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San Marino 2006: Schumacher's Imola role reversal.


Michael Schumacher resisted pressure from Renault's Fernando Alonso to end the regie's winning streak and bring to an end an 18-month victory drought for Ferrari against meaningful opposition.

The German led from start to finish but had to put up with Alonso dancing around in his mirrors for two-thirds of the race. The Spaniard appeared to have the greater pace, particularly mid-race when Schumacher was struggling with a poor set of tyres, but a mistimed second pit-stop dropped the world champion back in behind the Ferrari when Schumacher returned to the track, and the status quo remained to the end.

Jenson Button would almost certainly have joined the pair on the podium but suffered a fuel rig problem that saw him take half of the nozzle attachment down pit-lane with him. That allowed Juan Montoya into third, ahead of Felipe Massa, who had blocked Alonso's early charge, and team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, largely anonymous in the second McLaren.

Mark Webber took an equally quiet sixth for Williams, having methodically made his way up from tenth, while Button salvaged seventh from his disappointing afternoon, and Giancarlo Fisichella eighth from his equally poor Saturday.

The race appeared to have started cleanly, unlike the morning's GP2 encounter, but the sense of satisfaction lasted only as far as Villeneuve, where Midland's Christijan Albers was tipped into a spin by an optimistic Yuji Ide, the Super Aguri driver eager to make the most of another poor getaway from the Dutchman. He picked the wrong place, however, with Albers riding up and over the SA05's left-hand side and barrel-rolling through the gravel. Despite landing upside-down, however, Albers was able to extricate himself, and returned to the paddock unaided to give his side of the story.

The safety car was deployed for a couple of laps to cover the clean-up process, not long enough to seriously damage the three-stopping Schumacher's getaway, but sufficient for the Scuderia to contemplate switching its star turn onto a more common two-stopper.

One-and-a-half seconds up the road a lap after the field was released again, Schumacher's immediate opposition might have come from Button and team-mate Massa, but few expected Alonso, who had already gained a place, to be anything less than a threat. The man to miss out at the start was Rubens Barrichello, the second Honda - having put in its best qualifying performance of 2006 - dropping to fifth off the grid, and finding itself under pressure from Ralf Schumacher, who had maintained sixth at the expense of the two McLarens, which were now split by Mark Webber's fast-starting Williams.

Barrichello would also have been the first to pit, had it not been for Ide limping back to the Super Aguri garage for repairs and Jarno Trulli following suit at Toyota, complaining that his steering now appeared to have little input into the direction of his car. Reports suggested that the Italian had suffered from contact with Vitantonio Liuzzi's Toro Rosso, which spun on the previous lap.

Barrichello's stop came some eight laps after Trulli called it a day, and the Brazilian was stationary for a long time, apparently taking on a lot of fuel in an attempt to rectify his track position by the end. Only when he returned for a top-up on lap 34 did things begin to look different - and less promising - for Rubens.



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