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Renault resurgence sinks Ferrari 14 May 2006

Race winner Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault R26 crosses the line.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Spanish Grand Prix, Race, Barcelona, Spain, 14 May 2006

For Renault, the Spanish Grand Prix gave the perfect riposte to those who had suggested the team had lost their edge, and that Ferrari’s recent improvement in form marked a fundamental shift in Formula One’s balance of power.

Most praise should be directed to Fernando Alonso. His performance throughout the weekend clearly demonstrates that he is still favourite for this year’s drivers' championship. Not only did he secure pole position with a stunning qualifying drive, but he went on to dominate the race itself.

As the lights went out Alonso’s lead was briefly threatened by team mate Giancarlo Fisichella, who had lined up in P2 and who seemed to have a marginally better start. But the Spaniard emerged from the first corner ahead, and from there to the flag his lead wasn’t seriously threatened except during his two pitstops.

Fisichella will be less happy with his performance. During the opening stage of the race he dropped slowly back from Alonso in what seemed to be a strategy designed to protect the world champion’s lead from third-placed Michael Schumacher.

It also looked like the Italian was carrying a bigger fuel load than Alonso - but both cars pitted on successive laps and Fisichella's relative lack of pace was demonstrated. Nor was he able to hold onto second, unable to respond to the Ferrari’s blistering pace as Schumacher turned up the pace heading into his own first stop, with the German emerging from the pits just ahead after he eventually made his stop. At least Fisichella managed to survive an unscheduled run through the gravel trap, rejoining without losing his place after running wide.

Renault’s rivals will be most alarmed by the way Alonso was able to control the pace of the race. Even when he was fresh out of the pits after his first stop and running with a full fuel load he was running within a couple of tenths of a second of Schumacher - with the German on near-empty tanks. During the closing laps of the race Alonso was practically coasting towards victory in front of 130,000 adoring fans, with his eventual 18.5 second margin over Schumacher serving as testament to the effortless pace of the Renault.

Alonso’s victory gives him a comfortable margin in the drivers’ championship, leading Michael Schumacher by 54 points to 39. With just 27 points, third-placed Kimi Raikkonen has managed to score just half the number of points of Alonso during the season to date - a measure of the two-horse race that the 2006 championship has been so far.

There’s a similar story in the constructors’ championship, where Renault’s first and third have moved them onto 78 points, a 19-point margin over Ferrari’s 58. McLaren are languishing in third with 42 points.

Renault’s rivals will know that if they want to make a serious impression on the championship then they will have to do so soon. And on the evidence from Barcelona, that’s going to be far from easy.