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2006 Race by Race - Part Three 19 Dec 2006

Race winner Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault R26 celebrates at the end of the race.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, British Grand Prix, Race, Silverstone, England, 11 June 2006 Jacques Villeneuve (CDN) BMW Sauber F1 on the grid.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 9, Canadian Grand Prix, Race, Montreal, Canada, 25 June 2006 Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari 248 F1.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 7, Monaco Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, 27 May 2006 Jenson Button (GBR) Honda RA106 retired from the race with a blown engine.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, British Grand Prix, Race, Silverstone, England, 11 June 2006 David Coulthard (GBR) Red Bull Racing RB2 celebrates his third position.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 7, Monaco Grand Prix, Race, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, 28 May 2006

The Monaco, British and Canadian Grands Prix

A look back at what would prove to be a decisive phase of the championship, rounds seven to nine. Among the key moments - three consecutive wins for defending world champion Fernando Alonso; Schumacher’s qualifying stunt at Monaco’s Rascasse corner; a maiden podium position for Red Bull and Jacques Villeneuve's last home Grand Prix.

Round Seven - Monaco - 28 May
Fernando Alonso
Pole: Fernando Alonso
Fastest Lap: Michael Schumacher
Links: Results / Live Timing Archive, Photos, TV images, Technical Analysis

From Saturday afternoon onwards there was just one topic of conversation in Monaco - Michael Schumacher. Had he deliberately blocked the circuit at the end of qualifying or was it, as the man himself claimed, a genuine error? In the dying seconds of the session, Schumacher had braked unusually heavily into the Rascasse corner, locked up and understeered wide, stopping just short of the barrier, but too close to make the corner. None of this would have mattered had he not been on pole at the time, with more than driver set to beat him - until they encountered the stricken Ferrari. There was uproar in the paddock, especially after onboard camera replays showed Schumacher’s apparently half-hearted attempt to make the corner at little more than walking speed. After lengthy deliberations - almost eight hours in fact - the stewards found the seven-times champion guilty and he was sent to the back of the grid in disgrace. To add insult to injury it meant Ferrari’s worst-ever qualifying performance - Felipe Massa had crashed in the first knockout phase and would also start the race from the back of the grid.

Fernando Alonso thus claimed pole position, with the highly impressive Mark Webber alongside him and the McLarens of Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya behind on row two. Following a clean start for the frontrunners, a mistake from Webber on lap 2 at Ste Devote allowed Raikkonen through into second, setting up a close fight with leader Alonso for much of the race. That was until Webber’s Williams came to a halt in flames on lap 49 after his exhaust broke. The subsequent safety car period didn’t agree with Raikkonen’s McLaren, which also caught light - due to a heat shield problem - and the Finn also retired just two laps later, leaving Alonso to secure a straightforward win, his first in the Principality.

The main beneficiaries of Webber’s and Raikkonen’s misfortune were Montoya, who took second, and - once Jarno Trulli’s Toyota had expired with hydraulic problems - David Coulthard, whose impressive drive gave Red Bull Racing their first Formula One podium. The Scot also had the dubious privilege of becoming the first driver to wear a red Superman cape on the rostrum, thanks to one of Red Bull’s famous Monaco movie tie-ins. There was no champagne though, out of respect for Edouard Michelin, who was tragically killed in a boating accident just two days earlier.

A rejuvenated Rubens Barrichello took fourth place - his best result to date for Honda - ahead of his former team mate Schumacher, who without doubt put in the drive of the afternoon to charge from a pit-lane start to fifth at the flag. The remaining points went to Giancarlo Fisichella, BMW Sauber’s Nick Heidfeld, who made eight places on his P15 starting slot, and Toyota’s Ralf Schumacher.

Round Eight - Britain - 11 June
Fernando Alonso
Pole: Fernando Alonso
Fastest Lap: Fernando Alonso
Links: Results / Live Timing Archive, Photos, TV images, Technical Analysis

Qualifying at Silverstone set-up the race that everyone had been waiting for - a straight fight between arguably the sport’s three greatest drivers - Alonso, Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher. They would start 1-2-3 on the grid after a thrilling fight for pole, which saw Schumacher sitting pretty until the final minute when Alonso nudged the Ferrari off the top spot. The German was then demoted to third by a last-gasp attempt from Raikkonen, the Finn starting his crucial flyer just moments before the flag dropped. There were surprises too at the other end of the grid. Three big names failed to make it past the first phase of qualifying - Trulli succumbing to a Toyota engine failure, while a mixture of poor pace and poor timing accounted for Williams’ Webber and local hero Jenson Button in the Honda.

First lap aside, the race never quite measured up to the excitement of qualifying. Alonso was simply in a class of his own and there was nothing Raikkonen, Schumacher - or anyone else - could do to stop him. As the Spaniard cleared off into the distance, his two key rivals were left to fight it out for second. Schumacher nearly took it on lap one, drawing alongside Raikkonen in a thrilling dice. In the end, though, he had to wait until the second stops, when he put in a stunning out lap to move ahead of the McLaren.

It was a day when drivers made the difference. Despite identical cars, the leading trio’s respective team mates fell short, with Fisichella fourth, Massa fifth and Montoya sixth. To be fair to the Colombian, though, a side impact with Jacques Villeneuve’s BMW Sauber at the start probably did his McLaren’s balance few favours. Villeneuve survived unscathed and came home eighth behind team mate Heidfeld to crown what was a strong weekend all round for the German-Swiss team, who left most of the midfield trailing in their wake.

Remarkably, just four cars failed to finish and three of those were down to a first-lap incident in which Toro Rosso’s Scott Speed tagged the rear of Ralf Schumacher, sending the Toyota spinning off, taking Webber’s Williams with it. The luckless Button was the only mechanical retirement, the Honda star spinning out of his home race on his own oil after just eight laps.

Round Nine - Canada - 25 June
Fernando Alonso
Pole: Fernando Alonso
Fastest Lap: Kimi Raikkonen
Links: Results / Live Timing Archive, Photos, TV images, Technical Analysis

Having made a rare driving error in Montreal in 2005, Alonso was determined to make amends this year. He did so in style, taking pole position and victory - his fourth win on the trot and his sixth of the season. It should have been a perfect weekend for Renault, who began the race with both cars on the front row. However, Fisichella’s jump start ended their hopes of a one-two, the Italian eventually coming home fourth after serving a drive-through penalty.

The only man who looked able to challenge Alonso was McLaren’s Raikkonen. The Finn qualified an impressive third fastest, but was then hampered by clutch problems during the race which delayed both his pit stops. He looked set for second place until a late safety-car period, prompted by Villeneuve’s collision with the wall, put Michael Schumacher right on his tail. That in itself wouldn’t have been a problem, but on the penultimate lap Raikkonen went offline at the unusually slippery hairpin. As he ran wide on the marbles, Schumacher swooped to seize two unexpected bonus points. Nevertheless, McLaren went away encouraged with their pace, which saw Raikkonen set the fastest lap of the race.

After a disappointing qualifying, Massa one-stopped his Ferrari all the way up to fifth place. That put him ahead of Toyota’s Trulli, who despite starting fourth on the grid, took the flag a full lap down on the leaders, while Heidfeld and Coulthard clinched the remaining points for BMW Sauber and Red Bull respectively. As Renault extended their championship lead over Ferrari to 34 points, it was an afternoon of celebration for tyre suppliers Michelin, who celebrated their 100th Formula One victory.

Click here for Part One, Part Two, Part Four, Part Five and Part Six.