Formula One 2006

As a passionate fan of Formula One motor racing, I like to write detail accounts on this year’s FIA World Championship. I have created a long thread on the main Eternal Sunset forum and will continue to post Grand Prix stories on the forum and here (plus eMagi).

For those who haven’t read my views on the pinnacle of motor racing, you can start reading this here:

Schumi – the King of France

Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher won his eighth French Grand Prix (an impressive race statistic) after a dominate lights-to-flag victory over Fernando Alonso. Felipe Massa finished in third position.

Schumacher’s victory has significantly reduced the points gap to championship leader Alonso to 17 points. And with seven races to go, this will mean that we will have a tense and exciting duel for the title.

In the early part of the race, Ferrari were running one-two with Michael ahead of team-mate Massa. But Renault changed their pit-stop strategy (from three pitstops to two), which allow Alonso to jump ahead of the Brazilian and gained that all-important extra points with P2.

Bridgestone was the fastest tyre package in Michelin’s home race, judging by the pace of the Ferraris and the Toyotas. But the Williams team did suffer a tyre problem especially for Mark Webber, who had to retire with a left-rear running over temperature…

Ralf Schumacher finished in a good solid fourth in the Toyota with McLaren’s Kimi Raikkonen in fifth. Renault’s Giancarlo Fisichella drove a low-key race and finished a distant sixth, ahead of Pedro de la Rosa in the McLaren. The last point scorer was Nick Heidfeld in the BMW-Sauber.

As for Honda, it was a weekend from hell. Terrible qualifying performance from Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello and then in the race, a lack of race pace which ended in retirement for both drivers…

Exit stage left for Juan Pablo Montoya…

Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya has announced that he is leaving Formula One to join NASCAR racing in America.

The McLaren driver will reunite with Chip Ganassi Racing, with whom he achieved spectacular success when racing in the United States, winning the 1999 Champ Car (CART) title and the 2000 Indianapolis 500.

The shock news was announced by Montoya and Ganassi in a press conference at the Chicagoland NASCAR event on Sunday morning (July 9th).

Montoya’s future has been one of the key talking points of the feverish F1 ‘silly season’.

McLaren had not taken up its option to retain him for 2007 and after a disappointing 2006 campaign to date his place in the Woking team was in jeopardy – especially with a list of other candidates in the frame for the high demanded seat alongside new arrival Fernando Alonso (the current championship leader).

With Toyota expected to re-sign Jarno Trulli for another three years and Red Bull Racing’s interest apparently on the wane, Montoya’s options to remain in Formula One were looking limited.

Ganassi recently expressed an interest in renewing his association with Montoya but it was assumed any overtures would be in connection with his IRL IndyCar squad.

Instead the Colombian will take on a completely new challenge after signing what was described as a “multi-year” deal.

He will become the first big-name F1 regular to compete in NASCAR full-time in the 58-year history of the stock car category.

Apparently Jacques Villeneuve was thinking on the same wave length and joining NASCAR at the end of his F1 career. Even though the Canadian is achieving solid results in the BMW Sauber this season, the team hasn’t made a decision whether he will drive for them in 2007. If Villeneuve leaves, then we have lost another great driver from the ‘pinnacle of motor racing.’

As for Montoya, I think he made the right choice as he seems to be disillusioned by the politics in Grand Prix racing. Plus, since he join McLaren from Williams back in 2005, Montoya has been out-performed by Kimi Raikkonen. It doesn’t help that he had that ‘tennis/motocross’ injury last year…

I will miss Montoya in Formula One as he was an exciting driver to watch. Brave and committed. His passing move on Michael Schumacher at Brazil in only his third race in 2001 was fantastic. And that amazing 160mph+ qualifying lap around Monza in 2002 was simply incredible.

USA Grand Prix: Turn 1 mayhem

Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher won a dramatic United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis, closing the championship gap to Fernano Alonso by six points. Schumacher was delighted to win his fifth consecutive US Grand Prix after taking his first win since the European Grand Prix at the Nurburgring.

As for Alonso, the Spaniard had a troubled race. Struggling with oversteer (in qualifying, he was suffering understeer) and could only finish in fifth position. A disappointing result for the current championship leader after winning the last four races.

At the start, on the first corner, there was a big incident that took out half of the Formula One field! It seems that Juan Pablo Montoya caused the shunt, by running into the back of his McLaren team-mate Kimi Raikkonen… Both McLarens spun, hitting Jenson Button (Honda) and clipping both Nick Heidfeld (BMW-Sauber) and Scott Speed (Toro Rosso). Heidfeld’s BMW flew into a series of rolls, but luckily the German was unhurt. Further back, a separate accident at the apex of the first turn eliminated Christian Klien (Red Bull Racing), Mark Webber (Williams) and Franck Montagny (Super Aguri).

Such a shame that both McLarens and Scott Speed were out before the race even started. Well, that’s motor racing for you and hopefully a better race for them in the next Grand Prix.

A perfect one-two finish for Ferrari with Felipe Massa scoring his best ever finish with second. He made a great start to lead the first 29 laps, before the first round of pitstops. Schumacher stopped on lap 28 (a lap sooner than his team-mate) but grabbed the lead with a supreme out lap. And that was the end of the lead contest.

Renault’s Giancarlo Fisichella finished in a distant third ahead of Jarno Trulli in the Toyota. Giancarlo just didn’t have the speed to challenge for the win. But at least he had a better handling Renault R26 over team-mate Alonso…

A fantastic achievement by Trulli, despite starting from the pitlane after suffering a rear suspension failure during qualifying. The Italian stayed out of trouble on the first lap and drove a solid race for yet another finish. Good job!

Rubens Barrichello had a lonely race to sixth in the Honda. The Brazilian was actually catching Alonso near the end of the race… David Coulthard scored another points finish with seventh in the Red Bull, with Vitantonio Liuzzi in P8 for Toro Rosso.

Renault had admitted that third and fifth places was the “maximum” it could have hoped for. As has been the case all weekend, the Michelin-shod R26 – so dominant a week ago in Canada – was unable to match the combination of Bridgestone tyres on the Ferrari chassis.

Giancarlo Fisichella came closest to offering a challenge, finishing in a strong third place to reclaim third in the drivers’ standings from McLaren’s Kimi Raikkonen.

Meanwhile, McLaren boss Ron Dennis refused to blame anyone for the first corner accident that took both his cars out of the United States Grand Prix. Juan Pablo Montoya ran into the back of Kimi Raikkonen as the pack jostled through the opening turns. Both McLarens spun and collected the cars around them – taking Jenson Button out of the race and sending Nick Heidfeld rolling through the gravel. The race stewards are planning to hold an investigation after the race, and Montoya seems the driver most likely to receive any censure.

My opinion is this was a motor racing incident and these things can happen. A pack of 22 cars racing towards a tight and narrow right corner always bound to cause trouble. Such a shame that so many cars were taken out before the race began.

Michelin’s 100th Grand Prix win

Renault’s Fernando Alonso won a exciting and dramatic Canadian Grand Prix. This was the Spaniard’s first win in Montreal and Michelin’s 100th Grand Prix victory. The Renault driver led from pole position to notch up his fourth straight win and stretch his championship lead to 25 points. Alonso is looking the favourite to win this year’s Drivers’ championship if he continues this impressive form.

Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher recovered well and I think will be pretty satisfied to finished second ahead of Kimi Raikkonen. Schumacher took advantage of a mistake from Kimi to steal second on the penultimate lap (who ran wide at the hairpin and onto the loose rubber ‘marbles’).

Britain’s David Coulthard (Red Bull Racing) also overtook Jenson Button (Honda) in the final stages of the race to snatch eighth from his compatriot. A good result for DC despite complaining of balance.

I do feel sorry for Kimi Raikkonen as he had problems throughout the 70-lap race. In his two pit-stops, there was that issue with the right-rear tyre and later on, he stalled (due to a problem with the clutch). The Finn was unlucky to run wide at the hairpin as second place was his.

Giancarlo Fisichella took a creditable fourth after he clawed his way back after a drive-through penalty. The Italian had started alongside Renault team-mate Alonso at the front of the grid but jumped the start and was consequently penalised.

Felipe Massa gathered more points for Ferrari in fifth while Toyota’s Jarno Trulli claimed his first points of the season in sixth. Finally, Trulli has scored some points after a bad start to this year’s Formula One season. Shame his race pace wasn’t that great compared to qualifying.

BMW-Sauber had showed promising pace in practice (especially in Kubica’s performance) but Nick Heidfeld could only manage seventh ahead of Red Bull’s David Coulthard.

But there was disappointment for Canadian Jacques Villeneuve on the track named after his late father Gilles and in front of his loyal home fans. The former World Champion was initially in P7 before he ploughed into the wall at 90mph behind Ralf Schumacher’s troubled Toyota.

Juan Pablo Montoya also made a dramatic exit from the race when he slid into the ‘Wall of Champions’ on lap 14. The McLaren driver had earlier ended the hopes of Nico Rosberg, who had qualified in sixth place for Williams. Montoya tried to squeeze past the German on the opening lap but instead he spun the 20-year-old into the wall and out of the race.

So a good result for Fernano Alonso and Renault this weekend. The next race is at Indianapolis next Sunday and hopefully we won’t have a tyre situation unlike last year’s fiasco US Grand Prix.

Lights to flag win for Fernando at Silverstone

Fernando Alonso dominated the British Grand Prix with a lights to flag victory. The Spaniard was in the ‘zone’ and simply drove away into the lead and recorded his fifth win of the year.

The Renault star shook off an early challenge from his two main rivals, Kimi Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher, taking control at the first round of pit stops before disappearing into the distance.

Kimi and Michael was left trailing in the wake behind the winning Renault so it was a battle between second place. Initially, Kimi held the track position but during the second round of pitstop, despite taking less fuel than the McLaren, Michael got ahead in his Ferrari. The German was able to do this by setting faster laps than Kimi and thanks to an early call by Ferrari’s strategist Ross Brawn, he made it into P2.

McLaren was shocked to see Michael ahead of Kimi. But in the end, the car was simply not fast enough to challenge Renault and Ferrari. Kimi had no answer over Michael and gradually lost touch during the final stint of the race, almost falling into the clutches of Giancarlo Fisichella in the second Renault. But the Finn held on for the final podium spot to move ahead of the Italian into a clear third place in the Drivers’ standings.

Felipe Massa finished fifth after a solid drive in the second Ferrari, while Juan Pablo Montoya brought a slightly damaged McLaren home in sixth. The Colombian had been hit by Jacques Villeneuve’s BMW Sauber at the Copse corner, damaging his right-side sidepod, and spent the first stint bottled up behind the other BMW of Nick Heidfeld. Heidfeld finished ahead of his BMW Sauber team-mate in seventh with Villeneuve the last point scorer.

As for Jenson Button, he had a race and weekend to forget. After suffering the embarrassment in qualifying, his Honda developed an oil leak and he was out within ten laps… Oh dear. Button was deeply disappointed to let down his home fan at Silverstone. Even though he started 19th on the grid, Jenson made good progress in the early stages of the race and was behind David Coulthard’s Red Bull ready to overtake. But alas, he is suffering so much bad luck recently and another non-finish will hit hard on Jenson’s confidence.

Dramatic Monaco Grand Prix

It was a commanding victory for Fernando Alonso, the 12th Grand Prix win of the Spaniard’s glittering young Formula 1 career and his fourth of the 2006 season.

With Michael Schumacher at the back of the grid, Alonso had a new challenger to battle with for the race win, McLaren’s Kimi Raikkonen.

The pace of Kimi and Fernando at the front was impressive. Lap after lap, the two cars were trading fastest times. Initially Mark Webber in the Williams couldn’t keep up, but after the first rounds of pit-stop, the Australian was soon on their tail as the leading Renault slowed down his pace.

It looked like we would have a three-way battle for the race victory, but unfortunately Webber’s Williams suffered an engine failure. Then during the safety car period, Kimi’s McLaren experienced an engine problem as well!

That left Alonso in the lead, with Juan Pablo Montoya in second position. Toyota’s Jarno Trulli should have finished third but he too suffered a problem, just five laps from the end. Honda’s Ruben Barrichello was initially in P3 but had a drive-through penalty after speeding in the pitlane.

So a dream result for Red Bull’s David Coulthard, who finished third. It has been quite a while for DC to finish in a top threee position and it was nice to see him wearing a Superman cape on the podium!

What about Michael Schumacher? He drove a solid race from the back and managed to finish fifth! Just behind his ex-Ferrari team-mate Barrichello. Renault’s Giancarlo Fisichella pulled off some exciting overtaking moves during the race and the Italian finished sixth.

So what happen in qualifying? Well, Michael Schumacher ‘stopped’ his Ferrari at the La Rascasse corner… Later that eventing, the race stewards concluded that he deliberately blocked the track in the closing stages of qualifying, preventing rivals from beating his time. And so the seven-time World Champion started the race right at the back. In the race, he got the job done and finished in the points.

Home favourite takes the glory

Fantastic result for Fernando Alonso, as he wins his home race and becomes the first Spaniard to win the Spanish Grand Prix in Formula One history.

Alonso drove a faultless race with no mistakes with consistence laptimes. His team-mate, Giancarlo Fisichella, was there for support but couldn’t match the pace and dropped behind to finish third.

Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher tried his best and managed to get ahead of Fisichella after the first pitstop. But he didn’t have the speed to catch the race leader. Second place was his result.

Behind the leading three, Felipe Massa continue his good form with fourth place ahead of McLaren’s Kimi Raikkonen. When will win see the Finn and the McLaren team win again? Honda’s Jenson Button was disappointed – yet again – to finish a distant sixth but he is looking forward to the next race in Monte Carlo, as Jenson goes quite well there. His team-mate Rubens Barrichello finished seventh with Nick Heidfeld in the last scoring position in the BMW-Sauber.

Michael’s 86th Grand Prix victory

Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher scored his 86th Grand Prix win at the Nurburgring after an epic contest with Renault’s Fernando Alonso.

Alonso led from the start on pole position but lost out in the second pit-stop as Schumacher was carrying more fuel and had the fastest car to ‘leap ahead’ of the Spaniard.

The German had three extra laps before his pit-stop and with the speed of the Ferrari 248, he was in a comfortable position to gain the lead and ultimately, the race win.

Not a thrilling Grand Prix in my opinion, it was all down to tactics in the pit-stop strategy. But it does indicate that Michael and the Italian team are back in the hunt for the World Championship.

Felipe Massa drove well and finished third. This was the Brazilian first podium with Ferrari. McLaren’s Kimi Raikkonen was fourth and I reckon he is disappointed to finished outside the top three, despite an engine upgrade from Mercedes-Benz. When will we see McLaren win again?

Honda’s Rubens Barrichello finished fifth ahead of Giancarlo Fisichella in the Renault. Williams’s Nico Rosberg drove a great race to seventh, considering he started from the back after a ten-grid engine penalty. While BMW Sauber driver, Jacques Villenuve, had a solid race to finish eighth.

The next race is the Spanish Grand Prix at Barcelona and Fernando Alonso hopes to achieve a good result in front of his passionate home crowd.

Champions duel at Imola

Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher won today’s San Marino Grand Prix (April 23rd) after beating Fernando Alonso at Imola. This was the German’s 85th Grand Prix victory and his first in this year’s championship.

It was a carbon-copy of last year’s race as the Ferrari and Renault challenged each other for victory. This time it was Michael ahead of Fernando to take his first ‘proper’ win after an 18-month winless spell (not including that ‘farce’ race at Indianapolis back in 2005).

Good result for the Spaniard despite finishing a close second. Eight points would do nicely for his drivers’ championship. He should have won the race but the team took the risk to pit the car earlier than expected (in the second pit-stop), in order to get ahead of the Ferrari… It didn’t work out and Alonso tried his best to past the leading Ferrari in the closing stages of the Grand Prix.

McLaren’s Juan Pablo Montoya drove a solid race from seventh to finish third. But I expected a better result/pace from McLaren by now…

As for Jenson Button, he is suffering so much bad luck lately… Looked promising when he qualified second and was able to keep up the pace of Michael in the earlier stages of the race. It all went wrong during the second pit-stop when the lollipop man gave the all-clear signal to go, despite the fuel hose still attached to the car…