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Alonso beaten by Ferrari and Fisichella 02 Jul 2006

Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault R26 makes a pitstop.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, United States Grand Prix, Race, Indianapolis, USA, 2 July 2006

After a miserable time at Indianapolis, Fernando Alonso will be hoping to rediscover his normally scintillating form in time for the forthcoming French Grand Prix. It was certainly a trying race for the world champion, one in which he was unable to match the performance of either Ferrari - or (more alarmingly for him) team mate Giancarlo Fisichella.

After battling with understeer throughout qualifying, Alonso ended the session in fifth place - behind not only the Ferraris of Michael Schumacher and Felipe Massa, but also Fisichella and the flying Honda of Rubens Barrichello.

At the start of the race, Alonso’s luck seemed to have changed as he made another of his spectacular starts. He leapfrogged both Barrichello and Fisichella on the way to turn one and then went up the inside of Michael Schumacher into Turn Two. For a moment it looked as if the Spaniard would prevail, but Schumacher managed to escape and quickly began to draw out some distance.

It was soon apparent that the Spaniard’s car was still far from on the pace. Not only was he dropping away from the front-running Ferraris, but he was also visibly slowing Fisichella, who was sitting on what was a clearly faster car, but was unable to find his way past. After trying his best, Alonso was forced to yield, allowing the Italian to streak ahead in pursuit of the Ferraris, as he fell further back, now struggling with oversteer.

It was a gritty performance, however, with Alonso having to fight hard to hold off the challenge of Barrichello, with Ralf Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve running right behind. After the first round of pitstops, Alonso dropped from fourth to fifth as the one-stopping Toyota of Jarno Trulli entered the equation and it became apparent that he was going to have to battle to even stay in the points.

As the race progressed, attrition among the chasing pack eased Alonso’s immediate predicament, with both Villeneuve and Ralf Schumacher retiring with mechanical problems. But, crucially, nobody running ahead of him ran into difficulties. That meant as Alonso crossed the finish line 28.4 seconds down on Schumacher, he had only managed to take the four championship points that come with fifth place.

At least Alonso and Renault can take comfort in a still-comfortable margin in both drivers’ and constructors’ championships - Michael Schumacher is 19 points behind. But Ferrari’s new-found pace makes it clear Alonso is going to have his work cut out holding onto his lead during the second part of the season.