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Michael Schumacher and the Championship
The victory at the 2006 U.S. GP made it easier for Michael Schumacher to keep his hopes alive for the championship. Fernando Alonso was still leading the championship by a good nineteen points, though. Missing the U.S. Grand Prix win would be the only regret that the Spaniard would be having. It was his stated intention to win the Monaco, Spanish, and U.S. Grand Prix. He did win the first two, but the last one eluded him. He could do it the next year, but that would be in a world without Michael Schumacher.
Schumacher had announced his retirement by the end of the 2006 season, which baffled fans and F1 pundits alike. Why would an F1 driver who was so good still retire? That was something only Schumacher could answer, and he did hint that he was low on energy and would like to take a break from the sport. Undoubtedly, Michael would be sorely missed. That said, the 2006 season was far from over.
The French circuit, technically, would support both the Ferrari and Renault’s make-up. As such, it would be difficult to predict who among Michael and Alonso would have the upper hand. Michael had a slight upper hand, as he loved the circuit and it was one where he had already won a record seven times. So, he knew the circuit well and understood the car dynamics, allowing him to work with the engineers and get the best set-up. Those were plusses but qualitative, nonetheless.
Could such a qualitative assessment predict a Michael win? Or would it be the young Turk, Alonso, all the way? Let’s find out.
The 2006 French GP: Qualifying
The predictions and assessments before the qualifying session were put to rest by the pace of the Ferraris. Michael Schumacher and Felipe Massa were both fast enough to stay ahead of the other cars. The surprise, though, was Jarno Trulli in the Toyota, who put up the fastest Q1 time just ahead of Michael Schumacher.
The surprise notwithstanding, the rest of the two qualifying sessions saw Michael take P1 with relative ease. In fact, Michael’s Q2 time was better than his Q1 time, probably because of the fuel load too. Take a look at Michael and Alonso’s run between Q2 and Q3.
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That was one fun contest with Michael and Alonso racing as if they were in a GP. But the Ferrari’s pace was quite evident even in this video and that is what gave Michael the pole position and Massa his P2. Alonso got himself at P3, while the Toyotas of Trulli and Ralf Schumacher were at P4 and P5, respectively. Kimi brought up the top six by getting his McLaren ahead of the remaining cars.
The race always had the prospect of Alonso blasting past the Ferraris with the unparalleled electronics in the Renault. If that happened, then the race would boil down to sheer pace or the pit strategy. All eyes were on the lights.
At the turn of the lights, Michael did not fail to impress. He had a stellar start which saw him shoot ahead and open up a lead as early as the first turn. Alonso was close behind and almost took out Massa. The Brazilian, however, prevailed and continued to hold his position. Massa ahead of Alonso was a favourable situation for the Ferraris as Michael pulled away quite strong.
Michael had several fastest laps in the race as he had to make his three-stop strategy prevail over Alonso’s two-stopper. He did it to perfection. However, Massa could not hold his spot and lost it to Alonso. So, Michael won his fourth race of the season, while Alonso came second, splitting the Ferraris. Massa still made it to the podium, which was a welcome finish for the Ferraris.
Back to the Pits
The gap between Michael and Alonso was just seventeen points now, and Michael had to continue his winning runs. If that happened, then a potential eighth championship and Ferrari claiming back their crown was a possibility.
The Next Win..
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