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Canada 2006: Alonso opens Montreal account

25 June 2006

Having never stepped onto the podium in Montreal before, Fernando Alonso ensured his first visit was to the top step with a dominant victory in the Canadian Grand Prix.

The Renault driver was able to overcome the challenge of Kimi Raikkonen in the early stages of the race, and a late safety car period, to take the chequered flag for a fourth consecutive victory that allows him to extend his lead in the championship to 25 points over runner-up Michael Schumacher with half of the 18 races having now been run.

Having qualified on pole for the fifth consecutive race – and with clear daylight back to his main rivals – Alonso started the race as many peoples favourite and made a clean getaway when the lights went green to lead into the first corner. However behind the Spaniard, team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella was to make the mistake that would cost him all chance of fighting for victory himself, as he was a little too eager to try and gain an advantage and jumped the start – automatically setting himself up for a drive-through penalty later in the race.

An attempt to halt his creeping start allowed Kimi Raikkonen to move into second at the start, with Fisichella slotting into third while Jarno Trulli maintained his fourth place. Rather than attacking the Toyota man, Michael Schumacher found himself going backwards at the start as he lost out to both Nico Rosberg and Juan Pablo Montoya – although theirs was a battle that would soon end in tears.

On the run down to turn three at the start of the second lap, Montoya edged the nose of his McLaren up the inside of Rosberg, but the German youngster didn't the see his opponent coming and when he turned in, the resulting contact saw the Williams turned into the wall and retirement on the spot.

The safety car was deployed immediately, with Montoya making his way back to the pits for a new nose, which left Alonso leading from Raikkonen and Fisichella, with Trulli fourth and Schumacher now back into his starting position of fifth. The top ten was completed by a gaggle of drivers who had all made strong starts – with Jenson Button, Jacques Villeneuve, Felipe Massa, Nick Heidfeld and Mark Webber all having made up a number of places on the opening lap, Webber in particular blasting round the opening lap to make up six places.

Further back their were early problems for Midland as Tiago Monteiro and Christijan Albers tangled at the hairpin – with Albers forced to retire on the spot – while Frank Montangy wouldn't last as far as the restart as his Super Aguri gave up the ghost in smoky fashion just before the entry to the pitlane.

On the restart, Alonso maintained his lead from Raikkonen while Fisichella soon pitted to take his drive-through – with the pattern of the early stages soon becoming apparent. While Alonso and Raikkonen were trading fastest laps out front, Schumacher was finding his challenge slowed by Trulli, with the cars in third and fourth lapping up to two seconds a lap off the pace of the two leaders. Although Schumacher was all over the back of the Toyota he was unable to find a way past and with Fisichella having rejoined behind after his drive-through, there was no margin for error on the Ferrari driver's part as he was well aware of the challenger lurking behind.

Right at the front, Raikkonen was waiting to pounce on any uncharacteristic error from Alonso, but with the McLaren seeming to have the pace against the Renault, it looked like the Finn had every chance of taking the lead on pace alone – drawing alongside on the long run down to the final chicane on lap twelve although he was unable to make a move stick as Alonso held the racing line. With Trulli and Schumacher now over twelve seconds behind, the fight for victory appeared to be set as a two-horse race…

While one McLaren was fighting for the lead, the second car was trying to recover through the field with Montoya having dropped down to the rear of the field with his unscheduled stop. Fighting for 15th with Ralf Schumacher – who was struggling with a lack of rear grip in his Toyota – Montoya had already missed the final chicane once, and although he would get past the German on lap eleven, his race wouldn't last much longer as the Colombian became the first – and surprisingly only – driver to fall foul of the 'Wall of Champions', damaging his rear suspension at the end of lap 13 and peeling off at the end of the start finish straight, not the result he was looking for to erase the memories of his disqualification twelve months ago.

At the end of lap 18, Alonso continued to hold a slender lead over Raikkonen, with the three car battle for third dropping further back with each lap. Button held sixth ahead of Massa, the Ferrari driver having moved ahead of home favourite Villeneuve despite being on a one-stop strategy.

Alonso and Raikkonen would continue to circulate within a second of each other before the Spaniard became the first of the leaders to pit, with Raikkonen setting about putting in some fast laps to try and jump into the lead when he stopped two laps later. However, rather than make up time, Raikkonen would lose it, when a problem with the right rear tyre saw him drop to over three seconds behind the Renault when he emerged from pitlane.

In between the two leaders stopping, Schumacher had finally managed to get past Trulli for third but the fact he was behind both of the youngsters despite having yet to stop was an indication of just how much time had been lost in the opening part of the race.

Once all the drivers had completed their first stops, Alonso held a comfortable lead which he was extending lap-by-lap over Raikkonen, while Schumacher was now third from Fisichella and Trulli with Massa and Villeneuve dicing over sixth.

Alonso continued to push right up to his second stop and emerged in second place, but when Raikkonen almost span at the hairpin, it allowed Alonso to close right up to his rival – but safe in the knowledge that the McLaren man had still to make his second stop. That stop would again be beset by problems as his Mercedes engine died as he tried to leave – meaning he emerged just ahead of Schumacher.

The second round of stops didn't lead to many changes at the head of the field, with Trulli dropping behind the one-stopping Massa and the two BMW Sauber drivers swapping position – Heidfeld ahead of Villeneuve – but just when Alonso felt he was safe, so the race took a late twist.

Having struggled all race with an ill-handling car, Ralf Schumacher was lapping at a pace similar to Takuma Sato in the Super Aguri and had already been caught in a number of awkward positions as faster cars attempted to put a lap on his Toyota. However on lap 59, his lack of pace would catch out Villeneuve as he got onto the marbles off the racing line while trying to lap the German and slammed into the wall – putting him out on the spot and bringing out the safety car with just ten laps remaining.

Alonso need not worry however, as the restart more than played into his hands. With Trulli and Heidfeld in between him and Raikkonen, the defending champion eased away when the green flag came out with a sleeping Trulli ending any chance Raikkonen had of challenging for the victory. As it was, he wouldn't even be safe in second as it was Michael Schumacher who came through to start the final lap in second place – Raikkonen having run wide onto the loose stuff on the outside of the chicane and lost vital time, and the place.

There was no time for Schumacher to launch a challenge on the lead as Alonso claimed a victory more comfortable than the winning margin of 2.1 seconds will suggest, while Raikkonen was left to reflect on a missed opportunity as he took the final place on the podium.

Fourth went to Fisichella, while the decision to run a one-stop strategy allowed Massa to take fifth as the final runner to end the race on the lead lap. Trulli was sixth – securing his first points of the season in the process – while Heidfeld took seventh for BMW Sauber after a solid display.

The battle for the final point was one that would go down to the wire – and would be a real 'Battle of Britain' between Jenson Button and David Coulthard. Button had inherited the place when Villeneuve retired but the resulting safety car meant he had both Coulthard and Scott Speed in the Toro Rosso not far behind.

Button did what he could, but Coulthard was able to get a better run out of the chicane on the penultimate lap to make the pass and take the final point – capping a fine drive from the Red Bull man after an engine change on race day had demoted him to the back of the grid.

It meant Honda again missed out on the points after Rubens Barrichello retired early on, with Button ninth and Speed rounding out the top ten.

Christian Klien was eleventh in the second Red Bull, while Mark Webber never featured in the fight for points as he trailed in twelfth. Tonio Liuzzi was 13th after an altercation with Webber saw him forced to pit for a new nose, with Monteiro 14th after his altercation with team-mate Albers on the opening lap.

Sato was the final driver classified in 16th place, despite the fact he went into the wall on the final racing lap, while fighting to try and stay ahead of Monteiro.


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