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Japan 2006: Alonso inherits reversal of fortune.

With the gap fluctuating only slightly as the lead pair negotiated traffic, it appeared that only a mechanical problem or incident in the pits was going to alter the order. This time around, Schumacher had just one lap in hand on Alonso, the pair stopping on laps 35 and 36 respectively but, already the odd tell-tale wisp of smoke could be seen emanating from the Ferrari. Again, Schumacher retained the lead as he rejoined, but his race was to go little further.

David Coulthard had already joined Albers in retirement by the time Schumacher's engine let go, the German coasting into retirement at the back of the circuit just two laps after his stop. Taking time to wave to the Japanese fans that had dogged his every step during the weekend, the look on Schumacher's face reflected not just his last grand prix at Suzuka, but also, possibly, the end his title aspirations. All Alonso had to do to gain the championship advantage was finish in the points and, thanks to a combination of his driving, Renault's pit-work and better-than-expected rubber from Michelin, he stood a great chance of maximising the opportunity with ten.

Webber added to the casualty list after a heavy impact with the wall entering the start-finish straight, but the Australian was never a threat to the new leader. In fact, few were, with Massa, now in second, over ten seconds adrift of the Renault. Raikkonen briefly held third spot, but still had to make his second stop, which allowed Fisichella and Button to move up a place, with the McLaren slotting back in ahead of the Toyotas, whose performance dropped away over the course of the race.

With the anticipated climax - both to the race and, possibly, the championship - having had the wind taken out of its sails somewhat, the only 'excitement' over the closing stages were spins for Speed and Sakon Yamamoto and the inter-necine battle between BMW colleagues Heidfeld and Kubica for the final point. After his disappointment at losing fourth in China a week ago, the German was not to be denied this time, holding on to eighth by just 0.9secs after the team gave both drivers free rein to race each other.

Kubica was the last of the unlapped runners, heading home Nico Rosberg, unable to make anything of his top ten grid slot, and Rubens Barrichello, who race was ruined by a first lap skirmish with Heidfeld that cost him his front wing. Confined to the back of the field after an early pit-stop, the Brazilian set about putting miles on the latest spec Honda engine, but will be hoping that he has now used up all of his bad luck before his home race in two weeks' time.

Despite Schumacher's retirement at Suzuka, both championship remain up for grabs at the season finale, although Alonso only needs to keep out of trouble - and pray for reliability - to confirm himself as a two-time champion. After its 1-3 result in Japan, Renault now holds a more comfortable nine-point advantage over Ferrari, allowing Alonso and Fisichella to finish 3-4 behind the red cars and still take the crown.

Further intrigue comes from the fact that Massa will surely want to win on home ground, while Schumacher will want to go out on a high, the crucial fact being that the German now has to win - and hope that Alonso fails to score - to have any hope of heading into retirement as an eight-time champion.

Related Pictures

Click on relevant pic to enlarge
08.10.2006 Suzuka, Japan, Fernando Alonso (ESP), Renault F1 Team, R26 - Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 17, Japanese Grand Prix, Sunday Race
08.10.2006 Suzuka, Japan, Michael Schumacher (GER), Scuderia Ferrari, 248 F1, Stopped on track, Engine failure - Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 17, Japanese Grand Prix, Sunday Race
08.10.2006 Suzuka, Japan, Christijan Albers (NED), Spyker MF1 Racing, Toyota M16, reitred with Mechanical failure - Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 17, Japanese Grand Prix, Sunday Race
Fernando Alonso arrives in style to officially open the museum complex devoted to his racing career
Karts on display at the new Fernando Alonso museum in Oviedo, Spain
One of Fernando Alonso`s karts, bearing the now familiar #14
Fernando Alonso`s first karting licence as displayed at the museum celebrating his career in Oviedo
Fernando Alonso - McLaren-Honda MP4-30
Max Verstappen - Toro Rosso-Renault
21.06.2015- Race, Fernando Alonso (ESP) McLaren Honda MP4-30 car on a tow truck after the race
21.06.2015- Fernando Alonso (ESP) McLaren Honda MP4-30 car over the tow truck
21.06.2015- Race, Fernando Alonso (ESP) McLaren Honda MP4-30 after the crash
21.06.2015- Race, Fernando Alonso (ESP) McLaren Honda MP4-30 after the crash
21.06.2015- Race, Fernando Alonso (ESP) McLaren Honda MP4-30 after the crash
21.06.2015- Race, Fernando Alonso (ESP) McLaren Honda MP4-30 retired
Fernando Alonso - McLaren
20.06.2015- Remi Taffin (FRA) Renault Sport F1 Head of track operations and Alain prost (FRA)
20.06.2015- Qualifying, Fernando Alonso (ESP) McLaren Honda MP4-30

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