Michael Schumacher took full advantage of Ferrari
strategy and a brace of fast in-laps to claim his second straight victory of the 2006 Formula One season, delighting fans in his native Germany with success in the European Grand Prix.
Despite starting behind Fernando Alonso, and having to follow the Spaniard through the first two-thirds of the race, Schumacher used the two laps difference between their final fuel stops to stretch out enough of a gap to ensure that he rejoined ahead of the Renault. He then held the lead for the rest of the race, while Alonso fell back into the clutches of Felipe Massa
and Kimi Raikkonen.
There was no further passing up front, giving Alonso his eleventh straight podium and Massa his first ever, while Rubens Barrichello
survived similar pressure from Giancarlo Fisichella
and Nico Rosberg
to claim fifth, after Honda team-mate Jenson Button
was forced to retire with engine problems. Rosberg rose from the very back of the grid to take seventh, with Jacques Villeneuve benefiting from the late retirements of both Juan Montoya and Ralf Schumacher to take the final point.
Alonso made the best of his pole position to lead into the first turn, with Massa initially get a good enough start to think about challenging Schumacher for second. The Brazilian thought better of its, however, slotting in behind the German and protecting his rear from the fast-starting Jenson Button, already up from sixth on the grid.
The Briton's gain came at the expense of Honda team-mate Rubens Barrichello, who slipped back to seventh - from fourth - and Raikkonen, who dropped in behind the Honda. Jarno Trulli
also got the better of Barrichello, with Villeneuve, Nick Heidfeld
and Fisichella rounding out the top ten at the end of the opening lap. Further back, Mark Webber
had vaulted from 20th to twelfth, and Takuma Sato from 19th to 14th, while Juan Montoya joined Barrichello in slipping backwards. There was no sign of Rosberg's eventual ascent at this early stage, however, the second Williams
having only passed Franck Montagny.
The field was quickly brought under control, however, as the safety car appeared to mop up the remains of Tonio Liuzzi's Toro Rosso, which had been involved in a collision with the Red Bull
of David Coulthard
at turn one. The incident was neither man's fault as the corner produced its usual first lap funnelling effect. Ralf Schumacher appeared to make contact with the rear of Liuzzi's car, turning the Italian through 90 degrees and into DC. The STR entry struggled on with right rear and wing damage, but failed to make it to the end of the lap, Liuzzi spinning at the fast chicane and stalling, his race done. Coulthard, meanwhile, made it back to the pits for a new nose, but called it a day two laps later after reporting wayward handling on the RB2.
The clean-up operation last just two tours, with the safety car releasing the field again at the start of lap four, Alonso managing to back the two Ferraris up at the Veedol chicane before flooring it and opening up enough of a gap to hold his advantage to the first turn. Both McLarens were quickly on the move, however, Raikkonen jumping Button and Montoya getting past Fisichella, belying what many thought to be heavier fuel loads in the silver machines.
The retirement list grew further before the first round of pit-stops, Webber's flying start negated by hydraulic problems that left him with little control over his FW28.. When the stops did come, however, it was Alonso that blinked first, posing the question as to how much further Schumacher could run. The answer, surprisingly, was just one more lap, the German following team-mate Massa's lead and calling in at the end of the 18th. Without enough time to build an advantage in clear air, the Ferrari
was unable to vault its Renault
rival, with Alonso, if anything, enjoying a bigger cushion than before.
Of the leading qualifiers, it was Raikkonen - who had inherited the lead when Schumacher stopped - who ran longest, the Finn stretching his fuel to lap 23, after both Hondas and Villeneuve's BMW
had refuelled. Fisichella, Montoya and Ralf Schumacher all went longer still, while Rosberg didn't stop until lap 34, beyond half distance, prompting speculation that Williams
was attempting a single-stop raceplan.