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Flashback: Bahrain 2006 - Alonso edges desert duel 16 Apr 2013

Fernando Alonso (Renault) crosses the line to win the 2006 Bahrain Grand Prix. Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) is a close second. Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, 9th-12th March. The start of the race.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Bahrain Grand Prix, Race, Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain, 12 March 2006 Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari 248 F1 leads the race.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Bahrain Grand Prix, Race, Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain, 12 March 2006 Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari F248 spins and just misses Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault R26 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Bahrain Grand Prix, Race, Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain, 12 March 2006 Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari 248 F1 ahead of Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault R26.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Bahrain Grand Prix, Race, Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain, 12 March 2006 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault R26 passes Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari 248 F1 to lead the race and take the win.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Bahrain Grand Prix, Race, Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain, 12 March 2006 Race winner Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault celebrates with Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari in parc ferme.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Bahrain Grand Prix, Race, Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain, 12 March 2006 The podium (L to R): Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari, second; Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault winner; Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) McLaren, third.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Bahrain Grand Prix, Race, Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain, 12 March 200 Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari and Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault on the podium.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Bahrain Grand Prix, Race, Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain, 12 March 2006

In what proved to be the prelude to a titanic season-long battle for the drivers’ title, Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher opened the 2006 FIA Formula One World Championship season with a hard-fought battle for victory in Bahrain.

In the blue corner was Renault’s Alonso, brimming with confidence having clinched his first world title less than six months earlier.

In the red corner was seven-time world champion Schumacher, still smarting from an 'annus horribilis' in 2005 in which he and his once dominant Ferrari team had won just a single race - the US Grand Prix in which only six cars took the start.

Heading into Bahrain though, Schumacher was confident that with the Scuderia’s new 248 machine he’d be in with a good chance of reclaiming his crown.

"I'm convinced that our 248 F1 has the potential to take part in the fight for the championship title," he said. “Renault seem to be the strongest right now, followed by three teams: Honda, McLaren and Ferrari. I think it's going to be a very close match this season. I think the teams are not far apart, so we will have to get ready for a tough fight over the championship title.”

As the action unfolded in Sakhir, Schumacher’s bold prediction proved to be right on the money - the top six on the grid consisted of two Ferraris, two Hondas, one Renault and one McLaren and, not only that, it was the German who sat on a record-tying 65th pole.

Behind, reigning world champion Alonso made an uncharacteristic error on his hot lap and could only manage fourth, alongside Jenson Button’s Honda and directly behind the other Ferrari of Felipe Massa on the dusty side of the track. Still, it could have been worse for Alonso - team mate Giancarlo Fisichella ended qualifying back in ninth…

At the start Schumacher made a clean getaway from pole as Alonso immediately jumped past a slow-starting Button and began to swarm all over the back of Massa’s Ferrari. He thought better of making a move into Turn 1 but, just a few corners later, he was past on the exit of Turn 4.

Meanwhile a tremendous battle was brewing between the Hondas of Button and Rubens Barrichello as the Briton tried to make amends for his poor start. After several failed attempts to get by, Button eventually made it past his team mate for good on lap three, moving into fifth place behind Juan Pablo Montoya’s McLaren.

Schumacher held a relatively comfortable lead in the early stages of the race, and it was nearly made even more comfortable at the beginning of lap eight when Massa, running well on his Ferrari debut, lost control under braking at Turn 1 and narrowly avoided collecting Alonso’s Renault.

Having barely escaped a big accident, the Spaniard set off in pursuit of Schumacher and after the first round of pit stops was just a few lengths behind the German. The duo continued to lap in close proximity throughout the second stint until the pivotal moment of the race - the crucial second round of pit stops.

A small mistake in qualifying had cost Schumacher crucial race fuel and, as a result, Ferrari had no choice but to pit Schumacher for fuel and a fresh set of Bridgestone tyres on lap 36. Renault were able to keep Alonso out for a further three laps before eventually calling him in for new Michelin rubber on lap 39. The Enstone-based team knew that with a faultless pit stop they might be able to sneak ahead of Schumacher, all they had to do now was deliver.

As Alonso was dropped off the jacks and began scurrying down the pit lane, Schumacher rounded the final corner onto the pit straight. Would Spaniard get out ahead of his chief rival or had Schumacher done enough to reclaim the lead?

It couldn’t have been tighter as Alonso’s blue Renault resumed the track side-by-side with Schumacher’s scarlet Ferrari. The pair almost touched as they turned into the right-handed Turn 1 neck-and-neck; Schumacher trying to tough it out around the outside but eventually being outmuscled by a ruthless Alonso as they exited the corner.

"It was the only opportunity to win the race and I was going for it," said Alonso afterwards. "It was my moment - I knew that if I was in front of him at the exit, the race was mine.”

Unfortunately for Schumacher, Alonso’s initial hunch was right and he reeled off the remaining laps to take a ninth Formula One victory, 1.2 seconds ahead of the German.

“When you have equal cars, it's almost impossible to pass,” said Schumacher who’d tried in vain to find a way back past. “Once there was a moment with a backmarker, I got a bit closer, I was having a look whether there was an opportunity but then finally I wasn't close enough to seriously try.”

Regardless of the amount of on-track passing, purists recognised the battle for what it was: a flat-out fight to the finish between two of the grid’s best drivers.

So intense was the action at the front of the field that Kimi Raikkonen’s terrific one-stop drive from the back of the grid to third was somewhat overlooked, as was Nico Rosberg’s drama-filled F1 debut for Williams that included a first lap spin, the race’s fastest lap and two points for seventh place.

“It was obviously very, very close around the second stop between Fernando and Michael, and we had known from the start that the laps around the second stop would be crucial,” said Renault’s director of engineering Pat Symonds.

"Our best chance of victory this weekend came from running a bit longer on our stints, to exploit the performance we found on the Michelin tyres. It worked, but only just!”

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