Felipe Massa brought Brazil's 13-year wait for a home winner at Interlagos to an end with an imperious performance in the final grand prix of 2006, but it was the fortunes of title rivals Fernando Alonso
and Michael Schumacher that held the capacity crowd enthralled.
Even though the Spaniard went into the Brazilian Grand Prix
needing just a point to clinch a second world title, and Schumacher started only tenth on the grid, there was still tension in the air as the 71 laps got underway, and the atmosphere remained to the end, despite Schumacher's afternoon not going to plan.
There was a sense of deja vu
as the grid formed up, with two future team-mates lining up alongside each at the front of field. Three years ago, Kimi Raikkonen
was the man staying put, and gridded alongside McLaren-bound Juan Montoya. This time around, with the Colombian already forging a career in NASCAR, it is the Finn on the move, ready to join poleman Massa at Ferrari.
The feeling of 'seen it all before' continued as the pack filed into turn one. Although Massa, Raikkonen and, more importantly, Alonso, made it through safely, there was confusion further back, as a Toyota
rubbed sidepods, causing those behind to take avoiding action or check up earlier and harder than expected. Among those caught out was Mark Webber, the Australian jumping on the anchors and promptly being walloped up the rear by Williams
team-mate Nico Rosberg.
The pair continued minus rear and front wing respectively but, where Webber made it back to the pits before being retired, Rosberg under-estimated the damage to his car and smacked the wall at the final corner. One year ago, the two white-and-blue cars made contact on lap one, on the start-finish straight, innocent victims of a lunge by David Coulthard....
Rosberg's impact was enough to warrant the safety car, although the driver himself appeared relatively unhurt. However, despite five laps at reduced pace while the course workers cleared up the mess, the incident was to have deeper consequences.
The field was released again on lap seven, with the leading order much the same as it had been on the grid. Massa, having made a textbook start, headed Raikkonen, with Jarno Trulli
heading Alonso in a repeat of row two. Giancarlo Fisichella
had gotten the better of Rubens Barrichello
to slot in behind his Renault
team-mate, but already had Schumacher breathing down his neck, the German clearly possessing more pace than many of those around him.
Temperatures on race day were some four degrees higher than had been expected, and that was thought likely to play into the hands of the Bridgestone runners, especially as some of the leading Michelin-shod cars had based their choice of rubber on the cooler conditions of Saturday. The early running, however, did not bear out the theory, with only Massa, Trulli and Schumacher running strongly for the Japanese brand.
Barrichello held seventh on the restart, just ahead of Honda colleague Jenson Button
- already up from 14th on the grid - Ralf Schumacher and the BMW
pairing of Robert Kubica
and Nick Heidfeld, the two Germans having been those to make contact on lap one.