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With Michael’s victory at the 2006 San Marino GP, the season appeared well set for a battle between equal teams; of course, the other team being Renault. Unlike the previous season where the Bridgestone cars were at a disadvantage, those teams on Bridgestone had really pulled themselves up well. However, Michelin still had a minor upper hand. The tyre graining that Michael experienced at the San Marino GP corroborated that part.
While Michael’s victory was a good one, the Renaults were still the better team. It was quite possible that Ferrari would be playing catch-up in most of the races as in the 1996 and 1997 seasons. Michael was still the lead driver for Ferrari taking the battle to the opposition.
Fernando Alonso was leading the championship by fifteen points after four races. That was a good lead, as the Renaults would easily be finishing on the podium in almost every race. So, it would require some hard work from all the teams to even catch up, let alone dislodge Fernando from his perch.
The fastest way to catch up with Alonso would be to win races. Could Michael catch up? Could he win the European GP?
Let’s find out.
The 2006 European GP: Qualifying
Michael and the Ferrari team would have hoped to repeat their qualifying performance from the San Marino GP. However, Alonso had other plans. From the first qualifying (Q1), Alonso managed to pip Michael by just about one-tenth of a second or thereabouts. Michael responded well in the second qualifying, but that did not keep the Spaniard from taking the pole in Q3.
Alonso architected a great qualifying lap in Q3 making him the only driver to breach the 1 minute 29 seconds barrier. No other driver could do that despite Michael coming very close. No other driver in any of the qualifying put up a time faster than what Alonso managed in Q3. That was good enough to take the pole. Michael was close in P2, while Massa in the second Ferrari was in P3.
Enjoy Michael’s ride around the circuit at Nurburgring.
Note: The time marker is not shown. Enjoy the Ferrari’s scream.
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The other drivers making up the top six were Ruben Barrichello in the Honda on P4, Kimi on P5, and Button on P6. The grid was a good mix of the Hondas, Ferraris, Renaults and McLarens in the front.
Now it was all on to the race day.
The 2006 European GP: Race Day
At the turn of the lights, Alonso, Michael and Massa got off well. Alonso continued to lead Michael and Massa. The position stayed the same after the first three turns, though Massa did put up some challenge against Michael till the first turn.
Thereafter, it was evident that the Ferraris and the Renaults were quite close on pace. Michael did pile up some pressure on Alonso, initially, but soon backed off to avoid Fernando’s exhaust.
Take a look at the race highlights:
Note: The video is not in English, but if you keep the sound on, you will understand what the commentators are conveying.
Michael stayed close to the lead Renault to ensure an effective pit strategy which could put him in front. The first two pitstops did not go as planned, and the Renaults managed to get Alonso in front each time. However, at the third pitstop, Alonso went in first, and Michael stayed out for two more laps putting in some blinders. How good those laps were corroborated at the end of Michael’s pitstop. So, what happened?
Michael not only managed to get in and out ahead of Alonso but he did so in style. There was a gap of nearly five seconds to the Renault. So, the in-laps before the pitstop were perfect. The position remained so as Michael took the chequered flag and brought in his eighty-sixth victory.
Back to the Pits
The back-to-back wins put the Ferraris as the lead contenders for the championship. One year after his championship win, Michael was back in business. It was too early to predict anything, but it was for the Renaults to watch out.
The Next Win..
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