14 May 2006
Spain 2006: Alonso's Spanish class.
Fernando Alonso gave the massive Spanish crowd just what it wanted in Barcelona, taking a comfortable lights-to-flag win to ease out his championship lead over closest rival Michael Schumacher.
The pair proved to be the main protagonists at the Circuit de Catalunya but, for the second time this year after Bahrain, the tactical battle went the Spaniard's way, as Renault's ploy of running lighter in qualifying paid off with scorching early race pace.
Schumacher had to be content with second after exploiting his ability to run longer than either Renault to leap-frog Giancarlo Fisichella at the first round of stops, but the German had no answer for Alonso, who came home 18 seconds clear, to the delight of the crowd.
With both its cars on the front row, and its legendary starting ability still in its pomp, Renault would have expected to have at least one of its cars leading at the first corner, and so it proved, with Alonso and Fisichella executing a perfect team start, with the Italian covering the inside until the last minute then switching to left to ease his own passage around the turn.
Felipe Mass again proved Schumacher's equal off the line, but deferred to the multiple world champion into the opening corner, setting up a formation appearance to the front of the field. Behind the red cars, however, Kimi Raikkonen had given his chances of success an early boost, vaulting from ninth to fifth, passing both the two Hondas and both Toyotas along the way.
Rubens Barrichello followed the Finn, keeping team-mate Jenson Button at bay into the bargain, while both Jarno Trulli and Ralf Schumacher undid their good work in qualifying by slipping back into the clutches of Nick Heidfeld at the foot of the top ten. Juan Montoya, meanwhile, had made early gains after his disastrous qualifying and was now ahead of Mark Webber, while Scott Speed also climbed the order with a rapid getaway in the best of the Toro Rossos.
Familiarity with the Barcelona circuit as a result of it being a favoured test venue saw little movement at the front of the field, but that did not prevent Alonso from beginning to stretch his lead from the start. Already 1.6secs up at the end of the first lap, the Spaniard had increased the margin to 3.8secs at the culmination of lap four, and 7.4secs by lap eleven, Fisichella all the while keeping Schumacher at bay.
There was a little more activity at the rear of the field, with Tiago Monteiro and Takuma Sato both spinning in the early stages, and Franck Montagny being forced to curtail his second F1 appearance with driveshaft problems on lap eight.
With the main pack running in two-by-two formation, Raikkonen aside, little was expected in the way of passing, but no-one appeared to have told the Toyota twins as Schumacher attempted an optimistic lunge on team-mate Trulli into the first turn. Although the Italian had been hobbled by a wayward filler car, the move was never really on, and Schumacher was lucky to come away with just his front wing in tatters. Unfortunately for the German, he still had the rest of the lap to complete before repairs and he dropped to the rear of the field.
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