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The 2006 F1 Season
The 2006 season battle for the drivers’ championship was far from over. It was not as straightforward as the 2005 season, where Alonso became winner quite early. At least, his emergence as the new champion was evident quite early in the season. That was not the case in 2006. At times it appeared to be in Alonso’s kitty, but then Michael would fight back and close the gap. And it happened again at the U.S., French and German GPs. So, what next?
The two succeeding races after the German GP saw neither of the championship leaders taking wins. So, it now came down to the Italian GP where Alonso was still leading the championship race. Michael had to win to pose a challenge in the remaining races. The Italian circuit happened to be Ferrari’s home circuit and probably the right place for both Michael and Ferrari to win.
The open Monza circuit would be ideal for both the constructors – Ferrari and Renault – with the high-speed corners and long straights. However, it would be imprudent to rule out a McLaren charge with Kimi at the helm. He has already done that three times in the past. So, Monza could be no different. These would be the only dynamics playing out, which would decide how the championship unfurled further.
Could Michael win at Ferrari’s home circuit? Could he reduce the gap to Alonso? Let’s find out.
The 2006 Italian GP | Qualifying
The qualifying did not fail to impress as Kimi was at it again. But then it was not always evident that Kimi was going to be at the pole. Interestingly, the championship contender, Alonso and his teammate Fisichella qualified on the fifth row of the grid. Alonso, though, had originally qualified fifth. The stewards had penalized him five positions as he was found guilty of impeding Massa’s qualifying run. Controversies weren’t going to leave Renault alone.
The talk of the town was the front row where, as usual, Michael laid claim to the pole, provisional though. It was the BMW-Sauber which initially qualified in the front row and appeared quite solid and fast. But then Kimi started his assaults on the grid position. Michael responded and put up the fastest time till then. And then the least expected happened.
Just when the pole seemed sealed in Schumi’s favour, Raikkonen took it by two-thousandths of a second. It would hardly be closer than that in F1. So, the front row was reserved for Kimi and Michael while Nick Heidfeld and Massa took P3 and P4, respectively. Jenson Button in the Honda took P5, and Robert Kubica in the other Sauber took P6 bringing in the top six on the grid.
The 2006 Italian GP | Race Day
With Kimi at pole, there was hardly any doubt that he would pull away at the start. That’s exactly what he did as the light turned off. Michael was close to him despite battling Heidfeld to the first corner. But once the first corner was taken it was Kimi leading from Michael and Kubica in the third spot.
Owing to the long straights and faster turns, there were hardly any challenges on track as far as positions were concerned. No doubt, the Renault made some places, but even those were hard to come. It was the first round of pitstops that caused some shuffle in positions. Kimi stopped first, and Michael stayed out to put up a blistering lap. The lap was good enough for him to finish the pit side of the business and yet emerge ahead of Kimi. From there, the challenge was minimal as Kimi stayed close to Michael.
But the real challenge emerged when Alonso, started an attack from the third position on Kimi and Michael. He was closing the gap fast but for his engine betraying him. The Spaniard had to retire with a blown engine and that pretty much sealed the podium for Michael, Kimi and Kubica. The 2006 Italian GP also happened to be Kubica’s first podium.
Despite all the celebrations, it was the post-race conference which broke millions of fans’ hearts. Michael announced his retirement at the end of the season, and many did not see that coming. Why would someone who could still go out and win races be retiring? That was a question everybody had, but nobody had an answer.
Back to the Pits
With the Italian GP win, Michael was just two points away from Alonso. The championship seemed in Schumi’s kitty but then would he retire even if he won the championship? Nobody knew about his retirement, and nobody could guess if he would win the championship. But Schumacher ushered in an era which went in fast to fill a vacuum that the Brazilian legend, Ayrton Senna's, departure had created. In doing so, Schumacher himself became a legend!!
The Next Win..
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