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The 2006 Season Review - Part Two 27 Oct 2006

Jenson Button (GBR) Honda Racing RA106 celebrates on the podium.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 13, Hungarian Grand Prix, Race, Budapest, Hungary, 6 August 2006 Pedro de la Rosa (ESP) McLaren Mercedes MP4-21.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 13, Hungarian Grand Prix, Race, Budapest, Hungary, 6 August 2006 Robert Kubica (POL) BMW Sauber F1.06 and Dr Mario Theissen (GER) BMW Motorsport Technical Director celebrate. 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 13, Hungarian Grand Prix, Race, Budapest, Hungary, 6 August 2006 Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari celebrates his first win in parc ferme.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 14, Turkish Grand Prix, Race, Istanbul Park, Turkey, 27 August 2006 Juan Pablo Montoya (COL) McLaren with Connie Montoya (COL) on the grid.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, United States Grand Prix, Race, Indianapolis, USA, 2 July 2006

Two departing favourites, two maiden winners, one new star

Despite their optimism at the start of the year, it soon became clear that neither McLaren, nor Honda, had the speed to challenge Renault and Ferrari on a regular basis. Kimi Raikkonen finished third in Bahrain and second in Australia, and McLaren team mate Juan Pablo Montoya was second in Monaco where the Finn looked threatening before retiring.

Honda’s story was even more depressing. Jenson Button was third in Malaysia, but thereafter only picked up scraps or else retired, as did his new team mate Rubens Barrichello. By the middle of the season it was difficult to know which was in greater trouble, McLaren with both cars retiring after a crash in the first corner at Indianapolis, or Honda who had completely lost their way. Raikkonen at least had picked up thirds in Britain, Canada and Germany (where he started from pole with a light fuel load).

The crisis at Honda led to the departure of technical director Geoff Willis as Shuhei Nakamura took over all technical responsibility, and the German race signalled a much-needed upswing before more heads rolled. Button ran strongly to fourth there and then finally had his day of days in Hungary. In unusually cold and damp conditions he charged from 15th on the grid after an engine-change penalty and was perfectly poised when leader Fernando Alonso lost a wheel after his right rear wheel nut had sheared its retaining clip after his pit stop.

It was a welcome triumph for the Briton, who finally got a monkey off his back after 114 race starts without the big result, and a desperately needed success for a team who had begun the year with very high expectations. With Barrichello finishing fourth on a day when Michael Schumacher also failed to finish after controversial clashes with McLaren’s Pedro de la Rosa and BMW Sauber’s Nick Heidfeld while fighting for second place, the team scored 15 points in one hit.

Hungary was also a high point for De la Rosa, who had replaced Montoya from France onwards after the volatile Colombian parted company with McLaren in the wake of the accident at Indianapolis in which he took off his own team mate.

There was a change at BMW Sauber, too, where impressive Friday test driver Robert Kubica replaced Jacques Villeneuve. The former champion had apparently blotted his copybook once too often in Germany after sliding out of a points-scoring position late in the race, and the Pole drove brilliantly in Hungary to score two points for seventh place until post-race checks revealed his BMW Sauber to be fractionally under weight. As he was disqualified, Schumacher moved up to score a critical point even though he did not finish the race.

Alonso and Schumacher were anxious to get back to normal in Turkey, where Ferrari’s Felipe Massa further underlined his developing ability by taking pole position for the first time. Few doubted the plan was for him to ‘surrender’ the lead to Schumacher during the first stops, as he had at Indianapolis, but when Tonio Liuzzi’s Toro Rosso seized its differential on lap 20 the safety car was deployed and scuppered such plans. Schumacher was obliged to wait in the pits while Massa’s car was serviced first and thus crucially fell behind Alonso.

As Massa sped home to his first victory, in great style, Schumacher chased Alonso home in third place, the Spaniard thus keeping a narrow points advantage with just five races to run. Suddenly, Renault retaining the double was far from a foregone conclusion.

In Part Three - Ferrari make the announcement everyone’s been waiting for, Renault in uproar after Imola qualifying, and Alonso keeps his cool to see off the old master…

Click here to go to Part One, Part Three or Part Four.