps 18 and 21 and he had already fallen short of the task.

Alonso cruised to the line and his first British GP win, only the third Silverstone polesitter to win the GP in 11 years and Renault's sixth win of eight victories this year.

Schumacher finished P2, Raikkonen P3, Fisichella P4, Massa P5, Montoya a bodywork-impaired P6, and despite some dodgy pit-stop moments Heidfeld took 7th and Villeneuve 8th. David Coulthard suffered understeer all afternoon and came home 12th in front of his Red Bull trio of himself, Liuzzi and Klien.

Whether or not Schumacher could have pressured Alonso is difficult to tell; after unleashing a series of fastest laps up to his first pit-stop, the Spaniard had no need to drive any quicker, so he didn't.

It was a race of little drama and only one major strategic battle, and the crowd had very little home interest to cheer. But at least they went home with good sun tans, something you can very rarely say after a British GP weekend.

FH

Result of the British GP on Sunday June 11th. 2006

PositionDriverTeam TyresTimePoints
1.ALONSORenaultM1:25:51.92710
2.M.SCHUMACHERFerrariB+ 13.9518
3.RAIKKONENMcLarenM+ 18.6726
4.FISICHELLARenaultM+ 19.9765
5.MASSAFerrariB+ 31.5594
6.MONTOYAMcLarenM+ 1:04.7693
7.HEIDFELDBMW-SauberM+ 1:11.5942
8.VILLENEUVEBMW-SauberM+ 1:18.2991
9.ROSBERGWilliamsB+ 1:19.0080
10.BARRICHELLOHondaM+ 1 lap0
11.TRULLIToyotaB+ 1 lap0
12.COULTHARDRed BullM+ 1 lap0
13.LIUZZIToro RossoM+ 1 lap0
14.KLEINRed BullM+ 1 lap0
15.ALBERSMidland F1B+ 1 lap0
16.MONTEIROMidland F1B+ 2 laps0
17.SATOSuper AguriB+ 3 laps0
18.MONTAGNYSuper AguriB+ 3 laps0
Did not finish:-
19.BUTTONHondaM+ 51 laps0
20.SPEEDToro RossoM+ 59 laps0
21.R. SCHUMACHERToyotaB+ 60 laps0
22.WEBBERWilliamsB+ 60 laps0


Monaco GP: Renault's Reliability Proves Decisive Sunday May 28 2006

The winning 3 with Coultard in a red cape

In a race that will forever be overshadowed by events twenty-four hours earlier, Fernando Alonso won his first Monaco GP as Renault's impeccable record of reliability proved decisive.

The Spaniard, starting on pole, led the race from start to finish. However, his Renault didn't appear to have the pace of either Kimi Raikkonen's McLaren or even Mark Webber's Williams, both of whom spent most of the afternoon just behind the Spaniard.

But Raikkonen's engine blew following the Safety Car that had been deployed after Webber's race came to a smokey end, thus leaving Alonso to cruise home to an unchallenged victory.

Juan Montoya was promoted to second, while third-placed David Coulthard earned Red Bull's first podium. Michael Schumacher, having started the race from the pitlane as a result of his grid demotion, finished fifth.

Race Report

The skies were still clear blue on Sunday but the temperatures were down from qualifying with an ambient of 24C and a track temperature of 27C.

Michael Schumacher, who had been stripped of his pole position overnight, elected to start the race from the pitlane and maybe use a traffic jam into Sainte Devote to cruise up the inside of the pitlane exit, which disgorges past the corner on the hill climb up to Massenet - Beau Rivage.

The start of the Monaco Grand Prix

When the red lights went out there was no havoc and the front-runners all filtered through St.Devote with no contact. Trulli lost places and Mark Webber almost lost his second place to the McLaren of Kimi Raikkonen, who crowded the Williams on the outside. Webber almost outbraked himself but kept the car together and kept his place.

Further back, the two Midlands had already made contact, Albers pinning Monteiro needlessly against the pitwall just yards away from their gridslots.

So at the end of Lap 1 the order was Alonso, from Webber, Raikkonen, Montoya, Barrichello, Rosberg, Coulthard, Fisichella, Trulli and Christian Klien in 10th. Michael Schumacher had made his way past a co-operative Massa, to be 18th on the opening tour.

On Lap 2, the hard-charging Kimi Raikkonen took advantage of Mark Webber running wide into Ste. Devote to pass him on the hill up to Massenet. It was an incredible manouevre and tough, even if the Williams had lost acceleration. Past Webber, the Finn homed in on the back of leader Alonso.

A long way back, Michael Schumacher got himself past Scott Speed to grab 16th place, but he wouldn't progress any further for quite some time, stuck behind Jenson Button who'd lost places off the grid in 15th.

At the front Alonso and Raikkonen swapped fastest laps trying to break away from the one-stoppers who'd fuelled heavily in Qualifying.

Lap 3 Alonso 1:17.071
Lap 4 Alonso 1:16.751
Lap 5 Raikkonen 1:16.348

Raikkonen was just 0.4 behind, Webber was only 1.9 back, with Montoya in touch. In fact after seven laps there was only three seconds covering the top 4 men.

Behind them there was a big gap opening to Rubens Barrichello who was heavily fuelled for a one-stop race. Frustratingly, Rubens was ahead of Nico Rosberg, David Coulthard and Giancarlo Fisichella who all looked like they were on two-stop fuel load. Fisi would have been in front had it not been for his blocking of DC in Qualifying and more muscular attention from the FIA stewards.

Alonso continued to set fastest laps, but Kimi Raikkonen wouldn't let him go. The front foursome were doing 1:16s while everyone from Rubens back was doing 1:18s. By Lap 11 Alonso had lowered the fastest time to a 1:15.671 and the 5th place man was already 23 seconds behind the leader.

Raikkonen wasn't being dropped and was hurling his car round the circuit. On Lap 17 he virtually drifted the McLaren through Ste Devote. On Lap 18 Alonso set the fastest fist sector, yet it was Mark Webber who set the fastest middle sector of the race as the top three cars circulated in the 1:15s. Michael Schumacher was already 55 seconds behind Alonso and still stuck behind Button.

The hairpin

Such was the pace of the front three that they began to drop Montoya. On Lap 19 Raikkonen set the Fastest lap with a 1:15.325, yet still Webber was quickest of all in the middle sector.

On Lap 20 Schumi finally got past Button down the inside into the tunnel chicane, the Brit not bothering to defend his place.

Juan Montoya was the first to pit at the end of Lap 21 and so big was the gap to 5th placed Barrichello that he rejoined without losing a place. A lap later Kimi Raikkonen pitted and rejoined in 3rd place.

It was at this stage that the two-stoppers who'd got stuck behind Barrichello had to make their pit-stops and face the consequences. Nico Rosberg came in and exited behind Michael Schumacher who was one-stopping and therefore, in front of him with the same number of pit-stops left. Fisichella suffered the same fate, rejoining behind Rosberg and going from 7th to 15th.

At the end of Lap 24 Alonso pitted, and when Webbo pitted a lap later, battle was recommenced in the same order; Alonso, Raikkonen, Webber.

It was immediately obvious that Fernando Alonso was a lot slower on his second set of tyres and from Lap 26 Raikkonen was all over the back of his gearbox with Webber catching up again.

Further down the field 9th place Nick Heidfeld was collecting a fine train of vehicles, backing up Ralf Schumacher, Liuzzi, Villeneuve, Michael Schumacher, and soon Fisichella and Rosberg. Fisi got ahead of Rosberg unseen by the race cameras.

On Lap 34 Alonso's pace had been so sluggish that the front four had all bunched up behind him and were covered by just two seconds. It transpired after the race that Alonso was playing a tactical game, preserving his tyres and backing up the field, just the way that Schumacher had held him back at Imola. The Spaniard's plan was to use the tyres to maximum advantage if the McLaren pitted before him during the second round of stops.

David Coulthard had joined the Nick Heidfeld train after pitting at the end of Lap 30. The Scot was stationary for 12.6 seconds as the Red Bull team switched the strategy from two stops to one-stop. DC emerged between Jacques Villeneuve and Michael Schumacher and frustrated Schumi by defending the line into the tunnel chicane.

Michael pitted at the end of Lap 38, but in doing so went a lap down. Meanwhile Fisichella was keen to get past Coulthard who had fuel to the end of the race.

The confusing thing for the cars in Nick Heidfeld's train was that Fisichella was trying to overtake them all just as the lead Renault of Alonso was about to lap them.

On Lap 40 Fisichella steamed up the inside of Coulthard going into the tunnel chicane and locked his tyres in a cloud of smoke. DC managed to avoid him, though his front wing endplate just flicked the rear tyre of the Renault as it came through.

A lap later and Fisi did the same with Villeneuve, though JV made it so easy for him that it looked like the BMW-Sauber thought it was Alonso coming through.

Another lap later and Giancarlo Fisichella tried to perform the same trick on Christian Klien, but Klien wasn't having any of . They both had to let Alonso, Raikkonen and Webber through, but the Aussie came off badly in traffic. By Lap 47 Alonso and Raikkonen were still just a second apart but Webbo had dropped six seconds.

Mark got on the radio to express his frustration to the pits, about the same time as his Cosworth expired along the pit straight and he trailed to a halt just at the end of the pitlane exit going up the hill towards Massenet. The position of the car at the pitlane exit was not good and so the Safety Car was dispatched to pick up the leaders, who immediately took the decision to pit for the second time.

Alonso led Raikkonen out of the pits and so the order looked like it had been determined till the end of the race, no chance now for strategic moves, the decision had been made for them. At the same time, Fisichella and Montoya pitted, Fisi queueing behind his team leader.

As the cars lined up behind the Safety Car, Michael Schumacher was already a lap down. The order was: Alonso, Raikkonen, Montoya, Barrichello, Trulli, Klien and Coulthard with Michael Schumacher 8th and a whole lap down.

Then on Lap 51 as they toured behind the Safety Car, Raikkonen's McLaren started smoking and he had to ditch it by Portiers. The Finn set off toward the pits, but detoured off to his yacht moored in the harbour and spent the last 18 laps spectating with a drink in his hand.

The Safety Car came in at the end of Lap 52 at which point Michael Schumacher set off on the most spectacular of F1 charges ever witnessed at Monaco. On Lap 52 he was a 65 seconds behind Coulthard, at the flag on lap 78 he was just 1.5 seconds behind.

The reputation of Monaco as a car breaker began to re-establish itself on Lap 53 when Nico Rosberg's throttle stuck open and he buried the car into the barrier at the final corner, Anthony Nogues. Up until Lap 39 there had been no retirements at all, and Rosberg was now the fourth of six men to go out.

Rubens Barrichello, profiting from the removal of Webber and Raikkonen, looked on course to score a podium place, a long way back in 3rd now. Alonso was untroubled at the front and Montoya likewise in second place. Barrichello had Trulli on his tail followed by Christian Klien and David Coulthard in 5th and 6th. Schumi was 7th charging forwards with Fisichella trying to hang onto him in 8th.

On Lap 58 Klien suddenly pitted his Superman-sponsored Red Bull, his car suffering a lack of Kryptonite in the gearbox - the Achilles heel of the car this year. That promoted Michael to 6th place but still half a lap back from 5th place.

Schumi put in a series of personal bests as he hammered towards the front, catching the 3rd/4th/5th battle at two seconds a lap.

On Lap 63 Rubens had to serve a drive-through penalty for speeding in the pitlane and immediately his podium place was gone. He rejoined in 5th place leaving Jarno Trulli in a surprise podium spot and DC in 4th. The question was, would Schumi catch Rubens before the line and would we get a repeat of 2005 when Schumacher overtook his Ferrari team-mate in a surprise move on the last lap of the race?

By Lap 71 the gap had dwindled to 9.8 seconds and then on Lap 73 cameras focused on a stationary Toyota going up the hill towards Massenet. Trulli had retired within sight of a podium place. Which meant that Coulthard was now in a podium place for Red Bull.

Yet he was being caught by Barrichello, who was being caught by Schumacher at a great rate of knots. On Lap 74 Schumi put in the Fastest Lap of the race with a 1:15.143 and on Lap 75 he was right on Barrichello's tail. Over the final four laps Schumi threatened Barrichello, but the Honda's pace through the tunnel was too great for the Ferrari and there was no opportunity to repeat last year's trick.

Alonso crossed the line for the victory on a day when he looked seriously threatened by two men who didn't last the distance. But given Schumacher's immense turn of pace from the Safety Car to the flag, it seemed unlikely that the Renault driver could have resisted him had the cars started alongside. The Qualifying incident at Rascasse had cost Schumacher dear in more ways than one.

Montoya picked up second and Coulthard delighted his engineers by lasting till the line for 3rd. Fisichella picked up 6th behind Schumacher, Nick Heidfeld was 7th a lap down, followed by Ralf Schumacher in 8th.

It was Alonso's first Monaco win and his fourth out of seven in 2006. The two-horse race for the title is becoming a one-horse race.

FH

Result of the Monaco GP on Sunday May 28th. 2006

PositionDriverTeam TyresTimePoints
1.ALONSORenaultM1:43:43.11610
2.MONTOYAMcLarenM+ 14.5678
3.COULTHARDRed BullM+ 52.2986
4.BARRICHELLOHondaM+ 53.3375
5.M.SCHUMACHERFerrariB+ 53.8304
6.FISICHELLARenaultM+ 1:02.0723
7.HEIDFELDBMW-SauberM+ 1 lap2
8.R. SCHUMACHERToyotaB+ 1 lap1
9.MASSAFerrariB+ 1 lap0
10.LIUZZIToro RossoM+ 1 lap0
11.BUTTONHondaM+ 1 lap0
12.ALBERSMidland F1B+ 1 lap0
13.SPEEDToro RossoM+ 1 lap0
14.VILLENEUVEBMW-SauberM+ 1 lap0
15.MONTEIROMidland F1B+ 2 laps0
16.MONTAGNYSuper AguriB+ 3 laps0
Did not finish:-
17.TRULLIToyotaB+ 5 laps0
18.KLEINRed BullM+ 21 laps0
19.ROSBERGWilliamsB+ 26 laps0
20.RAIKKONENMcLarenM+ 28 laps0
21.WEBBERWilliamsB+ 30 laps0
22..SATOSuper AguriB+ 32 laps0


Spanish GP: Sublime Alonso wins in Spain Sunday May 14th. 2006

Alonso wins

World champion Fernando Alonso scored an emotional home victory in the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona to end Michael Schumacher's two-race winning streak.

The Renault driver delighted the 130,000 capacity crowd by becoming the first local winner in the race's 50-year history, pulling out a 15-point championship lead in the process.

He easily outgunned Schumacher after starting from pole position to win at a canter, with the Ferrari driver 18.5 seconds back in second spot.

Alonso's team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella failed to rob Schumacher of more points though having lost out in the pit-stops and he came home a distant third.

Felipe Massa finished in the top four for the third consecutive race to add more points to Ferrari's tally, although they now trail Renault by 19 in the constructors' standings.

Kimi Raikkonen made up for a lacklustre qualifying lap to move up to fifth as the only McLaren driver to finish after Juan Pablo Montoya spun out.

Raikkonen held Jenson Button at bay to leave the Honda driver down in sixth, his best result in four races, while team-mate Rubens Barrichello was one place further back.

Nick Heidfeld rounded out the points for BMW-Sauber

Race Report: The track was bathed in bright sunshine as the cars lined up for the start of the Spanish GP with an ambient temperature of 28C and the track at 38C. Through the race the ambient would fall to 27C and the tarmac rise to 42C.

As the red lights went out the two Renaults were swiftly away and even from the first few metres it was clear that the Ferraris weren't going to catch them into Turn 1. Of the two red cars Massa got the slightly better start and as they braked there was a big gap inside of Michael Schumacher that under normal circumstances he would have gone for.

As it was, he respectfully left space for his team leader and braked slightly early. Behind them, the fast-starting Kimi Raikkonen had a mega start, going past Button, then driving between the two closing Toyotas. Into the braking zone of Turn 1 and he suddenly saw an opportunity to steal another place. With Massa braking early and Rubens Barrichello committed to following him round, the Finn just drove around the outside of Barrichello's Honda.

Both Renaults had taken off like scalded cats and as Fernando Alonso crossed the line at the end of Lap 1 he was already 1.6 seconds ahead of his team-mate and 3.1 ahead of Michael Schumacher.

The order was Alonso, Fisichella, Schumacher, Massa, Raikkonen, Barrichello, Button, (who like Raikkonen had also got the jump on the Toyotas), Ralf Schumacher, Trulli, Heidfeld, Montoya in 11th and Webber in 12th.

Scott Speed had got himself up to 13th by Lap 2 on an afternoon when the American proved to be the class of the Red Bull squad.

The tone of the afternoon was set by Alonso who produced a series of blistering laps gradually reducing the Fastest Lap fraction by fraction. This was the distinguishing feature of a race where he hardly lost time on laps where he had to pass slower cars. Relentless consustency.

Lap 3
Fastest Lap Alonso 1:18.172
Lap 4
Fastest Lap Alonso 1:18.084
Lap 5
Fastest Lap Alonso 1:17.807
Lap 6
Fastest Lap Alonso 1:17.794
Lap 7
Fastest Lap Alonso 1:17.416
Lap 9
Fastest Lap Alonso 1:17.268
Lap 10
Fastest Lap Alonso 1:17.247

By Lap 10 Alonso had established a gap of 7.2 seconds to Fisichella and 8.8 seconds to Schumacher. There had been much speculation at the start that Fisichella would be used to delay Schumacher as part of a team plan. Flavio Briatore denied that would be the case on the grid and so it proved in the race, with Schumacher only just about hanging on to Fisichella.

Raikkonen in 5th was being rapidly dropped by the front four, Massa easily keeping in touch with the No.1 Ferrari and often setting the fastest first sector time of anyone.

Further back David Coulthard in his 200th GP was not having a great time of it. The Red Bull team had to rebuild the back end of his car after he planted it in the barriers at Turn 3 in Qualifying (the spin caused by a radiator leaking onto his rear tyres). DC reported that "the car's wobbling in the corners."

A lot further back the SuperAguris were tormenting the Midland team - both MF1s were trailing with Montagny in 19th, Sato in 20th, Albers in 21st and Monteiro in 22nd. It would only last as far as Lap 11, though.

Back at the front Alonso continued his relentless progress
Lap 12
Fastest Lap Alonso 1:17.226
Lap 13
Fastest Lap Alonso 1:17.0070
Lap 14
Fastest Lap Alonso 1:17.048
Lap 16
Fastest Lap Alonso 1:16.828

The Renault was clearly a lot quicker than the Ferrari in the middle sector and Alonso was able to edge out a gap of ten seconds to his team-mate and twelve seconds to Schumacher before he pitted for the first time.

On Lap 16 Ralf Schmacher helped blight Toyota's afternoon by running his front wing into the back of Jarno Trulli going into Turn 1. Though he managed not to pitch his team-mate off the road he had to run a full lap with half a front wing and any chance of a points finish was gone.

Another case of one team-mate holding up the other was Rubens Barrichello holding back Jenson Button who stayed behind all the way up to the first pit-stops.

Ferrari

Alonso was predicted to be one the first cars to pit and so it proved at the end of Lap 17, while team-mate Fisichella pitted his Renault a lap later. It was predicted that the Ferraris would run a couple of laps longer than the Renaults and indeed Felipe Massa came in at the end of Lap 19. However Michael Schumacher stayed out on the circuit.

Juan Montoya then contrived to spin his McLaren and beach it on the kerbs. The Colombian had been having a lacklustre race and for the second race in succession, walked from his car. Marshals retrieved it from the kerbs under waved yellows, even though it looked like a Safety Car was inevitable.

On Lap 20 Schumacher put in a 1:17.809 as against Alonso's 1:18.170. So despite the fact that Alonso had made a pit-stop the two cars were running fairly similar lap times and Schumi wasn't able to open up anything like the advantage he had done at the Nurburgring.

There was a small moment of concern when it looked like Alonso passed the slowing-to-be-lapped MF1 under waved yellows going into Turn 1, but data also showed that on the same lap Michael Schumacher put in the fastest sector of the race so far in Sector 1 (22.7), so clearly he wasn't lifting his foot off the gas either.

Schumacher didn't pit until the end of Lap 23 at which point it was clear that Ferrari had made a mistake. Michael had qualified with far more fuel than the Renault yet was only two-tenths back on the grid. Had he had less fuel on board he would have easily taken pole and been able to control the race from the front.

However the good news for him was that he'd been able to jump Giancarlo Fichella's Renault to take second place.

The two Hondas pitted and Button got ahead of Barrichello. Then on Lap 26 Giancarlo Fisichella left the road on the outside of Turn 3. Despite a long run in the gravel he managed to keep his Renault ahead of Felipe Massa in 4th. The gap from Schumacher to Fisi jumped from 2.7 seconds to 8.2 and he wouldn't see Schumacher again till the slowing down lap.

Alonso had been 12.8 seconds in front of Michael before the pit-stops on lap 17 and on Lap 26 it was still 10.3 seconds.

Nick Heidfeld in the BMW-Sauber was the last man to pit on Lap 30 and when he rejoied the order was: Alonso, Schumacher, Fisichella, massa. Raikkonen Button Barrichello. Heidfeld, Trulli and Mark webber in 10th place.

Ralf Schumacher toured his Toyota in on lap 33, an electrics problem putting an end tp his race.

Yet again Alonso set about improving the gap between himself and Schumacher, but despite being significantly quicker in the middle sector, couldn'topen it up as quickly as he had in the first stint. Massa was putting in a series of personal best laps, but he wasn't catching Fisichella in 3rd.

On Lap 39 Alonso put in the fastest lap of the race with a 1:16.723 and dived into the pits for his second stop at the end of lap 40 to take on new tyres. Fisi followed him a lap later.

In a bid to grab a podium spot Massa pumped in the fastest lap of the race on Lap 42 with a magnificent 1:16.646, then pitted a lap later. Schumacher pitted at the end of Lap 46 for the second time, but nobody changed position or indeed, lost any major chunks of time.

So at the end of Lap 47 it was Alonso 12.1seconds ahead of Schumacher who was 13.8 in front of Fisichella, who was 4.2 clear of Massa who was a very large 17.8 ahead of Kimi Raikkonen in 5th place. Jenson Button was four seconds back in 6th place with Heidfeld in 7th and Barrichello in 8th.

On Lap 49 Scott Speed retired his Toro Rosso with a failing Cosworth engine having enjoyed his best race to date.

Even though we had 17 laps to go Schumacher began to ease off the engine revs and the order was more or less set to the finish line, reliability allowing. Heidfeld pitted again on lap 51 and handed 7th place to Barrichello, but he rejoined in 8th with Webber in 9th, Trulli in 10th and Nico Rosberg in 11th.

The only major excitement in the closing laps was caused by the computer timing screens that suddenly registered that Michael Schumacher had stopped out on the track and was a lap down. Then on Lap 60 it decided that Alonso had lapped everyone including second place Schumacher - who in reality was only 16 seconds behind.

On the final lap Nico Rosberg had a look at Jarno Trulli's Toyota going into Turn 1 but couldn't find a way round to grab 10th.

So Alonso had got his first Spanish pole and his first Spanish win and re-established a 15-point gap in the World Championship. Giancarlo Fisichella had restored some of his reputation, Massa had added to his but Kimi Raikkonen had only just held onto 5th place. Had Button got a better start then he might have relegated Raikkonen to 6th.

What had seemed like a Championship that could have been contested by 5 or 6 drivers after winter testing has narrowed to a two-horse race.

Result of the Spanish GP on Sunday May 14th. 2006

PositionDriverTeam TyresTimePoints
1.ALONSORenaultM1:26:21.75910
2.M.SCHUMACHERFerrariB+ 18.5028
3.FISICHELLARenaultM+ 23.9516
4.MASSAFerrariB+ 29.8595
5.RAIKKONENMcLarenM+ 56.8754
6.BUTTONHondaM+ 58.3473
7.BARRICHELLOHondaM+ 1 lap2
8.HEIDFELDBMW-SauberM+ 1 lap1
9.WEBBERWilliamsB+ 1 lap0
10.TRULLIToyotaB+ 1 lap0
11.ROSBERGWilliamsB+ 1 lap0
12.VILLENEUVEBMW-SauberM+ 1 lap0
13.KLEINRed BullM+ 1 lap0
14.COULTHARDRed BullM+ 1 lap0
15.LIUZZIToro RossoM+ 1 lap0
16.MONTEIROMidland F1B+ 3 laps0
17.SATOSuper AguriB+ 4 laps0
Did not finish:-
18.ALBERSMidland F1B+ 17 laps0
19.SPEEDToro RossoM+ 19 laps0
20.R. SCHUMACHERToyotaB+ 35 laps0
21.MONTOYAMcLarenM+ 48 laps0
22.MONTAGNYSuper AguriB+ 55 laps0


European GP: Schumi matches promise with performance Sunday May 7th. 2006

Michael Schumacher promised that he would prove at the Nurburgring that his victory at Imola was no fluke and proved as good as his word with a vintage performance to beat Fernando Alonso.

The Ferrari driver delivered a series of quick laps at the half-way stage of the European GP to win the strategic battle over Alonso and confirm that Ferrari are World Championship contenders again.

Felipe Massa took his first Ferrari podium in third place only 0.4 seconds ahead of a fast-finishing Kimi Raikkonen in the McLaren. Rubens Barrichello was 5th for Honda.

Race Report: The temperatures were similar to Saturday Qualifying with an ambient of 20C and a tarmac temperature of 39C as the cars toured round on the parade lap in bright sunshine.

As the red lights went out Alonso was away quickly and the two Ferraris were equal to the Renault's acceleration. Into the first corner and for a moment Felipe Massa looked like he might challenge Michael Schumacher around the outside, but then thought better of it.

Starting from 4th on the grid Rubens Barrichello was very tentative away from the line and was immediately swallowed up by his team-mate, Jenson Button, who steamed up the inside to grab 4th, while Kimi Raikkonen locked the front wheels on his McLaren and went round the other side to take 5th. So good was Button's start that he was able to run alongside Felipe Massa in Turns 2 and 3 before giving up the fight for 3rd.

It looked like the whole field of 22 cars would go through Turn 1 unscathed (unlike the previous three years) but Ralf Schumacher tagged an innocent Tonio Liuzzi and spun the Toro Rosso into an equally innocent David Coulthard whose front wing was deranged in the process.

Liuzzi's car was too badly damaged to get much further than two-thirds of the lap and when he spun it at Turn 10 leaving a damaged car in the middle of the track it was time to deploy the Safety Car. As the cars streamed over the line to pick up the Safety car it was Alonso, Michael Schumacher, Massa, Button, Raikkonen, Trulli (who'd also got past Barrichello), Barrichello, Villeneuve, Heidfeld, Fisichella, Montoya in a disappointing 11th place after a dismal start that was to ruin his afternoon and then Mark Webber who'd started 20th on the grid and skirted all the trouble at Turn 1 to pick up 12th place.

Coulthard returned to the pits but the Red Bull team struggled to replace the nose and eventually sent the Scot out a lap down.

The Safety Car came in at the end of Lap 3 and released the field. Unlike re-starts earlier in the year, Button was able to keep the heat in his tyres and hold Raikkonen back and there were no immediate overtaking moves. However Raikkonen was able to dive inside Button at the NG chicane towards the end of the lap and was through to 4th.

At the beginning of Lap 5 Juan Montoya dived down the inside of Giancarlo Fisichella going into Turn 1 to take 10th place off him.

In the opening laps Schumacher and Alonso swapped Fastest laps as the leader tried to establish a gap and second place responded.
Lap 5: Schumacher 1:33.903
Lap 6: Alonso 1:33.493
Lap 7: Alonso 1:33.339
Lap 8: Alonso 1:33.210
Lap 9: Schumacher 1:33.066

They weren't dropping Felipe Massa and though Raikkonen couldn't quite keep up there was a clear edge enjoyed by the front four runners, a gap that would widen to over a minute before the end of the race.

Montoya closed right up on Heidfeld and was way later than him onto the brakes in Turn 1 but could not get past BMW power.

Jenson Button was falling steadily away from Raikkonen in 5th place, but the Montoya vs Heidfeld vs Fisichella battle was the only close racing on the track as Alonso edged out his gap to Schumacher by only a tenth of a second a lap.

On Lap 13 Mark Webber exited the race, the transmission on his Williams Cosworth giving up the ghost (again) at Turn 10 after a hydraulics problem. He joined Liuzzi and Coulthard already in retirement.

Though Fernando Alonso had moved out the gap between himself and Schumacher at a painfully slow rate - on Lap 14 it was just 1.2 seconds - Michael destroyed it with a banzai lap on Lap 15 to halve it to 0.6 of a second with a Fastest Lap of 1:32.794.

At the end of Lap 17 Alonso came in for his first stop and though it was predicted that Ferrari would run several laps later, Massa came in on the same lap and Michael was in just one lap later. Because they had run so closely before the Renault driver's stop, it was predicted that Schumacher would take the place off Alonso. However Michael lost half a second in the middle sector of his inlap and so he came out behind.

Raikkonen now led the race from Button, but despite the Finn putting in a series of personal best lap times and being a whole second a lap quicker than Alonso and Schumacher, when he pitted at the end of Lap 23 he rejoined in 4th behind Felipe Massa.

Immediately after the first stops Alonso's lead jumped to (what in the context of the previous laps was a massive) 2.2 seconds, and for one moment it looked like Michael's middle stint might be as sluggish as it had been at Imola. Were the hard Bridgestones going off...? It was a one-lap blip, though. Schumacher picked up the pace and reduced the gap to the leader to 0.9 of a second by Lap 31.

Jenson Button had been running much slower after his pit-stops, circulating in the 1:35s - though he had just managed to find a couple of 1:34s laps, he suddenly lost power in his Honda and parked it just beyond the pitlane exit on Lap 28. Christian Klien's Red Bull retired a lap later.

So, positions on Lap 30 were: Alonso, Schumacher, Massa, Raikkonen, Nico Rosberg, Ralf Schumacher, Villeneuve, Fisichella, and Montoya. Rosberg had jumped to 5th from 22nd on the grid because he was the only car yet to stop. When he came in on Lap 33 it looked like he was only going to stop once.

Michael Schumacher reduced Alonso's lead to 0.6 of a second on lap 32 and it looked like it was going to be a battle of the strategies to determine who was going to win the race.

The critical phase came on Lap 35 when Alonso started to put the hammer down and edge out the gap again. On Lap 35 he put in a personal best timeof 1:32.871 to re-establish a 1.4 second gap to Schumi. The seven times World Champion responded.

On Lap 36 Alonso put in the Fastest Lap of the race with a 1:32.722, Schumi then bettered it with a 1:32.544. On Lap 37 Alonso put in the Fastest Lap of the race with a 1:32.532, Schumi then bettered it with a 1:32.523. At the end of Lap 38 Alonso pitted, but Schumacher was still on a charge and lowered the fastest Lap to 1:32.420. He then set the timing screens to purple with a stunning 1:32.099 lap while Alonso was deep in the 1:33s.

By the time Michael pitted at the end of Lap 41 he was able to pit and exit comfortably in front, the race effectively won. By Lap 42 Schumacher had a 5.8 lead over Alonso and the Spaniard's challenge had been crushed. Raikkonen still led but would need to pit again.

The only area of doubt was if Massa could pressure Alonso for 2nd place before they got to the line and if Raikkonen could catch Massa for 3rd place.

On Lap 44 Raikkonen pitted, and most of the combatants in the battle for 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th pitted on Lap 45 - Barrichello, Ralf Schumacher, Fisichella and Villeneuve. Barrichello held off Ralf, while Fisi was able to jump Villeneuve.

The order on Lap 46 was Schumacher, Alonso, Massa, Raikkonen, Montoya (stopped once), Rosberg (stopped once), Barrichello, Ralf Schumacher, Fisichella, Villeneuve.

Montoya pitted at the end of Lap 48 but came out behind the battling foursome and then retired on Lap 54. Ralf Schumacher's Toyota also stopped with a blown Toyota engine handing his place to Fisichella who only just avoided him in the final turn.

Though it looked like the very-late-stopping Rosberg was going through to the flag, he stopped again on Lap 49 and rejoined 8th, which would become 7th once Ralf Schumacher retired.

In the closing stages of the race Michael Schumacher eased off at the front as the race for podium places tightened up behind him. Massa was only 0.8 away from Alonso at the line, but was never in a postion to make a move. Rakkonen was 0.5 behind Massa and though he had a tiny look on the final lap in reality he was never close enough to challenge.

So, Michael Schumacher and Ferrari had put together back-to-back victories in a performance that was more impressive than Imola where he hadn't looked fastest but had won anyway. Today the team looked in control of the race, the car of the field and took a 1-3. Fernando Alonso will be glad that we're off to Circuit de Catalunya next.

FH

Result of the European GP on Sunday May 7th. 2006

PositionDriverTeam TyresTimePoints
1.M.SCHUMACHERFerrariB1:35:58.78510
2.ALONSORenaultM+ 3.0078
3.MASSAFerrariB+ 4.0046
4.RAIKKONENMcLarenM+ 4.0085
5.BARRICHELLOHondaM+ 1:12.0054
6.FISICHELLARenaultM+ 1:14.0013
7.ROSBERGWilliamsB+ 1:14.0052
8.VILLENEUVEBMW-SauberM+ 1:29.0031
9.TRULLIToyotaB+ 1 lap0
10.HEIDFELDBMW-SauberM+ 1 lap0
11.SPEEDToro RossoM+ 1 lap0
12.MONTEIROMidland F1B+ 1 lap0
13.ALBERSMidland F1B+ 1 lap0
Did not finish:-
14.R. SCHUMACHERToyotaB+ 7 laps0
15.MONTOYAMcLarenM+ 7 laps0
16.SATOSuper AguriB+ 15 laps0
17.MONTAGNYSuper AguriB+ 30 laps0
18.KLEINRed BullM+ 31 laps0
19.BUTTONHondaM+ 31 laps0
20.WEBBERWilliamsB+ 48 laps0
21.COULTHARDRed BullM+ 60 laps0
22.LIUZZIToro RossoM+ 60 laps0


San Marino GP Report: Renault lose, Schumi wins Sunday April 23rd. 2006

Michael Schumacher wins

Michael Schumacher ended Ferrari's 18-month drought - without a grand prix victory over either Renault or McLaren - by clinging on for victory at San Marino, despite World Champion Fernando Alonso attaching his Renault to the German's rear-wing for the final twenty laps of the race.

With the Ferrari flagging on its scrubbed Bridgestone tyres, a cautious Alonso could do nothing to get past on the tight Imola track, a reversal of the race situation of 2005, when Schumacher pressured Alonso all the way to the line.

Juan Montoya finished a distant third for Mclaren with Felipe Massa fourth and Kimi Raikkonen fifth. It was a disastrous race for Honda who started from 2nd and 3rd on the grid and could only manage a 7th place.

Race Report:The Imola circuit was bathed in sunshine with an unseasonably high ambient temperature of 27C, making it 43C on the track.

Overtaking at Imola is notoriously difficult but the San Marino Grand Prix of 2006 was about to set an unenviable record.

As the red lights went out Michael Schumacher sprinted away from pole with no threat from Jenson Button in P2. It was Rubens Barrichello starting fom third on the grid who was swallowed up by Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso who came by him going through the Villeneuve chicane.

Kimi Raikkonen had made an error on his hot lap in qualifying on Saturday (when team boss Ron Dennis thought he had the pace of Alonso) and went backwards on the opening lap as he got sandwiched by the two Toyotas into the Villeneuve chicane.

As the team steamed through Aqua Minerale it was Michael Schumacher from Jenson Button, Felipe Massa, Fernando Alonso, Rubens Barrichello, Ralf Schumacher, Juan Montoya, Jarno Trulli, Mark Webber and Kimi Raikkonen in 10th.

However further back down the field Yuji Ide tipped Cristijan Albers into a spectacular, low-speed multiple roll into the gravel, bringing out the Safety Car before the cars were three quarters of the way round the opening lap.

The Safety Car disappeared at the end of Lap 2 and unlike in Melbourne, Jenson Button didn't lose out on the re-start. Michael Schumacher set about establishing a large enough gap to facilitate a three-stop race. On Lap 4 the gap to Button was 1.2 seconds with Felipe Massa keeping up and Alonso only 3.5 seconds back from the No.1 Ferrari.

By Lap 7 the gap to Alonso was 5.1 seconds, on Lap 8 it was 5.6 seconds.

Further back down the field Tonio Liuzzi survived a lurid spin and Jarno Trulli headed back to the pits, the steering rack on his Toyota having given up the ghost very early.

Though Schumacher clearly had the fastest Ferrari, Felipe Massa wasn't holding up Fernando Alonso and was consistently putting in the fastest first sector of any car.

On Lap 9 Massa was only 4.3 seconds back and while Schumi had lowered the fastest lap to 1:25.798 he hadn't dropped Button, Massa or Alonso who was able to keep up with a 1:25.957.

By Lap 12 the gap to Alonso was up to 7.1 seconds with very little movement down the field. In fact this was the distinguishing feature of the 2006 San Marino GP. Apart from the opening laps, when the field shuffled into the first corner, there were no significant overtaking moves between the top 10 cars - at any time in the race.

The McLarens were picking up pace and by Lap 14 Montoya (7th) was hustling Ralf Schumacher (6th), while Raikkonen (9th) was pressuring Webber (8th)

Michael lowered the Fastest Lap time to 1:25.218 on Lap 14 while Rubens pitted from 5th place for the first time. Inexplicably he was stationary for 15.5 seconds and rejoined in 12th. A lap later Jenson Button was in for his first stop and a jammed wheelnut set him back, because he rejoined behind two cars that slipped past in the time that JB was stopped.

If Michael was going to stop three times then he wasn't edging out the gap to Fernando Alonso fast enough. Suddenly, from putting in 1:25 second laps, Felipe Massa (now in 2nd place) was running 1:26s and even a 1:27s. With Alonso directly behind him, Schumacher's lead started to increase at a far faster rate. It looked like a clear instruction from Ferrari to Massa, who had no traffic to contend with, to delay Alonso.

At the same time Schumacher put the hammer down and on Lap 18 reduced the Fastest Lap to 1:25.179, the gap moving out to 11.8 seconds. On Lap 19 he lowered it to 1:24.624 as Massa dived into the pits for the first time.

At the end of Lap 20 Schumacher followed Massa in, and the widespread belief that Ferrari were on a three-stopper was disproved (this being a 62-lap race). As a result of his 'slowing Alonso' duties Massa dropped behind Jenson Button in the race order.

Both McLarens had been rumoured to be carrying a lot of fuel but at the end of Lap 22 Raikkonen pitted, followed a lap later by Montoya.

On Lap 23 it was Alonso who claimed Fastest lap with a 1:24.569 as he now led the race and tried to stretch out his lead over Schumacher.

The order on Lap 24 was Alonso (not stopped), Schumacher, Button, Massa, Montoya, Villeneuve (not stopped), Mark Webber, Fisichella (not stopped), Raikkonen. After his very long pit-stop Rubens Barrichello had fallen back to a dismal 13th place.

At the end of Lap 25 Alonso pitted, emerged 9.1 seconds behind Michael Schumacher in 2nd place and set off after him.

On Lap 27 Schumi put in a 1:26.362 compared to Alonso's 1:24.962 and the gap was at 9.8 seconds; all of a sudden Alonso was flying and Schumi was rapidly going backwards. On successive laps the gap reduced from 9.8 to 8.5 to 7.2 to 5.8 to 4.6 seconds on Lap 31. Schumi's second set of tyres was very very bad.

While the Ferrari was being swallowed up by the Renault, Honda were adding to their own miseries. Jenson Button with a serious chance of a podium position came in for his second pit-stop. When the lollypop was raised too early Jenson left the pits with his refuelling rig still attached.

What compounded the error was Button's reaction to being hit on the head by the lollypop trying to stop him again. He kept on going, only dragging the remnants of rig further down the pitlane. Marshals waving frantically at him persuaded him to stop and let his pitcrew race up to the car and remove the nozzle that was left sticking out.

The gap from Schumacher to Alonso was down to 0.4 by Lap 34, but the Spaniard could do little about getting past ,despite the fact that Schumaxcher was now lapping in the 1:28s. Alonso had a look down the inside into Tosa on several occasions but thought better of it.

The front two were running so slowly now that 3rd place Felipe Massa, who had previously been 24 seconds back on Lap 33, was only 14 seconds behind by Lap 40. They couldn't shake off lapped cars either. There was no way of getting past Schumacher on the track, so would Renault wait until the pit-stops?

Renault team boss Pat Symmonds took the decision to go for an early pit-stop to try and break the deadlock and at the end of Lap 41 Alonso pitted, while Massa also came in for his final stop.

Given Alonso's overwhelming pace and Schumi's waning lap times, together with Renault's better position on the pitlane, it looked like the Renault team might just about squeeze it. Schumacher came in a lap later and was stopped for 0.4 seconds longer than Alonso. But as the Ferrari accelerated out of the pitlane, the Renault was still coming through the final turn. Schumacher had done it, he'd kept the lead despite his fading tyres.

On Lap 43 the order was Montoya (still to stop), Schumacher, Alonso, Raikkonen (still to stop), Massa, Button (still to ), Fisichella (still to stop), Mark Webber and Ralf Schumacher.

Though Alonso was able to attach himself to the rear end of the Ferrari again, Schumacher's third set of tyres looked better than his second set and the lap times were at least a second better.

Montoya made his final stop and emerged third, while team-mate Raikkonen closed on Massa but could find no way past. Alonso looked as though he would push Schumacher all the way to the line and the Renault team indicated that they were going to turn the revs up.

But with three laps to go Alonso had a moment as he hit the kerb on the entry to the Villeneuve chicane too hard and almost sent his Renault into the gravel beyond. It allowed Schumi to establish a 2.2 second gap which he joyously kept until the flag.

Alonso's brakes looked to be on the limit and a further waggle in Aqua Minerale seemed to prove that.

Michael Schumacher crossed the line for his and Bridgestone's first competitive win (ie not counting the 2005 USGP demonstration run) in 18 months. Though it was a fantastic bounce-back for the Scuderia it had the feel of a race Renault should have won, rather than one that the Maranello team had taken by the scruff of the neck.

But in F1, a win is a win is a win and Schumacher and his jubilant team will use it as a spur to move forward in the European races. Alonso lost two points off his World Championship lead and won't be losing any sleep.

FH

Result of the San Remo GP on Sunday April 23rd. 2006

PositionDriverTeam TyresTimePoints
1.M.SCHUMACHERFerrariB91:06.48610
2.ALONSORenaultM+2.08
3.MONTOYAMcLarenM+15.006
4.MASSAFerrariB+ 17.05
5.RAIKKONENMcLarenM+ 17.504
6.WEBBERWilliamsB+ 37.703
7.BUTTONHondaM+ 39.602
8.FISICHELLARenaultM+ 40.201
9.R. SCHUMACHERToyotaB+ 45.500
10.BARRICHELLOHondaM+ 77.800
11.ROSBERGWilliamsB+ 79.600
12.VILLENEUVEBMW-SauberM+ 82.300
13.HEIDFELDBMW-SauberM+ 1 lap0
14.LIUZZIToro RossoM+ 1 lap0
15.SPEEDToro RossoM+ 1 lap0
16.MONTEIROMidland F1B+ 2 lap0
17.SATOSuper AguriB+ 3 laps0
Did not finish:-
18.COULTHARDRed BullMlap 500
19.KLEINRed BullMlap 410
20.TRULLIToyotaBlap 30
21.IDESuper AguriBlap 20
22.ALBERSMidland F1Blap 10


Australian GP: Alonso wins dramatic Aussie GP Sunday April 2nd. 2006

Crash at start of Australian GP

22 drivers, 12 finishers, ten retirements, four Safety Cars and only one winner, Fernando Alonso, that was the story of Sunday's Australian Grand Prix.

Fernando Alonso won the race by less than two seconds from the McLaren of Kimi Raikkonen. Ralf Schumacher was third, scoring his first podium of 2006 for Toyota. BMW-Sauber's Nick Heidfeld was 4th while Giancarlo Fisichella capitalised on a last lap, second last corner blow-up from Jenson Button to snatch 5th place.

Race Report:

The temperatures were as low as they had been for Qualifying, and although the clouds above Melbourne's Albert park looked heavy, rain was not predicted for the race - the track was at 28C with an ambient temperature of 20C.

As the cars desperately tried to get some temperature into their tyres on the parade lap, Juan Montoya switched off the traction control and gunned it out of the final turn. Embarrassingly the McLaren spun across the track and though he tried to reverse away from his position sideways on the track, he had to wait for the rest of the field to go past before joining the back of the grid.

However as the cars lined up, frantic hand waves from the No.2 car in P2 signalled that Giancarlo Fisichella had lost his engine. Race Director Charlie Whiting sent the cars off on a second parade lap which allowed Montoya to filter through to his P5 grid slot and consigned Fisi to a pitlane start.

As the lights went out, Jenson Button came under immediate threat from the Renault of Fernando Alonso starting directly behind him. Going into Turn 1 Jenson protected the inside line and Alonso had to stand hard on his brakes to avoid running into the back of the Honda.

Button protected the line into Turn 3 and it looked like job done, Alonso could find no way past and looked destined to spend a long time behind him.

Behind them the two McLarens embarked on an absolutely breathtaking opening lap dice that saw them swap positions and run side by side through corners trying to gain maximum advantage. "It was fun" said Montoya afterwards, although whether the white-knuckled team management saw it quite the same way after Raikkonen's first lap exit in Malaysia is a moot point.

Raikkonen ended up in front of Montoya when the first Safety Car was deployed, which was well before Alonso had even crossed the start/finish line.

The Safety Car was out because Massa and Klien had had a coming together in Turn 2 and collected an innocent Nico Rosberg in the process. Massa went straight on into the barriers, wrecking his second Ferrari in two days while Rosberg limped back to the pits with a terminally damaged rear wing. Klien continued. The Williams team thought about mending it and sending Nico out on a test session, but there had been too much damage done.

Apart from the Massa/Klien/Rosberg accident, David Coulthard had indulged in some panel bashing with Jarno Trulli - the Toyota spun out of the race there and then, but the Scot's Red Bull continued, although he lost places in the process.

So as the cars crossed the line first time round to pick up the Safety Car it was Button from Alonso, Raikkonen, Montoya, Ralf Schumacher, Webber, Michael Schumacher in 8th, Liuzzi 9th and Speed 10th. Jacques Villeneuve, despite starting from 19th place on the grid, had managed to take advantage of the midfield exits and was up to 11th place. Giancarlo Fisichella in the second Renault - who had had a spin all on his own in Turn 2 on the opening lap - trailed round 19th.

Lap 2 saw an astonishing moment in F1 history as Yuji Ide's time came up purple, giving him the Fastest Lap of the race so far. True, it was a 2:32.982, behind the Safety Car, but he had still got the stat. While the cars lapped slowly, allowing for the removal of Massa's stricken Ferrari, Montoya filtered back from 4th to 6th place. There had been questions as to whether or not he was allowed to drive through the field to retake his grid slot on the second start.

Massa's car was quickly removed and on the restart Button ran very wide in the final turn and was slow onto the start/finish straight. Such was the Honda's lack of speed on restart that Fernando Alonso was able to cruise past him well before the braking zone into Turn 1.

The home straight on the Australian GP

Ralf Schumacher was also having problems and lost his 4th place to a fantastic overtaking move by Mark Webber round the outside into Turn 3, the German was immediately swallowed up by Montoya too. Nick Heidfeld had a look at Ralf as well, but by this time he'd got a grip of the Toyota and wasn't going to relinquish 6th place.

By the end of Lap 3 Alonso had opened up a 2.7 second gap to Button and the extremely racy Juan Montoya then dispatched Webber into 5th place on Lap 4.

All of a sudden there was a flurry of broken polystyrene as Klien's Red Bull left the track, demolishing a trackside sign and putting debris onto the circuit. His car had suddenly snapped out of control under braking and it looked like something had given way on the Red Bull after his Lap 1 contact.

By Lap 6 Alonso was 3.7 seconds clear, Fisi had hauled himself up to 15th place, while Rubens Barrichello was stuck behind 12th placed man Takuma Sato (edging out the Midland F1s again).

Though he'd retired three laps earlier, the track marshals were unhappy about the material still on the circuit by Klien's car and at the end of Lap 7 the Safety Car was out yet again to give them chance to clear it. The field closed up once more and at the end of Lap 9 it was in again.

Yet again on restart Jenson Button was slow out of the final turn and couldn't resist Kimi Raikkonen into Turn 1 (even though he'd turned the engine mix up), though Raikkonen found it much tougher to pass than Alonso had done.

Honda team manager Nick Fry revealed afterwards that Jenson could get no temperature and hence no grip into the tyres running behind the Safety Car and was a sitting duck on all of the restarts.

Juan Montoya was keen to get past Button too and even looked up the inside at the incredibly quick Turn 11, but wisely, thought better of it.

On Lap 11, the order was now Alonso, Raikkonen, Button, Montoya, Webber and Ralf Schumacher. Nick Heidfeld was in 7th with Michael Schumacher 8th followed by Liuzzi and Speed.

At this stage of the race Michael Schumacher was running much slower than the leading cars with lap times down in the 1:30s compared to 1:28s and 1:27s at the front.

So it wasn't too much of a surprise to see Tonio Liuzzi come steaming up the inside of the Ferrari to relegate Schumi to 9th place on Lap 12. The former World Champion was stuck in a Toro Rosso sandwich with Liuzzi in front and Scott Speed now pressing from behind.

Free of the Safety Car for the rest of the afternoon - or so he thought - Alonso began to put in one his sustained bursts of speed that the Renault team would dearly love to see Fisichella emulate. He set a series of Fastest Laps.

Lap 12: 1:27.577 gap to Raikkonen 1.9
Lap 13: 1:27.475 gap to Raikkonen 4.1
Lap 15: 1:27.401 gap to Raikkonen 5.0
Lap 16: 1:27.135
Lap 17: 1:26.999
Lap 18: 1:26.902 gap to Raikkonen 9.1

While Alonso was soaring away, Fisichella took 10th place off Speed and cruised up behind Michael Schumacher. His engineer Alan Permaine told him "Next is Michael, he's really slow, you can take him easy, easy." The first bit was right, the second bit was not. At the end of Lap 18 Juan Montoya started the first round of pit-stops. On Lap 19 Button, Ralf Schumacher and Fisi came in; a lap later Alonso took his stop.

Alonso rejoined in third place behind Raikkonen who now led from Webber. Behind him Juan Montoya got past Jenson Button just after the pit-stops to effectively demote the Brit from 3rd to 4th. Ralf Schumacher failed to slow enough in the pitlane and had to suffer a drive-through penalty.

When Raikkonen pitted at the end of Lap 21 it left the Aussie in front on his home track. Though it was a slightly false position, Webbo, not having stopped, it was nice to be P1 on Lap 22.

On Lap 23, the smiles turned to a rage of frustration as the Williams was seen cruising with a healthy engine, but no drive. So, both Williams cars out for the second race running.

All the while that other cars had been pitting, Michael Schumacher had been quietly progressing forward. On Lap 24 he'd made his way up to 4th place, and after he pitted along with Nick Heidfeld on Lap 25, he rejoined in 6th place. Schumi had managed to nudge past his brother, while Nick Heidfeld had rejoined in 4th place and demoted Jenson Button to a sorry 5th.

What was more significant, was that on his second set of tyres, Michael was much quicker. It was like he'd taken on a different compound on Lap 27. Schumi put in his personal best of 1:27.180 even though he had a full stint of fuel on board. At this stage of the race the Ferrari driver was the quickest on track and he began to haul in 5th place Button.

On Lap 29 Alonso had stretched out a 17-second advantage and with Villeneuve yet to stop the order was Alonso, Raikkonen, Montoya, Heidfeld, Button, M.Schumacher, Villeneuve, Ralf Schumacher, with Liuzzi in 9th and Fisichella still 10th.

At the front Montoya was quickly hauling Raikkonen in, while Alonso was edging out a big lead thanks to Raikkonen's lack of pace. Meanwhile Giancarlo Fisichella's engineer was complaining over team radio at Fisi's lack of pace: "I know you've got understeer but you've got the same fuel load as Fernando and you're two seconds slower, come on!"

Fisi after getting up to 10th place had just stopped there and was making no impression on Liuzzi.

Then on Lap 34 we saw a Ferrari battering its way along the barriers sending carbon fibre and aero parts everywhere along the pit straight. Michael Schumacher in his bid to chase down Jenson Button's 5th place had run wide at the exit of the final turn, stuck his wheels over the concrete rumble strips which had launched him into the air. When he had landed, the car had snapped immediately left and destroyed the bodywork before sending it across the track.

The third Safety Car of the afternoon was deployed and the whole field took advantage and dived into the pits for second pit-stops. There was enough separation between the two Renaults and the two Hondas to get both cars out in turn, but the McLarens had to come in and queue. Worse for Montoya, Raikkonen's car had been slowed by a broken wing endplate which necessitated a front nose change. So Montoya was hugely delayed while he watched his team-mate's car being serviced.

The result of it all was that the Colombian rejoined in 6th place allowing Ralf Schumacher past into 5th.

So the positions on Lap 35 as they lined up behind the Safety Car were Alonso, Heidfeld, Raikkonen, Button, Ralf Schumacher, Montoya, Fisichella, Villeneuve in 8th, Liuzzi in 9th and Barrichello 10th.

Jacques Villeneuve had timed his one pit-stop perfectly, pitting just as Schumacher had his accident.

The race was re-started at the end of Lap 37 and Alonso, who was running ahead of the lapped Midland cars, was able to put a huge buffer in between himself and the pursuing cars because both Midlands backed off. Raikkonen and Heidfeld couldn't pass them before the line as the Renault sprinted off into the distance.

There was chaos through Turns 1, 2 and 3 as Raikkonen, Heidfeld, Ralf Schumacher, Juan Montoya and Jenson Button battled it out. Button had his (by now) usual bad restart on cold tyres and was taken by both Ralf and Juan. Replays showed that Button's front left tyre hit Montoya's right rear in the process but both men continued.

If Button's restart was bad Heidfeld's was disastrous. Unnerved by running with backmarkers, Heidfeld was overtaken by Raikkonen, Ralf Schumacher and Juan Montoya in successive corners as the BMW-Sauber driver hesitated. It looked like he'd got the call for the Safety Car early and simply backed off.

Because in the middle of it all Tonio Liuzzi had hit the barriers halfway to Turn 3 and retired his Toro Rosso, and then the Safety car was deployed for the fourth time before they'd even got halfway round the lap!

So on Lap 39 the order was now Alonso leading from Kimi Raikkonen, Ralf Schumacher, Montoya, Heidfeld, Button (now back in 6th place), Fisichella, Jacques Villeneuve in 8th, with Scott Speed in 9th place.

The Lap 41 restart looked like a replay of the previous restart with Alonso using the presence of the Midland cars to delay his pursuers and make an escape. It was left to Raikkonen and Ralf to barge their way past the two backmarkers, but by the end of the lap Alonso was already five seconds clear.

Juan Montoya, having had an uneventful opening two races, was having an afternoon of it in his McLaren. He'd got back past Heidfeld, and was now keen to take Ralf Schumacher's 3rd place. On Lap 46, though, he had an accident similar to Michael Schumacher's. He ran wide at the exit of the final turn while trying to get close to Ralf, ran onto the rumble strips which launched the McLaren.

Montoya wasn't so wide as Schumi and managed to keep his car on the circuit, but the moment it landed the rear light started to flash and the car suddenly cut out - race over for JPM, parked against the pitwall.

The order was now Alonso from Raikkonen, an unthreatened Ralf Schumacher in third, Heidfeld in 4th, Button back up to 5th followed by Giancarlo Fisichella in 6th. Villeneuve was 7th followed by Barrichello who was through to 8th.

Alonso then lowered the Fastest Lap.
Lap 46: 1:26.961
Lap 47: 1:26.926
Lap 49: 1:26.189

All this while Fisi was putting in 1:28s

Alonso had the gap out to 8.7 seconds and the win looked his - Coulthard closed in on Scott Speed's 8th place but he couldn't get past the Toro Rosso. Giancarlo Fisichella suddenly found some speed - helped by a stern word from Flavio Briatore - and put in a 1:27.561 as he pursued Jenson Button for 5th place. Though he got into his slipstream, he didn't look like he had the speed to get by.

In front of him Raikkonen hadn't given up and reduced the gap from 8.7 seconds on Lap 53 to just 1.8 seconds as the cars crossed the line. However Alonso had already radioed in: "I am very relaxed," so it looked like he was managing the gap to the line.

Button looked like 5th place was his till a huge puff of smoke at the second to last corner announced the explosion of his Honda V8. Button could have seemingly cruised over the line but his engineers told him to stop, so that he could get a free engine change for Imola. Behind him Fisichella almost lost it on the oil trail but took 5th whileVilleneuve took 6th and Barrichello was promoted from 8th to 7th. Scott Speed scored a very valuable point for Toro Rosso. His first in F1.

It had been an incredibly eventful race, although the win hardly looked in doubt from the minute that Alonso cruised past Button for the lead. The biggest worry will be the Honda team's inability to get any grip on their tyres in cold conditions, while Michael Schumacher finds himself 17 points behind Fernando Alonso with only three races gone.

Note: After the race Scott Speed had 25 seconds added to his time for passing under yellows and was moved to P9 in the official result.

Result of the Australian GP on Sunday April 2nd. 2006

PositionDriverTeam TyresTimePoints
1.ALONSORenaultM1:34:27.87010
2.RAIKKONENMcLarenM+ 1.8298
3.R. SCHUMACHERToyotaB+ 24.8246
4.HEIDFELDBMW-SauberM+ 31.0325
5.FISICHELLARenaultM+ 38.4214
6.VILLENEUVEBMW-SauberM+ 49.5543
7.BARRICHELLOHondaM+ 51.9042
8.COULTHARDRed BullM+ 53.981
9.SPEEDToro RossoM+ 78.810
10.ALBERSMidland F1B+ 1 lap0
11.SATOSuper AguriB+ 2 laps0
12.IDESuper AguriB+ 3 laps0
Did not finish:-
13.BUTTONHondaMlap 570
14.MONTOYAMcLarenMlap 470
15.MONTEIROMidland F1Blap 400
16.LIUZZIToro RossoMlap 380
17.M.SCHUMACHERFerrariBlap 320
18.WEBBERWilliamsBlap 230
19.KLEINRed BullMlap 50
20.ROSBERGWilliamsBlap 10
21.TRULLIToyotaBlap 10
22.MASSAFerrariBlap 10


Malaysian GP: Renault send out ominous warning Sunday March 19th 2006

Renault in action

After the hope and promise of Bahrain, Renault delivered an ominous warning of supremacy - and reliability - as Giancarlo Fisichella led the team to a 1-2 in Malaysia.

The Italian never put a wheel out of place as he secured his third grand prix victory from pole position. Despite a fuel irregularity, Alonso took second to increase his World Championship lead.

Third place was a fair reward for Jenson Button on a weekend when Honda couldn't match the World Champions' pace.

Kimi Raikkonen, billed as pre-race favourite crashed out after being shunted from behind by the Red Bull of Christian Klien. Yet the lacklustre pace of McLaren team-mate Juan Pablo Montoya suggested that, even given Renault's near-bullet-proof reliability, Raikkonen would have struggled to match the pace of the two Renaults.

Race Report

As the lights went out the biggest question to be answered was how many of the engines would last through their second grand prix distance in ambient temperatures of 33 C.

With milder conditions than Qualifying on Saturday, the track was only 36C unlike the 50C+ it had been the previous day.

As the red lights went out Fisichella got a great start from P1 while Jenson in P2 got a clean getaway unlike the previous weekend where his clutch had faltered.

The Williams drivers, starting from Row 2, immediately started acting like they weren't teammates at all. Nico Rosberg, starting from the outside veered over to push Mark Webber tight to the inside and ruin his angle into the Apex of Turn 1.

It seemed a pretty ill-advised (a GP2 special) move considering who they had behind them, however it wasn't the two Mclarens on Row 3 that took advantage. Back from Row 4 stormed the amazing Fernando Alonso who weaved between Raikkonen and Montoya and straight into the gap where Nico Rosberg's car should have been on the outside of Turn 1 - had he not been trying to pin Webber's car to the inside.

Alonso was instantly up from 7th to 3rd by the first corner. Although his was not the most stellar start of all, further back David Coulthard made up an amazing 8 places on the opening lap in his Red Bull, from 19th to 11th.

Michael Schumacher has a drink

Rosberg's wild start let in the McLarens and going down to Turn 4 both cars went wide of the racing line in a bid to pick off the Williams. Neither made it through but as Kimi fell behind Montoya, just as he was turning in, he was hit by the left front wheel of Christian Klien's Red Bull. The impact broke his rear suspension, sending him off into the gravel a corner later.

Nick Heidfeld also made a brilliant start gunning his Sauber into 6th place, though taking advantage of the fact that both Klien and Raikkonen were effectively out of the race and also overtaking Rosberg on the opening lap. Klien returned to the pits with a deranged front wheel which would take the team several laps to fix.

So at the end of the opening lap it was Giancarlo Fisichella 0.9 seconds clear of Jenson Button with Alonso in third place. Mark Webber was fourth, followed by Montoya 5th, Heidfeld 6th, Rosberg 7th, Trulli 8th, Villeneuve 9th, Michael Schumacher 10th with DC in 11th place.

Result of the Malaysian GP on Sunday March 19th. 2006

PositionDriverTeam TyresTimePoints
1.FISICHELLARenaultM90:40.52910
2.ALONSORenaultM+ 4.508
3.BUTTONHondaM+ 9.606
4.MONTOYAMcLarenM+ 39.305
5.MASSAFerrariB+ 43.204
6.M.SCHUMACHERFerrariB+ 43.803
7.VILLENEUVEBMW-SauberM+ 80.402
8.R. SCHUMACHERToyotaB+ 81.201
9.TRULLIToyotaB+ 1 lap0
10.BARRICHELLOHondaM+ 1 lap0
11.LIUZZIToro RossoM+ 2 laps0
12.ALBERSMidland F1B+ 2 laps0
13.MONTEIROMidland F1B+ 2 laps0
14.SPEEDToro RossoM+ 2 laps0
15.SATOSuper AguriB+ 2 laps0
Did not finish:-
16.HEIDFELDBMW-SauberMlap 480
17.IDESuper AguriBlap 370
18.WEBBERWilliamsBlap 160
19.COULTHARDRed BullMlap 120
20.KLEINRed BullMlap 110
21.ROSBERGWilliamsBlap 70
22.RAIKKONENMcLarenMlap 10


Bahrain GP: Perfect Start For Alonso Sunday March 12th. 2006

Brothers in arms

The 2006 season couldn't have began in more dramatic and encouraging fashion as Fernando Alonso won the Bahrain GP by 1.2 seconds from the rejuvenated Michael Schumacher.

The reigning World Champion just managed to hold off the Schumacher's challenge after he emerged from his second pit-stop side-by-side with the Ferrari.

It was a classic duel, and also one that bodes well for a competitive season.

Kimi Raikkonen and McLaren will also be buoyed by the Finn's third place. Raikkonen finished just 19 seconds behind Alonso and Schumacher despite starting the race from the back of the grid and being held up for a significant portion of the race by Jacques Villeneuve and the ailing Giancarlo Fisichella.

Jenson Button's challenge was thwarted by a tardy start, but the Englishman pulled off a string of clinical overtaking manoeuvres to suggest that Honda's pre-season optimism was not without solid foundation.

But arguably the star of the race was debutant Nico Rosberg. The youngster set the fastest lap of the race in his Williams and finished in a highly-creditable seventh place.

Race Report The track temperature was up to 40 C with an ambient of 23 C and far less of a breeze than we had experienced on Saturday for Qualifying as the cars lined up on the grid after the parade lap.

There was talk that Massa might be used as a delaying buffer between Michael Schumacher and the rest of the field, and also rumours that both Ferraris would pit early.

As the red lights went out Montoya was immediately into the centre of the track driving around the slow-starting Jenson Button. The Honda driver, starting 3rd on the grid, immediately found himself swallowed up by Alonso, Montoya and team-mate Rubens Barrichello. Alonso challenged Massa into Turn 1 but the Ferrari driver was having none of it.

Further back Cristijan Albers came to an abrupt stop while rookie Nico Rosberg spun at his first corner in F1 after an incident with Nick Heidfeld. Not a great start for either German..

Further round the first lap Alonso used his experience to jump up the inside of Massa and take P2 and the chase to Michael Schumacher was on. Meanwhile Button was keen to get past Barrichello again.

At the end of the first lap the order was: Schumacher, Alonso, Massa , Montoya in 4th, Barrichello in 5th, Button in 6th, Fisichella in 7th Webber 8th, Klien in 9th, Coulthard in 10th, Villeneuve in 11th, Liuzzi 12th and Kimi Raikkonen up to 13th from the back of the grid.

At the front Michael was edging out a slight lead from Alonso; a tenth here, two tenths there. Behind him Button overtook Barrichello, ran wide and promptly lost the place again. On Lap 3, Button finally got his man up the inside into Turn 1 and the pair wouldn't see each other for the rest of the afternoon as Button powered off into the distance.

Schumacher had edged the gap to Alonso out to 2.3 seconds by Lap 5, at which point the pitcrew came on the radio to Giancarlo Fisichella with the ominous words "Giancarlo, I think we still have a problem."

Barrichello in his Honda uniform with sun glasses

Fisichella had been hampered in his qualifying performance with a sudden lack of engine power and though the team had changed everything on the car they could - bar the engine - they were still anxious to see how Fisi's car performed on the installation lap. In the end he started with the car he qualified rather than opting for the T-car.

Michael began to reel off a series of blistering laps, steadily lowering the fastest lap times and edging out the gap to Alonso to 4.7 seconds.
Lap 5: 1:33.948
Lap 7: 1:33.808
Lap 8: 1:33.642

Though on Lap 8 Ferrari technical chief Ross Brawn had the worrying sight of Felipe Massa going straight on at Turn 1, locking his tyres and almost collecting Alonso's Renault in a slide that was reminiscent of Raikkonen/Button at the Nurburgring last year. Massa, anxious to catch up with Alonso, had left his braking too late and the slide had flat-spotted his tyres.

Worse was to come when the Brazilian got back to the pits and a new right rear tyre couldn't be put on because of a defective air gun, the pit-stop taking an agonising 47 seconds and ending any chance of points for the afternoon. Massa rejoined in last place.

On Lap 10, Alonso began to close the gap with his own Fastest Lap of 1:33.560. Button had closed right up on Montoya bynow but the duo were already 12 and 12.3 seconds behind the leader. Alonso's speed simply proved the spur for Michael to go faster.

Lap 11: Schumacher 1.33.558
Lap 12: Schumacher 1.33.553
Lap 13: Schumacher 1.33.419
Lap 14: Schumacher 1.32.798

...after which he pitted with a lead of 6.2 seconds and rejoined in 4th place on what was to be a two-stop strategy. All the front runners with the exception of Coulthard and Raikkonen would run two stops today.

Button got past Montoya up the inside into Turn 1 on lap 11, while Raikkonen had only got as far as 10th, finding himself held up in a Fisichella, Webber, Villeneuve queue.

Raikkonen found a way past the BMW-Sauber driver on Lap 16 to claim 9th place and then found himself in 7th after Barrichello and Fisichella both pitted for their first stops - Fisichella complaining bitterly about the state of his car on the pit radio. "Yeah, but it's ****ing sh**" he told his race engineer and a global TV audience.

Button pitted from third place on Lap18, while Alonso only ran four laps further than Schumacher and came in at the end of Lap 19. Montoya and Raikkonen kept on going, though.

On his new set of tyres Alonso was significantly faster than Michael Schumacher and it seemed that as the track rubbered in through the race, the Michelins began to like the Sakhir surface a lot more.

Alonso set the fastest lap on Lap 21 with a 1:32.534, while his team-mate, Fisichella, retired the second Renault with hydraulics failure. The gap between the World Champion and Michael Schumacher was getting smaller and smaller. On Lap 22 it was 1.7 seconds. On Lap 23 it was 1.3 seconds and on Lap 24 it was down to 0.7.

Montoya duly stopped, leaving Raikkonen up in 3rd place on lap 25. The order now was: Schumacher, Alonso, Raikkonen (not stopped), Montoya, Button, Coulthard, Webber, Klien, Villeneuve and Liuzzi in 10th place and Rosberg up to 11th place despite his early stop. Rubens Barrichello had lost third gear on his Honda and had dropped into lapping in the 1:37s back in 15th place.

On Lap 26 Button was back up behind Montoya again having lost the place during the pit-stops. At which point one of the surprises of the afternoon lit up the timing screens with Nico Rosberg claiming the Fastest lap of 1:32.521 just before he pitted.

Lap 29, and Button lined up Montoya superbly into Turn 1 again, the Brit faking that he was going to come past, thought better of it, then dived out at the last moment when Montoya thought he was safe this lap. Montoya took the dummy and turned in to what he expected to be an empty track and found the Honda there and quickly corrected his line. It was great TV.

Finally, on Lap 30, Raikkonen, who had been whittling his lap times down and down, came in for his pit-stop along with Coulthard.

Jacques Villeneuve's BMW-Sauber smoked and then his BMW engine let go spectacularly in great clouds of smoke and flame. Frank Williams and Patrick Head in the Williams garage would certainly enjoy that moment. Their new Cosworth engine is supposedly revving to 20,000 rpm - so who needs BMW now...

With everyone having stopped once the order on Lap 30 was now: Schumacher, Alonso, Button, Montoya, Webber, Raikkonen, Klien, Liuzzi, Coulthard, Heidfeld.

By Lap 34 Jenson Button was getting the hurry-up from his pitcrew and put in his own personal fastest lap of the race, a 1:32.824. Raikkonen had made his one and only pit-stop of the race and was only 16 seconds behind the Brit now. With Button having to stop again, it wasn't a big enough time advantage to take on more fuel and tyres and get out in front of the Finn.

Schumi put in his own personal best on Lap 35 and then pitted at the end of Lap 36. The Ferrari driver emerged behind Jenson Button in third place. Alonso now had to put the hammer down to get a big enough gap to come out in front of the Ferrari driver.

To his huge frustration the Spaniard had to wave at backmarkers, including the exceptionally unobservant Nick Heidfeld, to get out of his way. It was now that the grand prix would be won or lost.

At the end of Lap 39 Alonso dived into the pitlane and his team moved exceptionally quickly to get him out in 7.2 seconds. As he gunned the Renault down the pitlane, Schumacher's Ferrari powered down the straight and the two arrived at Turn 1 exactly side by side. But it was Alonso who had the inside line and he moved out wide on the exit to block the Ferrari coming past on the outside.

Button now led the race, but he was in for his second stop a lap later, anxious to get out and stay in front of Raikkonen. It was a vain hope. Such was the Honda crew's haste to get him out again that they released him alongside Jarno Trulli's Toyota in the pitlane and the two ran side by side to the exit. As he emerged onto the track Raikkonen was already turning into Turn 1.

The final phase of the race would be Alonso vs Schumacher and Raikkonen vs Button, Montoya by this stage had faded to 5th place where he would finish.

On Lap 45 the order was:

Alonso 1.3 seconds ahead of Schumacher, who was 18.2 seconds in front of Raikkonen who had Button 0.7 seconds behind him. Montoya was 8.5 seconds behind Button but under no threat from Mark Webber in 6th, Klien was 7th, Coulthard was 8th and Nico Rosberg was 4.6 seconds back in 9th.

However Rosberg was 1.5 seconds a lap quicker than Coulthard and within four laps Rosberg stormed past Coulthard into Turn 1, the Scot realizing the huge speed differential between the two cars. Rosberg wasn't content with a single point on his debut, though, and by the end of the race had caught and passed Christian Klien for a brilliant 7th place.

At the front, Alonso looked to be keeping the gap to Michael Schumacher at a comfortable one second until Lap 51 when Alonso was held up in traffic and slow into the final corner before the pit-straight. Schumi pressed all his engine boosts on the Ferrari 248F1 and cruised up behind the Renault to have a look into the braking zone of Turn 1.

Alonso had just enough advantage to keep in front and that was as close as they got before the chequered flag. Schumi fell back to 1.8 seconds down, while Button also realised he was not going to get a podium this time round.

The World Champion duly took his second successive Bahrain GP victory while all the top teams had something to cheer about. Ferrari had proved they were genuine 2006 contenders, McLaren had pulled off a fantastic podium for Raikkonen and shown better reliability than Renault, while Honda - without Button's sluggish start - would have got a podium themselves.

But star of the race was clearly debutant Nico Rosberg, who despite a first corner spin had put in the Fastest Lap on Lap 42 with a 1:32.408 and taken 7th place behind Webber in 6th. Had he not suffered the extra pit-stop, then he would have been right behind his team-mate.

The Bahrain GP proved to be a great season opener - Melbourne ought to watch out.

Result of the Bahrain GP on Sunday March 12th. 2006

PositionDriverTeam TyresTimePoints
1.ALONSORenaultM89:46.20510
2.M.SCHUMACHERFerrariB+ 1.208
3.RAIKKONENMcLarenM+ 19.306
4.BUTTONHondaM+ 19.905
5.MONTOYAMcLarenM+ 37.004
6.WEBBERWilliamsB+ 41.903
7.ROSBERGWilliamsB+ 63.002
8.KLEINRed BullM+ 66.701
9.MASSAFerrariB+ 69.900
10.COULTHARDRed BullM+ 75.500
11.LIUZZIToro RossoM+ 85.900
12.HEIDFELDBMW-SauberM+ 1 lap0
13.SPEEDToro RossoM+ 1 lap0
14.R. SCHUMACHERToyotaB+ 1 lap0
15.BARRICHELLOHondaM+ 1 lap0
16.TRULLIToyotaB+ 1 lap0
17.MONTEIROMidland F1B+ 2 laps0
18.SATOSuper AguriB+ 4 laps0
Did not finish:-
19.VILLENEUVEBMW-SauberMlap 300
20.FISICHELLARenaultMlap 220
21.IDESuper AguriBlap 180
22.ALBERSMidland F1Blap 10


Some of the many formula one motor racing web sites:-  link already visited  link not yet visited   link opened in a separate window (shift click)  shame about the advertising

http://crash.net/f1/home.asp?championship_id=1&language_id=1
http://www.gp2003.com/index.php?lang=uk
http://MSportF1.com
http://F1Racing.net
http://eurosport.com/home/pages/V3/L0/S25/sport_Lng0_Spo25.shtml
http://F1i.com
http://F1Newsonline.net
http://motorsport.com/news/series.asp?S=F1
http:// PlanetF1.com
http://sports.espn.go.com/rpm/seriesIndex?series=f1
http://f1.racing-live.com/en/index.shtml
http://TotalF1.com
http://GrandPrix.com
http://Pitpass.com
http:// F1Central.net
http://F1NewsToday.com
http://www.formula1.com/ - the official formula one web site
http://sports.espn.go.com/rpm/ - lot of redirection by microsoft
http://speedtv.com/articles/auto/formulaone/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2006_Formula_One_season


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