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2006 Race by Race - Part Five 21 Dec 2006

Race winner Jenson Button (GBR) Honda celebrates in Parc ferme.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 13, Hungarian Grand Prix, Race, Budapest, Hungary, 6 August 2006 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault R26.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 13, Hungarian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Budapest, Hungary, 5 August 2006 The Ferrari team celebrate the first win for Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 14, Turkish Grand Prix, Race, Istanbul Park, Turkey, 27 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 Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari 248F1 crosses the line to win the race.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 15, Italian Grand Prix, Race, Monza, Italy, 10 September 2006

The Hungarian, Turkish and Italian Grands Prix

From two maiden victories in Hungary and Turkey, to Michael Schumacher’s last race in front of the tifosi, we look back at rounds 13 to 15 of the 2006 championship.

Round 13 - Hungary - 6 August
Winner:
Jenson Button
Pole: Kimi Raikkonen
Fastest Lap: Felipe Massa
Links: Results / Live Timing Archive, Photos, TV images, Technical Analysis

If Renault thought Germany had been bad, they were in for a shock in Hungary. The champions recorded their first double DNF of the year, with their only consolation the fact that Ferrari were unable to fully capitalise, Michael Schumacher and Felipe Massa taking away just three points between them. As the title rivals struggled, the Hungaroring meeting belonged to Honda’s Jenson Button, who came from 14th on the grid to score his maiden Formula One win. The changeable weather played a huge part in the race, but Button’s victory was totally deserved, the Briton keeping his cool in tricky conditions to finally triumph on his 113th attempt.

Ironically, the man who had previously wagered his Formula One career on joining BAR - now Honda - was not there to witness Button’s glory. By mutual agreement, Jacques Villeneuve had parted company with BMW Sauber prior to Hungary, giving third driver Robert Kubica the chance to make history by becoming Poland’s first Formula One racer. Kubica made an instant impression - third fastest in final practice behind the two Ferraris, then tenth in qualifying, ahead of team mate Nick Heidfeld. He would even go on to score points for seventh place on his race debut, only to be disqualified after his car was found to be underweight.

Fernando Alonso and Schumacher were out of contention for pole position before qualifying even started. The former was handed a two-second penalty for weaving and passing under yellows in Friday practice, the latter an identical punishment for a red-flag misdemeanour in final practice. As a result, Massa looked all but certain of his maiden pole for Ferrari - that was until a last-ditch effort from McLaren’s Kimi Raikkonen wiped the smile from the Brazilian’s face, leaving him second ahead of the two Hondas.

The race was all about tyres. At the start the track was somewhere between wet and damp and intermediates proved the best choice. Later slicks became the quickest option. Knowing when to switch was vital. Button got it spot on, but others weren’t so fortunate. Raikkonen led the opening laps from Pedro De la Rosa and Rubens Barrichello, with Button moving up fast. However, despite his lowly grid slot, it was Alonso who took charge when the two McLaren’s pitted and his prospects got even brighter when Raikkonen inexplicably crashed into the rear of backmarker Tonio Liuzzi. But Button stayed with him and when Alonso himself spun out after a rear wheel nut failure, the Honda driver knew that elusive victory was within his grasp. Behind him Michael Schumacher was having a torrid time as his decision to see out the race on inters backfired. First he was passed by De la Rosa, then he made contact with Nick Heidfeld’s BMW, leaving the German out of the points in ninth. He was later promoted to eighth after Kubica’s disqualification, but regardless, with Massa only seventh, Ferrari had failed to capitalise on Renault’s first double DNF of the season.

Round 14 - Turkey - 27 August
Winner:
Felipe Massa
Pole: Felipe Massa
Fastest Lap: Michael Schumacher
Links: Results / Live Timing Archive, Photos, TV images, Technical Analysis

In the week prior to Turkey, Renault’s mass dampers were finally ruled illegal. Nevertheless, they and their rivals were keen to return to Hermann Tilke’s much-liked Istanbul Park circuit. Friday belonged to Sebastian Vettel, the German teenager topping the practice times for a dream debut as BMW Sauber’s third driver. Michael Schumacher stamped his authority on Saturday’s final session and duly led the way to a Ferrari front row in qualifying, with the Renaults an encouraging third and fourth - despite their missing dampers.

The race start and all hell broke loose at the first corner. As Massa won the Ferrari battle for the lead, Alonso braked hard to avoid running into the rear of them and Fisichella braked even harder to avoid Alonso - so hard in fact that he spun, leading to a series of collisions, with De la Rosa, Ralf Schumacher, Raikkonen and Scott Speed among the casualties. Raikkonen was one of those to pit for repairs, but damage to his McLaren was apparently worse than thought and the Finn crashed out the very next lap.

The real turning point of the race, however, was the safety-car period prompted by a spin for Liuzzi on lap 13. The leading Ferraris and third-placed Alonso dived for the pits in unison, with Schumacher having to queue behind Massa as his team mate was serviced. The result was Alonso seizing second place. Ferrari assumed Michael would be quick enough to regain the place at the second stops, but they hadn’t counted on a rare driving error from the German on lap 28. The four seconds lost meant Alonso stayed in front going into the final stint. An epic duel over the closing laps saw the Spaniard pushed to the limit by Schumacher, but the German couldn’t quite make it, the pair split by less than a tenth of a second as they crossed the line. Five seconds earlier, Massa, powerless to help his team mate, had taken the chequered flag for an emotional - and well-deserved - maiden victory.

Button followed up his Hungary victory with a strong fourth place for Honda, well ahead of De la Rosa’s McLaren and Fisichella’s Renault. Toyota’s Ralf Schumacher and Barrichello in the second Honda took the remaining points. It was, of course, Ferrari who came away from Turkey happiest. Alonso may have stolen two points from Schumacher in the march for the drivers’ crown, but in the constructors’ standings the Italian team now trailed Renault by just two points.

Round 15 - Italy - 10 September
Winner:
Michael Schumacher
Pole: Kimi Raikkonen
Fastest Lap: Kimi Raikkonen
Links: Results / Live Timing Archive, Photos, TV images, Technical Analysis

One topic dominated the Italian Grand Prix meeting - Michael Schumacher’s retirement. The question of ‘would he’ or wouldn’t he’ had been keeping journalists busy for weeks and after the Monza race - as promised - they finally got their answer. Not that there weren’t plenty of other stories to write about, a controversial Fernando Alonso penalty and a new team owner among them.

Vettel was the first name to hit the headlines, the German teenager doing as he had done on his Turkey debut and topping the Friday practice times. Behind him it was the Ferraris who really dominated proceedings, while Honda had a torrid first day. The team gambled on putting a largely untried spec V8 into Anthony Davidson’s third car. The result was two spectacular failures - one in each session - and no track time for either Button or Barrichello. They would switch back to the older engine (without penalty) for Saturday.

Final practice was notable for the fact that BMW Sauber remained very much in the mix, beating Renault and splitting the Ferraris. And qualifying proved it was no fluke, Heidfeld taking third on the grid, with Kubica seventh. Raikkonen spoiled Ferrari’s party by edging Michael Schumacher for pole with a last-minute stunner, but there was consolation for the home team in Renault’s performance. Fisichella could only manage tenth, while a puncture and subsequent bodywork damage consigned Fernando Alonso to fifth. The stewards would later convert that to tenth, however, when they decided the champion had impeded Massa on his final qualifying run. The penalty caused uproar in the paddock, with Renault even holding an impromptu press conference to protest Alonso’s innocence. With no right of appeal for such punishments there was little else they could do.

Overnight came the news that the Midland team had been sold to Dutch sportscar makers Spyker and new decals were hurriedly added to the cars ahead of the race. When the lights went out, Raikkonen kept the lead from Schumacher, with Kubica making rapid progress to move up to third ahead of Massa. And Alonso quickly negated most of his qualifying penalty, slotting into sixth place by lap 3. Schumacher seized the advantage over Raikkonen at the first round of stops and from there the McLaren simply wasn’t quick enough to hold on. Behind them Kubica triumphed over Massa to score Poland’s maiden Formula One podium. Massa fell back after being caught out in the aftermath of a rare engine failure for Alonso. That failure meant Fisichella’s five points for fourth place were all Renault gained in Monza, allowing Ferrari to take the lead of the constructors’ championship for the first time all season. Alonso’s retirement also moved Schumacher to within two points of the Spaniard in the driver standings.

All that was secondary, however. As Michael Schumacher took the chequered flag, the news finally came - it would be his last race in front of the tifosi - he would retire at the end of the season. Schumacher’s emotion was obvious, both on the podium and more so in the press conference, where the normally unflappable German looked close to tears. Suitably, his Ferrari successor was sat next to him, having just been beaten by the great man. Raikkonen would begin a three-year contract with the team, commencing 2007. The only thing that wasn’t made clear was Schumacher’s future plans. His relationship with Ferrari would continue, but in what capacity no-one was saying. Schumacher insisted he now only had one thing on his mind - beating Alonso in the last three races and winning a record-extending eighth drivers’ title.

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