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Race analysis - Renault's 'surprise' win 15 May 2006

Race winner Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault and third place Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA) Renault celebrate with the Renault team.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Spanish Grand Prix, Race, Barcelona, Spain, 14 May 2006 Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari on the podium.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Spanish Grand Prix, Race, Barcelona, Spain, 14 May 2006 Juan Pablo Montoya (COL) McLaren Mercedes MP4/21.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Spanish Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Barcelona, Spain, 13 May 2006 Jenson Button (GBR) Honda Racing RA106.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Spanish Grand Prix, Race, Barcelona, Spain, 14 May 2006 Nick Heidfeld (GER) BMW Sauber F1.06.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Spanish Grand Prix, Practice Day, Barcelona, Spain, 12 May 2006

It was Ferrari who went to the startline full of confidence, and Renault who harboured some worries, but once the Spanish Grand Prix got underway it soon became clear that those feelings had been reversed.

As he celebrated his first win on home turf, and the 100th for the Renault-Elf alliance, Fernando Alonso admitted: “We had doubts before the start, but everything went perfectly. We did our maximum race performance, the tyres were perfect, and everything went really well. I pushed before the first stint when we were lighter than Ferrari, found the gap, and then when Ferrari weren’t coming really strongly I just spent the last stint with the revs turned down, controlling the race.”

Schumacher said: “Basically we didn’t make up enough ground after the first pit stop, but already by then it seemed our task was going to be difficult. I thought then that maybe it would work out later in the race, but we made no real impression in the second stint so then it was clear it would be very difficult.”

This was interesting, as although Ferrari were quickest in all the speed traps, and Felipe Massa set the fastest lap, the team were still unable to beat Renault.

On this occasion it seemed that Michelin had an advantage over Bridgestone. The ambient temperature was a little hotter on race day than it had been in qualifying. Renault’s Pat Symonds said the team had struggled for grip when it was cooler, and that the higher temperatures had helped. Schumacher himself avoided direct questions about tyre performance, but Hisao Suganuma, Bridgestone’s technical manager, allowed that they could have done “with a little more grip.”

Second and fourth places were not disastrous, however, and Ferrari came away with a lot more than most others. McLaren scored only four points from a race which they had approached with a fair amount of confidence. Kimi Raikkonen made a fantastic start and showed his personal quality by threading the MP4-21 through a gap between the Toyotas, but thereafter was condemned to an uneventful afternoon’s work. He said he was simply not able to challenge Renault and Ferrari.

Juan Pablo Montoya, by contrast, made a terrible start, partly because he was carrying enough fuel for a single stop. Unfortunately he made this irrelevant in Turn 2 on the 18th lap after spinning and getting beached. End of story.

Honda had reliability in Spain, but not speed, as Jenson Button reversed the early running order to lead Rubens Barrichello home in sixth and seventh places. That gave them another five points, but that wasn’t a lot to be cheerful about. Button was pleased with the balance of his RA106, and said it was the best it had been since Malaysia as he steadily reeled in Raikkonen, but a fuel pressure problem just before his first pit stop cost Barrichello valuable time.

Another point came BMW Sauber’s way courtesy of Nick Heidfeld and an aggressive drive that showed he is back on his usual form. He was happy that the problems of Imola and Nurburgring had been identified and cured, but Jacques Villeneuve was stymied by the need to start from the back of the grid after his pre-race engine change, and a full fuel load scarcely helped him to take advantage of another fresh engine that had been installed (without further penalty) prior to the race.

Mark Webber’s aggression for Williams went unrewarded with ninth place, as did Nico Rosberg’s feisty drive which saw him all over Jarno Trulli’s Toyota en route to 11th. Webber’s only problem was lack of speed, but Rosberg lost time and a place to Trulli after a mistake during his second pit stop. The Italian was Toyota’s only finisher, able to run nowhere near the comparative pace he had demonstrated in qualifying. At one stage he was attacked from behind by team mate Ralf Schumacher, who damaged his front wing on Trulli’s rear tyres. Jarno didn’t even notice, but Ralf lost a lot of time and eventually succumbed to an electronic failure.

In the end, Red Bull Racing saw both their cars finish, with Christian Klien 13th and David Coulthard 14th. In his 200th Grand Prix the latter reported problems with locking brakes on his way to the grid but set the ninth best lap overall. Both of them, however, played second fiddle to their Toro Rosso stable mates. Scott Speed made an excellent start after overtaking Rosberg and ran well in 11th place until an engine failure accounted for him on the 47th lap. Liuzzi struggled as he had in qualifying with a braking problem and a down-on-power engine, stayed ahead of Coulthard throughout, but then had to pit on the penultimate lap with a hydraulic problem in the steering.

Midland finished one car, courtesy of Tiago Monteiro who survived an early spin in Turn Five after being tapped by Franck Montagny. Christijan Albers made four pit calls altogether, retiring in the last one with a front wing problem.

It transpired that the two Aguri drivers did not touch on lap 10, when both pitted. Takuma Sato had spun of his own accord and came in for fresh rubber, and coincidentally Montagny came in to retire with a driveshaft problem. Both drivers were initially able to mix it with the Midlands duo after making good starts.

If it wasn’t classic race, the Spanish Grand Prix nevertheless threw up some interesting pointers. The Circuit de Catalunya is where the teams have done the majority of their testing, and on current form Renault and Ferrari are head and shoulders above the rest. “We can’t win every race,” Schumacher conceded. “Sometimes those guys are going to be better than us, sometimes it’s going to be the other way round. We scored eight points, and there is a long way to go to end of season. In a way I am not so happy to gain only two points in each of the last two races, but now I am reasonably happy to lose only two. It’s the way it’s going to go this year.”

Alongside him, Alonso nodded agreement. The rest of the 2006 season looks set to be a see-saw ride for them both.