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2006: The Year for Ferarri
The 2006 season started much better than 2005 for the Ferrari team. From almost being called a back marker, the team appeared competitive once again. Though it was pretty early and only a few races had gone by, Michael made it to the podium once in the last three races. Besides, the visible advantage that the Michelin tyres had in the 2005 season seemed to have been neutralized by the Bridgestone tyres.
As the team prepared to race at San Marino, Michael had yet to win a race and had one retirement and sixth place to his name. The Ferraris showed all signs of competitiveness, and that is what made the 2006 season even more interesting. Alonso had already started where he left off the previous season. Fernando was the only driver on the grid to have toppled Michael and the Ferrari team from its perch. Of course, there was Jacques Villeneuve on the grid too who had beaten Michael back in 1997. The other past masters—Mika, Damon, Ayrton, Prost—were long gone.
Now, the question was if Michael could still bring out the best he had to offer and take one more championship, or would it be Renault’s season? More importantly, could Michael win the San Marino GP?
Let’s find out.
The 2006 San Marino GP: Qualifying
The 2006 season saw Felipe Massa join Michael in the Ferrari team, while Rubens joined the Honda team. Incidentally, these were the two teams which did well at the San Marino qualifying. It was odd that neither the reigning world champion, Fernando Alonso, nor the other Renault of Fisichella made it to the top four.
The session was once again tilted towards the Ferraris with the Hondas in close pursuit. The only difference was Fernando being at the top in Q1. Thereafter, it was the other teams. Michael was back to being in a league of his own. He did an amazing pole lap, clinching the top spot by a good margin.
Here is Michael’s pole lap.
Note: The time marker is not shown. Enjoy the Ferrari’s scream.
That was a cool lap, and the sheer pace with which Michael went over the kerbs was amazing! For a good amount of time, Michael was nearly half a second faster than every other car on the grid until Jenson put up a great lap taking P2. Barrichello, Jenson’s partner, came in at P3 while Massa was at P4. The reigning world champ, Alonso, was on P5.
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The qualifying session did promise a great race. It would be interesting to know Alonso’s game plan for the race.
The 2006 San Marino GP: Race Day
The start of the race had no major shifts in position for the top two drivers as Michael and Button got away clean. However, Barrichello quickly lost two positions as Massa and Alonso, in that order, overtook him. Within a lap, the top five cars were Michael leading Button, Massa, Alonso and Barrichello. That stayed so with Alonso piling pressure on Massa now and then.
Here is the race summary:
Note: The commentary is not in English. Viewers can mute and watch.
Michael could go through the first pitstop and emerge in front. However, the car developed an unusual problem with the tyres. The tyres started graining badly, thereby bringing down the performance. The ease with which the cars behind caught up with Michael was testimony to the problem.
After the remaining pitstops, Michael could put in some good laps, but the same tyre graining problem persisted. Button’s last pitstop was forgettable as he ripped off the fuel hose by starting in error. That cost him time and position on the race track.
With no such problems in the front, Michael and Alonso started something that they had left behind at the 2005 San Marino GP—intense racing. Much like 2005, Michael and Alonso were separated by just a few seconds as they tried to take track position. The only difference was that Michael was in the front this time.
The statisticians weren’t bothered too much, as Michael finished in front with Alonso in a close second. The finish also catapulted Michael from the fourth position in the drivers' table to second. Michael brought in his eighty-fifth victory and was looking good for the 2006 season.
Back to the Pits
Though the apparent strengths of the Renault team couldn’t be discounted, Michael did well to take another win. The victory was the first for Michael and the Ferrari team for the 2006 season. Michael was looking as good as ever, and if he could continue his form, then an eighth world championship couldn’t be ruled out.
The Next Win..
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