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Ferrari enjoy return to form 12 Mar 2006

Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari celebrates in parc ferme.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Bahrain Grand Prix, Race, Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain, 12 March 2006

After their disappointing 2005 season, Ferrari fought back in style in Bahrain on Sunday, with Michael Schumacher narrowly missing out on victory to Renault’s Fernando Alonso.

The team’s strength was clear long before the red lights went out. They featured well during the practice sessions and then went on to take P1 and P2 on the grid, as Schumacher and new team mate Felipe Massa put in strong qualifying performances.

As the race got underway it became clear that this wasn’t going to be an old-style Ferrari procession - with Fernando Alonso forcing his way past Massa and into P2 by the end of the first lap.

Shortly afterwards Massa’s luck went from bad to worse. First he flat-spotted his tyres after what appeared to be an unforced spin when his rear wheels locked braking into Turn One. Then, as he made what seemed to be an early first pit stop for new rubber, the team were unable to remove his right rear wheel.

By the time the Brazilian eventually rejoined the race he had lost close to a minute in the pits and was running in last place. He was only able to move up to ninth place by the chequered flag.

Schumacher enjoyed far better fortune, and put on a driving performance that clearly indicated an undiminished desire to win. Victory escaped his grasp - but only just. He made his second pit stop before Alonso, releasing the Spaniard from second place and allowing him to increase his pace. Schumacher responded with a very quick out-lap (despite his fresh tyres), with the race effectively decided by Renault’s exemplary pitwork. After a very quick stop, Alonso emerged from the end of the pit exit lane barely a car length ahead of Schumacher, and managed to hold the lead all the way through Turn One, forcing the German’s Ferrari to yield to avoid a collision.

But even in the closing stages of the race, Schumacher didn’t lose hope, consistently running within a second of Alonso and keeping the Spaniard under pressure all the way to the flag.

With eight points from the first race of the season, and the Ferrari’s pace clear, Schumacher will now be optimistic about building a serious challenge for an eighth world title this season.