Alonso’s new Vodafone-sponsored McLaren

McLaren 2007

This is the car that the double World Champion Fernando Alonso will be driving in his quest to win his third drivers’ title.

The brand new Vodafone-sponsored McLaren Mercedes MP4-22 was unveiled to the world’s media at Valencia, Spain today.

Even though the new car design is similar to last year’s troublesome MP4-21, the British team says the MP4-22 features “some advanced engineering concepts” and “novel aerodynamic solutions”.

British rising star and GP2 champion Lewis Hamilton will join Alonso as the team’s driver line-up in 2007. It will be interesting how well these two will perform in a crucial year for McLaren, who didn’t win a single race back in 2006.

As for the livery, the Vodafone ‘red’ looks reasonable on the car. Not so sure about the drivers’ overalls though…

Felipe and Kimi’s new Ferrari

Ferrari F2007

This is the new Ferrari Formula 1 racing car, the F2007. Drivers Felipe Massa and new Ferrari signing Kimi Raikkonen will be driving in this new chassis in an aim to win this year’s world championship.

The F2007 features a new and revised front suspension, improved aerodynamics and better cooling around the sidepods and airbox.

The car is also longer than last year’s 248 car due to an innovative quick-shift gearbox system.

I must admit the livery of this year’s Ferrari is a bit ghastly – too much red to be honest. Plus sub-consciously, the livery still reminds me of the cigarette brand Marlboro, who is still sponsoring the Italian race team.

Will this car win races and the championship? I reckon it can especially in the hands of Massa and Raikkonen, with Jean Todt managing the whole situation.

Autosport International 2007

Autosport International 2007 images

Wow! What a fantastic event with a huge range of gorgeous models on display – racing cars and promotional girls including! This year’s Autosport International show at Birmingham’s NEC was truly spectacular and the obvious highlight was the 75th anniversary of the Le Mans 24-Hour race. The cars that took part in the legendary endurance race was on display and to see the likes of the Ford GT40 alongside a Jaguar D-Type, McLaren F1 GTR and the Audi R8 was breathtaking.

It was also nice to meet up with my friends, in particular Mike and Yas. I have managed to convince them both to see this show the last time we met (back in October for the anime show in London’s Docklands). Both said it was a wonderful experience to see racing cars up close, especially the Live Action Arena.

The Live Action Arena is a 45-minute performance featuring stock cars, rally cars and the awesome Aston Martin DBR9. These massively powerful racing cars sounded great and despite suffering a lack of grip on the slippery surface, each driver drove these cars with great care not to hit the wall and yet entertaining the crowd.

At the end of a tiring and long day (most of us got up really early to attend the show), we left with a range of photographs stored on our digital cameras and fantastic memories of racing cars in action.

Motor racing action in Birmingham

Autosport International

This weekend is the Autosport International held annually at Birmingham’s NEC. It’s the place to go and see the best of motor racing.

I have been to the Autosport show several times over the past few years and even though it can get quite busy during the public days, it’s worth the trip alone to see the range of racing cars on display.

The opportunity to meet the drivers from the world of Formula One, Touring Cars and Sportcars is also great, especially as it is becoming more difficult to meet face-to-face with your racing heroes.

The best part is the Live Action Arena, where the sound and sights of these awesome racing machines are put to test right in front of you! Seeing the Subaru World Rally Car performing some ‘donuts’ is truly spectacular and the noise is simply unbelievable!

This year, I will be meeting up with my old University friends as well as Mike and Yas (I have managed to convince them to come). It should be a fun day out and I look forward to seeing the special Le Mans 24-Hour display arranged for this year.

Meeting the stars at the Autosport Awards

Signed Cap

Last Sunday (December 3rd), I had the unique opportunity to meet some of my motor racing stars at London. That night, a special awards evening was held at the Gosvenor House Hotel near Park Lane.

I meet up with my friends who braved the December cold as we waited to get our autographs from the famous racing drivers.

We stood outside the hotel for around three hours and despite the bitterly cold weather, we managed to get our personal books and items signed by the motor racing celebrities.

As you tell by the photograph, I’ve collected a whole range of signatures on my red Dekra (Michael Schumacher’s personal sponsored) cap. Here you can see me wearing a woolly hat with scarf getting my cap signed by Honda’s racing sporting director Gil de Ferran!

Meeting the drivers was a great honour and it was a friendly atmosphere as I chatted to some familiar faces like Murray Walker, Jason Plato, Matt Neal and Nick Fry. The highlight was meeting the two future British stars, McLaren’s new driver Lewis Hamilton and Super Aguri’s Anthony Davidson.

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.

THE RULES
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.

THE RACING
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.

THE CONTROVERSIES
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.

THE BEST AND WORST OF FORMULA ONE 2006
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.

THE BEST RACE
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 BEST CAR
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…

THE BEST TEAM
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.

THE BEST DRIVER
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.

MOST IMPROVED TEAM
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.

MOST IMPROVED DRIVER
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.

THE WORST RACE
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 WORST CAR
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.

THE WORST TEAM
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.

THE WORST DRIVER
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.

A TRIBUTE TO THE MASTER
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.

Massa wins the Brazilian Grand Prix, while Alonso takes the drivers’ title

Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso

Ferrari’s Felipe Massa became the first Brazilian to win his home race since the late, great Ayrton Senna back in 1993. The new World Champion, Fernando Alonso, finished in second position with Honda’s Jenson Button in third.

Alonso is now the youngest double world champion and it was a fantastic achievement after a long season battle with Michael Schumacher. The outgoing seven times world champion – taking part in his final ever Formula One race – drove superbly despite suffering a rear-left puncture in the early stages of the Grand Prix. He produced a great comeback drive to finish in fourth, setting the fastest lap during the 71-lap race.

Michael’s performance was magnificent and it’s a shame that we won’t be able to see this kind of driving standards next year… The other drivers and Formula One fans around the world will miss his level of dedication and commitment in the sport.
As for Alonso, the Spaniard did what was required to win his second consecutive title by finishing in the points to take that important drivers’ championship. He drove a steady race and avoided trouble to finish behind the winner Massa, who simply drove a lights-to-flag race.

Massa was overcome with emotion after winning and has even admitted that this was the “easiest drives of his career”.

“It is just amazing isn’t it,” said a tearful Massa. “After 13 years without a Brazilian winning the Brazilian Grand Prix for me it is just amazing to be in front of my people, the first year I have a good car, a fantastic car.

“It was probably the easiest race of my life. I could control everything and wasn’t pushing a lot. I was happy to have that moment.

“It is just a dream come true. You see the whole people bringing the flag, screaming your name and jumping, dancing, whatever, just for you. It is difficult to explain, whatever drivers would love to be in my position, Fernando won his home Grand Prix this year and it was fantastic.

“It is the best day of my life.”

I believe the new 2006 world champion must be feeling the same way and after the race, Fernando Alonso paid tribute to his main rival Michael Schumacher following the German’s final Formula One race in Brazil. The Spaniard said it had been an honour racing against Schumacher.

“It has been very close and I think it is good to fight with him,” said Alonso. “I always said that to become champion when Michael is still on track gives it more value.

“I was extremely lucky to win the world championships when he races, I think we all wish him the best for his new life with his family.

“It has for us been pleasure for us to race with him.”

Schumacher, ten points behind Alonso but with seven wins each, had needed one last victory to have any hope of an unprecedented eighth title while the Spaniard required only a single point from his last race with Renault before joining McLaren next year.

Renault team boss Flavio Briatore also paid homage to Schumacher following his amazing drive at Interlagos.

“I think today we have to show great respect for Michael Schumacher, because what he’s done today will go down in the history of F1,” Briatore said. “He was flying. I don’t know what he had but he was literally flying.

“We’ve won a difficult championship against an extremely difficult rival, Ferrari, so congratulations to them too for keeping the title open even too much.”

So after 18-races in this exciting and dramatic season, it’s nice to see Fernando Alonso winning his second championship. The Spaniard drove superbly all year in the Renault R26 and it is such a rich reward for the driver and the French manufacturer to win the drivers’ and constructors’ title after a year long battle against Michael and Ferrari.

Thank you Michael for providing some great drives all season. Without your dedication to the sport, we wouldn’t have a tense and dramatic season finale. You will be sadly missed when the new Formula One season resumes in Melbourne next March.

Fernando Alonso edges closer to the title with victory in Japan

Fernando Alonso Japanese GP

World champion Fernando Alonso takes an important ten-point lead in the drivers’ championship with a race victory in Suzuka, as Michael Schumacher’s dream of winning his eighth title ends with a trail of smoke from his broken Ferrari.

The Spaniard was surprised to see the leading Ferrari suffer a rare failure due to the impression of the Italian cars having bullet proof reliability. Michael Schumacher was understandably disappointed as he was leading the race at that point and was on form to score an impressive seventh Suzuka victory and probably his eighth drivers’ championship until that moment in the Degner curve on lap 37…

Alonso took the lead after Schumacher’s retirement and went onto win his seventh Grand Prix of the year. His first since the Canadian Grand Prix back in June… and don’t forget the Spaniard had a 25-point lead when he won at Montreal.

Schumacher’s retirement has provided a twist to this epic and exciting championship. After winning in China, it looked like Ferrari and Michael had the momentum to win both titles (drivers’ and constructors’). The performance of the Ferrari 248 during qualifying was breathtaking as the Bridgestone tyres had an advantage over the Michelins. But in the race, many were expected the Ferraris to disappear into the distance with their superior pace, but it didn’t happen.

The Spaniard, who started the race in fifth, was charging and he wasn’t going to give up his chances by driving beautifully in the Renault R26. He passed the first Toyota of Jarno Trulli on the first lap, and then set about passing the other Toyota of Ralf Schumacher.

At the front, Felipe Massa led his team-mate Michael Schumacher. The Brazilian allowed Michael through to take first position at the end of lap 2. This became the perfect opportunity for the German to disappear into the distance and thereby mark his authority on the title battle.

But it didn’t happen like that at all. The two scarlet cars were lapping at a slower pace than in qualifying with Ralf Schumacher and Alonso closely behind.

When the world champion went down the inside of the Toyota at the first corner on lap 12, that allow Alonso to quickly catch up the two Ferraris after being held up behind the slower car.

Felipe Massa was forced to pit three laps earlier than planned – on lap 13 – after suffering a puncture with his Bridgestone. Now Alonso was in second position and for the first time all weekend, was travelling faster than Schumacher.

When Massa rejoined the race, he was behind the slower BMW Sauber of Nick Heidfeld. This compromised his pace, which gave the opportunity for Alonso to pass the Brazilian after his own pit stop on lap 15.

Michael Schumacher continued for another three laps, before he too had to change tyres and take on some fuel. He exited the pits ahead of his main championship rival with a five second advantage.

Now it became a battle for the race lead between the two greatest drivers of the modern era. It was fascinating to see Michael and Fernando setting fastest laps and split times. The pair was evenly matched but the gap remained around five seconds.

As the second round of pitstop approach, Schumacher gained an extra second after lapping a field of Red Bulls back markers and looked on course to take his eighth win of the year.

They pitted on consecutive laps but the order remained the same – Schumacher first with Alonso second. The Spaniard had a done a fine job despite starting fifth on the grid and would be happy to settle for second. But then came that moment for Michael…

Schumacher’s engine failure had transformed the outcome of the race and indeed the world championship. If the German finished in first with his main rival in second, we would have a fantastic prospect of a season-finale in Brazil with two points separating the two champions… But his Ferrari engine let go in spectacular fashion – his first in over six years(!) – and now he faces an extremely difficult challenge in Brazil in two weeks time.

Fernando Alonso takes the win in Suzuka’s final race after 20 years on the Formula One calendar with Ferrari’s Felipe Massa second and Renault’s Giancarlo Fisichella in third.

Honda’s Jenson Button drove a solid race to finish in fourth ahead of Kimi Raikkonen in the McLaren. The Finn did a superb job in the 53-lap race to finish in P5 after qualifying outside the top ten. The two Toyotas of Jarno Trulli and Ralf Schumacher lacked pace and finished sixth and seventh respectively with BMW Sauber’s Nick Heidfeld taking the final point in eighth.

So an exciting and dramatic race, let’s hear what Alonso and Schumacher has to say after the 2006 Japanese Grand Prix.

World champion Fernando Alonso admitted he wasn’t expecting to win the Japanese Grand Prix, but the Spaniard claimed it was a deserved victory.

“At the beginning of the race I knew that we were not in good shape but we were competitive, as good as Ferrari,” said Alonso. “I took the risk to overtake Jarno (Trulli) because I knew there was one opportunity, and when I saw Ralf (Schumacher) had some problems with the car, I tried to get past him.

“The car’s performance was really consistent and really well balanced and after Michael’s problems the race became easy for us.

“The second stint with Michael the gap was more or less the same, 5.9, six seconds depending on traffic. And I was thinking it was possible to win the race, why not? We were only halfway through the race and five seconds behind, which was a surprise.

“I had so many problems in the last races. I lost a race in Hungary, I lost an engine in Monza so for sure I had to recover some lucky moment. I didn’t believe what a I was seeing, also to see a mechanical problem from a Ferrari car is not something it happens often, so it was the second surprise, the biggest surprise for me.”

And as for Michael Schumacher, he feels that the championship is now over and may have to concede the title to his main Spanish rival.

“The drivers’ title for me is finished, but we go to Brazil to win the constructors’,” Schumacher said at Suzuka after the race.

“Our team is great: the boys are the best I know. I’m very satisfied with all our mechanics and engineers in Ferrari. That’s racing. You win and lose together.

“Today we all tried hard, we were first but lost the engine. That’s Formula One. I’m not very disappointed. Life and racing is like this.

“We must be very proud of the work we’ve done, because in Canada we were 25 points behind, and neither you or others thought we’d come back, but we did. Now we are here, nine points behind in the constructors’.”

He might have a slim outside chance in Interlagos, if Fernando fails to finish and Michael takes the win. But the German prefers to concentrate on winning the constructors’ championship (now nine points behind Renault) in Brazil.

“First of all we’ll fight for the constructors’ title in Brazil. We’ll see what happens with the drivers’, but we’re ten points behind.

“I don’t want to think of a race I must win with the other not finishing. I don’t like that.”

So after a sensational Grand Prix, we now head to Brazil in two weeks time (October 22nd) for the season finale. Fernando Alonso will win his second consecutive drivers’ title if he finishes in the points (any where from first to eighth). As for Michael Schumacher, the best he can do is take the race win and pray that his main rival suffers a retirement.

Roll on Brazil!

Championship showdown. Who will win the ultimate prize in Formula One?

Schumacher and Alonso

This is it. After sixteen rounds of this year’s FIA Formula One World Championship, the two greatest drivers of the modern era – Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher – are now tied on points as we head into the final two races in this long season.

Both drivers are now level with 116 points apiece after Schumacher’s latest victory in China and the Ferrari team are currently on form after a series of race wins.

As for Renault and Alonso, they are determined to readdress the issue to claim the drivers’ and constructors’ title after a year long battle with the Italian manufacturer. At one point, the French team were leading by 25 points as Alonso was heading towards his second successive drivers’ crown.

But then came the setback in the second part of the season, in particular the ban on the mass damper system that affected the performance of the Renault R26. It seems the advantage has been shifted to the package of the Ferrari 248 chassis, Michael Schumacher and the Bridgestone tyres.

Renault are still leading the constructors’ championship, but by a small margin of a single point (179 to 178). A one-two finish in Suzuka will secure the manufacturers’ title for Flavio Briatore’s team. But everyone’s attention is on the drivers.

If Michael wins the race in Japan and Fernando fails to finish in the top eight or retires, then the drivers’ title will go to the German. This will be a fantastic achievement by the retiring champion after 15 years in Formula One.

Tyres will play a crucial role in the final two races with Bridgestone focusing on winning on their home track at Suzuka against tyre rival Michelin, who will leave the sport in Brazil in two weeks time.

So who will win the ultimate prize in Formula One? To be honest, I like to see Michael and Fernando to triumph, as both have driven superbly all year. But there can only be one winner. Let battle commence!

Schumacher wins in China and takes the championship lead

Michael Schumacher Chinese Grand Prix

Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher takes the lead of the World Championship with his 91st career victory in the Chinese Grand Prix. The German is now level with his main championship rival, Fernando Alonso, with 116 points apiece.

This should have been Alonso’s race as he had the fastest car in the wet-dry conditions. At one point, the Spaniard was ahead of Michael as much as 25 seconds in the wet conditions earlier in the race. But during the first pit stop, Alonso had to change his front intermediates tyres, due to excessive wear on the left-front Michelin. The Renault team didn’t change the rear Michelins at all.

This was a bad mistake, as Alonso was now struggling with his combination of old tyres on the rear and new Michelins at the front. The Spaniard was now lapping the circuit three seconds slower than his previous pace… And his huge lead earlier on has evaporated.

Schumacher, who started the race in sixth, sensed the opportunity and was now directly behind the two Renaults of Alonso and Giancarlo Fisichella. The Italian tried to hold up the fastest Ferrari by protecting his struggling team-mate as much as he could. But in the end, Giancarlo had to take the lead as a way of preventing Ferrari and Michael scoring maximum points.

Alonso simply didn’t have any grip in his Renault R26 at this point and on lap 31, Michael overtook his main rival at turn 2 to take second place.

Renault called in the Spaniard for a much-needed pit stop but then suffered a further delay when changing the intermediates to groove (slick) Michelins. The right-rear wheel had cross-threaded and this cost the driver 11 seconds. Alonso had now dropped down to sixth and was now nearly 50 seconds behind the leading pair of Giancarlo and Michael…

At this stage of the Grand Prix, the track developed a dry line and the cars running on groove slick tyres were now setting fastest laptimes then the cars still on intermediates. Alonso who had changed his worn-out Michelin was now driving his R26 at an incredible pace. Determined to reduce the gap between himself and Michael.

Michael Schumacher was now in the lead of the Grand Prix after pitting one lap earlier than Giancarlo. Michael gained the track position when Giancarlo went off line at turn 1 after switching from intermediates to grooves. Michael even put two wheels on the grass as the Italian tried to hold onto his position after exiting the pits… But it was too late as Michael took the lead on lap 42 and went on to win the race.

Alonso reduced the gap in those last few laps to finished 3.1 seconds behind his main rival. The Spaniard must be disappointed as he had the fastest car on the day – in any conditions – and he should have won the race without any problems. But the end result was that Michael Schumacher won and this means the two main rivals are now tie with 116 points as we head to the last two races of the season.

Giancarlo Fisichella finished in third behind his team-mate, but Renault must be feeling frustrated by this result. After dominating qualifying, a one-two finish would have been the perfect opportunity to claim back the drivers’ and constructors’ championship. Even Renault’s Director of Engineering, Pat Symonds, said it was “no excuses” not to win the Chinese Grand Prix.

“We are making no excuses today,” said Symonds. “This is a race we should have won, because the Renault and its Michelin tyres were dominant in all conditions.

“The fact we did not do so is intensely frustrating for the entire team.”

I have to agree. Renault had the fastest car in the dry and wet conditions but still managed to get beaten by Michael and Ferrari. As a small consolidation, the French manufacturer is now ahead of the Italian team by one point in the Constructors’ standings (179 points to 178 points).

Despite the setback, Alonso remains confident for the following race, the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, in a week’s time (October 8th).

“So it was a bad day, but this is a fantastic fight for the championship, and I go to Japan feeling really confident,” he said.

“We had the quickest car today, and we have two more good chances to win.

“I believe we can do it.

“In wet conditions we were much quicker and in dry also as well because of our times on Friday. But I am confident for the last two races,” he added.

“It doesn’t matter which feeling you have inside, the winner is Michael and he deserved the victory because he came in front of the other drivers.”

As for Michael, he can’t believe his luck after being disadvantage in the wet conditions in the earlier stages of the race. As the track dried out, the German hauled himself into contention and then capitalised on a tactical miscue and a botched pit stop for his arch-rival to score his 91st career win.

“I am so happy!” exclaimed the 37-year-old, who is aiming for an eighth world title before he retires from the sport at the end of the season.

“After the start, I was surprised to find that I could match the pace of those ahead of me, which was better than I had expected.

“After a while, I was able to close up on [Giancarlo] Fisichella.

“I thought that if I could pass him, even if I could not win, then at least I would only lose two points to Fernando and given where I started that would have been a good result.”

Michael’s fifth win in seven races has significantly reduced the championship lead to Alonso, when at one stage it was a gap of 25 points…

And with seven wins to his name compared to Alonso’s six. It is the German who has the upper hand with two races remaining.

“Looking back some while ago, it is quite a miracle that we are there,” Schumacher said of his comeback.

“But thanks to great work from everybody we managed it and we go to the last two races [with a strong chance of winning the title].

“Now we go to Suzuka, a track that I love.

“But it is difficult to make any predictions and as usual, tyre performance will be crucial.”

Indeed it will be, the Suzuka track is also the home race of Bridgestone. Can the Japanese tyre manufacturer provide a good compound for the potential 2006 champion in a week’s time?

Can Renault fight back? It has to if Alonso and the team want to win this year’s championship. No more excuses and mistakes. Let the battle commence!