16 July 2006
France 2006: Momentum stays with Schumacher.
The 2006 French Grand Prix will certainly not go down as a classic, but for Michael Schumacher and Ferrari, their fourth win of the season marked another important step in their bid to close the gap to Fernando Alonso and Renault in the drivers' and manufacturers' championships.
Schumacher looked dominant throughout the race at Magny-Cours on Sunday, leading from start to finish and never looking likely to be overhauled.
Early on, the German put in a string of fastest laps to pull out an advantage on Alonso, who was stuck behind the second Ferrari of Felipe Massa. Schumacher had built up a 30-odd second lead with around 20 laps to go and, as such, could ease off as the race entered its twilight.
He eventually finished around ten seconds up on Alonso, to take his eighth win at the French Grand Prix, the first time a driver has ever managed to win a single event so many times in the history of the FIA Formula One World Championship. He also nibbled another two points off Alonso' advantage in the drivers' championship - reducing the margin from 19 points to 17 points.
It was the manner in which he took the victory though that will have Alonso concerned, as Fernando never looked in the slightest as if he could take the win himself. Furthermore, while a clever strategic decision to switch to a two-stopper allowed him to take the runners-up spot, all-in-all it was another less than convincing performance from him and the regie who, only two races ago, looked to have the championship pretty much sewn up.
Massa took the final spot-on the podium, a somewhat bitter-sweet result for the Brazilian who, until the final third, looked almost certain to take second. Massa held P2 off the line at the start and then did a brilliant job of protecting Schumacher, who drove off into the distance from pole. However, his three-stop strategy dropped him behind Alonso, and he eventually ended up more than twelve seconds adrift of the reigning champ at the finish - and 22.5 seconds off his team-mate.
His third gave Ferrari 16 constructors' points from the event though, while Renault took only eleven, bringing the gap down to 21 points with seven races to go.
Ralf Schumacher took fourth, as Toyota shone for the second race in a row. How much was to do with the Cologne-based squad improving though and how much was down to Bridgestone, who seemed to have the edge on Michelin, remains to be seen. Either way, Ralf drove well in the TF106B and deservedly took five points.
His team-mate, Jarno Trulli, also looked set to deliver and was running in front of Ralf until he was forced out just over the half distance mark. Mechanical problems ruined what would have been a double points haul for the team, but Ralf's five was still enough to put them ahead of BMW Sauber in the manufacturers', albeit by only one point.
Kimi Raikkonen was next up, fifth for McLaren-Mercedes, after putting in a solid drive in the MP4-21.
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