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Race analysis - almost perfect for Ferrari 11 Sep 2006

Race winner Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari 248F1 in Parc ferme.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 15, Italian Grand Prix, Race, Monza, Italy, 10 September 2006 Robert Kubica (POL) BMW Sauber F1 celebrates his third position.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 15, Italian Grand Prix, Race, Monza, Italy, 10 September 2006 Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) McLaren Mercedes MP4/20 leads at the start of the race.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 15, Italian Grand Prix, Race, Monza, Italy, 10 September 2006 Ralf Schumacher (GER) Toyota on the grid.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 15, Italian Grand Prix, Race, Monza, Italy, 10 September 2006 (L to R): Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault, Flavio Briatore (ITA) Renault Team Principal and Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA) Renault on the grid.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 15, Italian Grand Prix, Race, Monza, Italy, 10 September 2006

In some ways Monza could not have been kinder to Ferrari, with Michael Schumacher taking his dramatic and emotional win and 10 more points than arch-rival Fernando Alonso. The success gave Ferrari the lead in the constructors’ championship, on the day when Schumacher finally announced his long-expected retirement.

Things could have been better, however, for Felipe Massa had a troubled day trapped initially behind Robert Kubica’s BMW Sauber and later Rubens Barrichello’s Honda, and then flat-spotted his right front Bridgestone in the immediate oily aftermath of Alonso’s engine failure. He was thus unable to contribute to the team’s points tally on this occasion.

McLaren had high hopes for Monza, but ultimately the MP4-21 wasn’t quite quick enough. The difference in its performance and that of the Ferrari was possibly down to tyres, though Kimi Raikkonen on his Michelins did set the fastest lap with 1m 22.559s compared to Schumacher’s 1m 22.575s. Second was nevertheless a good result, and Raikkonen was pleased with developments in the car’s starting system which got him off the grid strongly. Pedro de la Rosa should also have been a strong points contender despite getting trapped in early-lap traffic, but his engine lost oil pressure after only 20 laps.

BMW Sauber put in a fantastic performance, on both the team and driver front. They made a much better tyre choice than in Istanbul, and that enabled them to be competitive in final qualifying and into the race. Kubica made a blinding start to pass Nick Heidfeld in the first corner, and was always in strong contention, earning his spurs in only his third Grand Prix by fending off Massa’s persistent attacks. Heidfeld was unlucky with his pit-lane speeding penalty, without which he would also have been a podium contender. Nevertheless, seven extra points put the team back ahead of Toyota in the standings.

Renault will want to forget Monza, after the dramas of qualifying and the ensuing penalty for Alonso. The world champion drove a feisty race and had the pace to have challenged for victory in better circumstances, but was adamant that his race was decided off the track on Saturday afternoon. In the end, an unusual Renault engine failure made all of that academic. Giancarlo Fisichella drove a one-stop race to salvage fourth place and five points, and that had to be regarded as damage limitation on a tough day.

Honda showed that their return to form in Germany was not an illusion by finishing Jenson Button (two stops) and Rubens Barrichello (one) in fifth and sixth places for another seven points. This was a good recovery after the engine dramas that stymied test driver Anthony Davidson on Friday, and testament to the team thinking on its feet as they altered the way in which they ran the motors after the two blow-ups. Nevertheless, the balance of the RA106s wasn’t as good as expected and neither quite had the straight-line speed.

Toyota’s day was good and bad. Good for Jarno Trulli, bad for Ralf Schumacher. Trulli said that seventh place was the maximum he could have achieved from the TF106B on the day, while Schumacher complained of poor straight-line speed and struggled round with the Red Bulls and Toro Rossos.

Williams got a good run to 10th place from Mark Webber, even though the Australian lost pace eventually as the handling of his FW28 loosened up, but Nico Rosberg retired from a fighting 11th place after a driveshaft was damaged going over one of the second chicane kerbs

Red Bull and Toro Rosso both had race-long inter-team battles. Christian Klien and David Coulthard again exploited the size of the RB2’s fuel tank to run one-stop strategies. Coulthard went 32 laps, Klien the longest of all at 35. Ultimately that got them clear of the Toro Rossos. Liuzzi lost ground on the opening lap and had to chase team mate Scott Speed all the way home, his STR01 hitting the rev limiter down the straight. He also picked up understeer after contact when Coulthard moved over on him during a passing attempt.

At Super Aguri, single-stopping Takuma Sato beat the Midlands, after an hydraulic problem on the way to the grid forced him to start in the T-car from the pit lane. He gradually hauled in the Midlands before his floor began to delaminate, adding two seconds to his lap times. Sakon Yamamoto retired with hydraulic problems.

Midland’s first race since the Spyker takeover proved to be disappointing. Christijan Albers was going quite well initially despite a lack of straight-line speed until he sustained a punctured right rear tyre and then two laps later a transmission problem dropped him to the back. Tiago Monteiro ran with him, but then encountered a random braking problem which eventually prompted retirement after 44 laps.

With Ferrari edging ahead of Renault for the first time this season in the constructors’ championship, and Michael Schumacher closing to within two points of Alonso in the drivers’, the scene is set for three fantastic final races to decide the ultimate championship outcomes.