Formula One 2006 Season Review

Alonso and Renault

After an epic season-long fight between two of the greatest drivers in the modern generation of Formula One – Spaniard’s Fernando Alonso and German’s Michael Schumacher – this year’s world championship can be viewed as the most exciting and thrilling contests between two sporting stars.

Both drivers performed exceptionally well in the 18 races and it’s time to look back on a dramatic and sometimes controversial season.

Before the new season got underway, the sport’s governing body, the FIA, introduced a set of new regulations to improve the racing action. In previous years, the lack of overtaking was the main problem due to the sophisticated aerodynamics of modern Formula One racing cars.

Despite running on one set of tyres throughout last year’s championship, the FIA, re-introduce tyre changing in pit-stops. Some observers felt this was a mistake as the racing was actually quite good when drivers had to manage their tyres in the race.

In addition with tyre changing, the three-litre V10 engines were replaced with a 2.4 litre V8 motors. The move was a way of reducing the rising cost of development (it is believed the Formula One paddock generates around US $1 billion over the past 18 months) and to make the cars go slower around the track – in a fear of escalating speeds were becoming too dangerous for some race circuits.

But the biggest overhaul in the new Formula One rules was qualifying. The FIA experimented with different versions of the one-hour qualifying session over the last few years. The one-lap per car adopted in 2005 was seemed to be tedious – for TV viewers at least – so the sport’s governing body decides to scrap this with an interesting knock-out sessions.

With three 15-minute sessions, the six slowest cars from the first two sessions were removed from the running in the pole position shootout. All times recorded by the drivers didn’t count for the grid, but instead of making it through to the next qualification stage. This new system proved immensely popular with the teams and drivers admitting it added extra element of excitement as their go for the ultimate lap time.

In the early part of the racing season, many Formula One observers were predicting that McLaren’s Kimi Raikkonen would win the 2006 drivers’ title. As last year, the Finn and his Mercedes-powered car was the fastest. But instead, defending champions Renault and Italian manufacturer Ferrari proved to be two leading teams on form.

All four racing drivers who drove for Renault and Ferrari managed to win a race this season, with Giancarlo Fisichella winning in Malaysia and Brazilian’s Felipe Massa scoring two impressive victories in his new role at the Italian team. As for the two team leaders, Michael Schumacher won seven races and came very close to winning his eighth drivers title. But it was his main rival, Fernando Alonso, who won the championship despite winning the same number of races as Michael. The Spaniard had the consistence and reliability to take the title in the end.

The other race victor was Britain’s Jenson Button, who finally scored his maiden Grand Prix win after 113 starts. His drive in the wet/dry conditions in Hungarian Grand Prix was sublime and even though he started in 14th position, avoided the many incidents in the action-packed race to the take the chequered flag first.

As for the racing, there were certainly enough forms of entertainment with exciting overtaking moves and duels for the lead.

Despite some fantastic on-track racing action, this year will be remembered by the politics and controversies off-track.

The first was the flexible wing issue where Ferrari and BMW-Sauber were accused of running ‘movable aerodynamic’ devices on the cars. The FIA took action against these two teams and they were forced to redesign the front and rear wings.

The second was the Mass Damper affair concerning Renault. The French team were running this innovative system since the Brazilian Grand Prix back in 2005 and yet in this year’s German Grand Prix, the race officials decided that this was illegal and banned it. Renault protested but the FIA Supreme Court decided that it was unsafe and was banned from there onwards, much to the team’s disgust.

But the most outrageous controversial moment took place in qualifying, in particular the Monaco Grand Prix ‘parking incident’.

Let’s set the scene. Michael Schumacher has just grabbed pole position in his Ferrari during Saturday’s qualifying in Monte Carlo. He was on his final lap trying to record an even faster time, but for some strange reason lost control of his car on the approach to a tight right-hand corner at La Rascasse. Instead of colliding into the outside wall, he stopped his Ferrari just before hitting it… This partially blocking the circuit when his main championship contender, Fernando Alonso, was on his qualifying lap…

Schumacher stated that he simply locked up the wheels going into the corner and the car then stalled while he attempted to reverse out… But the other drivers thought it was something else. Alonso believed he would have been on pole if the incident had not happened.

Later that evening, the race stewards decided to penalised Schumacher and he would start the race at the back of the grid. In the Grand Prix itself, Michael drove a stunning race to fifth. Without that, he could have won…

The next moment of madness took place during the Italian Grand Prix when Fernando Alonso was penalised for ‘impending’ the faster Ferrari of Felipe Massa during the final stages of qualifying. To this day, I still don’t understand because Massa didn’t even get close to Alonso… And yet Ferrari and Massa complained to the race stewards and thus the Spaniard would lose his grid position despite driving flat-out in a slightly damaged car.

Right, it’s time to focus on the best and worst part of the Formula One season. What have been my highs and lows? Who do I think is a better driver? Which race was the most entertaining? Which driver and team performed well over the course of the championship? And for the worst, why did that driver and team struggled?

All these will be answered as I recap on the 2006 FIA Formula One World Championship.

Need I say more? This year’s Hungarian Grand Prix was the main highlight. The starting grid had an unusual look with a mixed race positions due to the penalties for the leading drivers (Alonso for blocking a Friday test driver in practice, Schumacher for overtaking several cars during a red flag session and Button suffering an engine failure).

Initially Kimi Raikkonen was set to win his first race in the gorgeous chrome McLaren but he misjudged the situation when lapping a slower car, which resulted in the Finn smashed into the back of Vitantonio Liuzzi’s Scuderia Toro Rosso…

With Raikkonen out, Alonso took the lead and he was set to win his first race after a mid-season slump. But he too crashed out just after switching to slick (groove) tyres for the drying conditions. The right rear Michelin didn’t seem to be secured in place during the pit-stop and the Spaniard spun his car at the second turn and into the tyre barriers.

Now Jenson Button was in the lead and even though he qualified the car originally in fourth – but drop ten places due to changing an engine – the driving performance by the Brit was simply outstanding. Jenson drove a consistent race, making no mistakes and it was a fantastic achievement after finally winning his first race of his Grand Prix career.

As for Michael Schumacher, the German initially struggled in the first stages but once his tyres got up to temperature in the semi-wet conditions, he was flying.

But in the final stages of the Grand Prix, he defended his track position too aggressively and he damaged his Ferrari after a slight collision with Nick Heidfeld’s BMW-Sauber. The Ferrari was out but ironically; Michael collected the final championship point with eighth when rookie sensational Robert Kubica (driving in his first ever race) was disqualified for being underweight (due to excessive tyre wear).

The 248 Ferrari was by far the best handling car and also the fastest. The reliability of the car was amazing, despite suffering two failures for Massa and Michael in the whole year. When out on the track, in particular in the hands of Michael Schumacher – the seven times World Champion – it was a sight to behold as the car cornered as if on rails. It had fantastic grip with excellent straight-line speed. No other car came close to pass it on the straights…

I have to say Ferrari as well due to the determination and effort from the team based in Maranello, Italy. The mechanics, engineers and workers who pour their heart and soul into the famous red cars deserve all the credit with nine fabulous race victories this year.

This is rather difficult for me so I have to award both Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher for the top honours as best driver of the year. Both drove flat-out all season and the on-track battles in Bahrain, San Marino, Turkey and Japan was breathtaking. Pushing to the absolutely limits in the quest to win the world drivers’ title.

BMW-Sauber. When BMW split away from Williams F1 at the end of 2005, dissatisfied by the British team’s lack of results, the German manufacturer purchased Sauber and then decided to re-brand it as BMW-Sauber.

In its first season the team finished in fifth position in the constructors’ championship (ahead of Toyota) with two podiums finishes for both Nick Heidfeld (Hungary) and Robert Kubica (Italy) respectively. An impressive achievement.

Ferrari’s Felipe Massa. The Brazilian won two Grands Prix – Turkey and Brazil – despite in the first couple of events he crashed his Ferrari… Massa even out-qualified his more experienced team-mate Michael Schumacher a couple of times and was even on the same pace as the world champion during the race. Massa’s season has been tremendous, from winning his first Grand Prix to finishing third position in the drivers’ standings.

Now he becomes the official ‘team leader’ at Ferrari in 2007 due to the retirement of Michael Schumacher. Kimi Raikkonen will be his new colleague at Scuderia Ferrari and it will be fascinating to see who has the upper hand in the team.

Even though Fernando Alonso claims that winning his home Grand Prix at Barcelona was a “dream come true”, this year’s Spanish Grand Prix was dull for the spectators. All the team uses the Circuit de Catalunya extensively during the winter as preparation for the season ahead. With thousands of miles covered by the drivers and teams, the on-track racing action always proves to be procession. It doesn’t help that the Spanish track is quite tricky to overtake on…

The Midland/Spyker M16 car was a horrible car. Horrendous colour scheme and even though it had serious grunt from the Toyota engine, the car driven by Tiago Monteiro and Christijan Albers proved to be a tricky race car to drive on the limit.

Even Super Aguri’s Honda-powered cars proved to be faster in the final remaining races!

Why was this car so bad? A lack of funding, no car development and poor pace… Midland Group director Alex Shnaider lost patience with the team and decided to sell off his interests to Spyker, who are now the new owners.

Hopefully next year, Spyker F1 can turn the fortunes around and develop a car that can challenge against the midfield teams such as Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Toro Rosso for top ten placing.

See above. Midland F1 Racing lacked the passion and enthusiasm compared to the pervious organisation, Jordan Grand Prix. Alex Shnaider was only interested in promoting the Midland brand and didn’t put enough resources to make the team competitive. In the end, Shnaider sold the team to Spyker F1.

Japanese Formula Nippon driver Yuji Ide only raced in four Grands Prix and he was an embarrassment. Ide struggled in the Super Aguri Formula One car and was often three or more seconds behind his team-mate Takuma Sato.

At Imola, he caused a first lap crash with Christijan Albers that put the Dutchman into a series of rolls, which ended with Albers’ Midland upside down… Ide was reprimanded by the race stewards and warned over future conduct.

After the San Marino Grand Prix, Super Aguri announced that following advice from the FIA, that Ide would be dropped from the upcoming European Grand Prix at the Nürburgring, being replaced by former Renault test driver Franck Montagny. Ide was demoted to Montagny’s seat as test driver.

Later on, the FIA decided to revoked Ide’s FIA Super Licence meaning he could no longer compete in Formula One during the 2006 season…

So that’s my review on an grand and dramatic Formula One World Championship. I am already looking forward to next year, as there will be new rising stars driving in their debut season. With the likes of GP2 champion Lewis Hamilton (the first black driver in Formula One), Heikki Kovalainen and Anthony Davidson competing in the pinnacle of motor racing.

It will be fascinating to see how well the double World Champion Fernando Alonso will do in his new team at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes. Can the Spaniard win his third successive title?

In addition, the prospect of Kimi Raikkonen challenging his new Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa for race wins will be sensational. Bring on 2007!

But before I end this detailed article on my favourite sport, one final say on the retiring seven times World Champion.

After 15 years in the sport, Michael Schumacher bows out at the top of his game. I must admit I will miss Michael Schumacher next year. Sure, he has created some bad moments in the sport including two title clashes with Damon Hill in 1994 and Jacques Villeneuve three years later…

But the German’s achievement in the sport is outstanding and I would consider him as one of the greatest racing driver in the history of the sport. His record of pole positions, fastest laps, race wins and points will be in the record books for a long time and I will doubt anyone will beat this.

Farewell Michael and thanks for the memories. You will be missed in Formula One.

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