Alonso and Renault outfox rivals to keep their crowns
In the end, the day belonged to Felipe Massa and Ferrari, but Renault won both of the titles, with Fernando Alonso taking the coveted number one to McLaren in 2007, and the Regie retaining their constructors crown following a thrilling season finale at the Brazilian Grand Prix.
On a day when neither Renault nor Michelin could hold a candle to Ferrari or Bridgestone, there really wasnt any need to fight hard once Michael Schumacher had his fuel feed trouble in qualifying. And the moment the German picked up his puncture in the race, Renault instructed Alonso to turn down the revs. He had big pressure from both Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button, but was able to bring his R26 home without the slightest problem for an easy second place. Giancarlo Fisichellas race wasnt as convincing, but his sixth place helped Renault to score 11 points.
With Massa winning literally as he pleased, and Schumacher driving like a man possessed to climb from 19th place after his enforced pit stop to an eventual fourth, the red cars took home 15 points, but they were not enough. The final scores were 206 to 201, after a gripping season.
Brazil was a great race for Jenson Button and Honda, as he fought his way through from 14th on the grid after electronic problems in qualifying, to finish third right on Alonsos tail. The RA106 wasnt quick enough to challenge the Ferraris, but the Englishman was sure he could have been second if he had qualified without gremlins. Rubens Barrichello didnt have the same pace, as he struggled with his cars balance, but seventh place added to the teams score as they finished fourth overall.
McLaren went into the race hopeful of a podium finish, but ended up only fifth and eighth courtesy of Kimi Raikkonen and Pedro de la Rosa. The Finn found his MP4-21 difficult to drive on his last outing for the team, and was powerless to resist Schumachers attack in the final stages. The Spaniard went for a single-stop strategy, which proved hard on his tyres. Unable to attack, he thus had to drive a defensive race for his single point. In the overall stakes, McLaren finished third, ahead of Honda, 110 points to 86.
BMW Sauber needed to beat Toyota to retain their fifth place in the constructors title. To begin with both Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld were in strong shape, though the Pole cost the German a lot of ground after squeezing down the inside of him in the early going in Turn 4 and damaging his front wing. Eventually the former had to settle for ninth, just out of the points, complaining that there was just no more speed to be squeezed from the F1.06. Heidfeld, meanwhile, got stuck behind fuel-heavy de la Rosa, and then damaged his car in a brush as he overtook Liuzzis Toro Rosso in the first corner before sliding off-track while letting his old team mate Massa lap him. Later he crashed heavily in the final turn, thankfully without injury, when he thought something broke on the car. With both Toyotas failing, the team duly retained their position behind Renault, Ferrari, McLaren and Honda, with 36 points against 35.
What a race Takuma Sato drive for Super Aguri! He was right in the thick of the battle between the Toro Rossos, the Red Bulls and the Spyker MF1s, and brought his SA06 home an excellent 10th. To add to the teams delight, Sakon Yamamoto, who had run well in the early stages, set the races seventh fastest lap, with Sato ninth.
Toro Rosso seemed on course for a possible point when Scott Speed was running 10th mid-race, but then faded after his single fuel stop to an eventual 11th place finish. Team mate Tonio Liuzzi also made the finish, but was hampered after the Turn 1 collision with Heidfeld, which damaged his left front suspension.
Red Bull took a distant 12th place courtesy of Robert Doornbos, who described his RB2 as very bad to drive, but David Coulthard didnt get further than the 14th lap before retiring with a gearbox problem.
Spyker MF1 had little to write home about this time, with Christijan Albers and Tiago Monteiro ending their season 14th and 15th.
Toyotas performance in qualifying, with Jarno Trulli third and Ralf Schumacher seventh, ahead of both BMWs, filled the team with optimism. But that was dashed within 10 laps. First Schumacher retired with a suspension problem, then a lap later Trulli fell from third place with exactly the same problem.
Could it have been a worse race for Williams? Yet again, Mark Webber found himself an innocent victim on the first lap, as team mate Nico Rosberg ran into the back of him before going on to have a massive shunt in the final corner, which brought out the safety car. Theres nothing else to say.
So thats the end of one of the most exciting Formula One seasons in recent history and, with Michael Schumachers retirement, the end of an era. It was also the last hurrah for Marlboro, Michelin, Mild Seven and British American Tobacco.
On the bright side, the new season already promises to be just as gripping, with driver/team changes galore and the prospect of everyone racing on Bridgestone tyres. Roll on 2007!