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Exclusive - Alonso & Schumacher on 2006 31 Oct 2006

Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault R26 and Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari 248 F1 in parc ferme.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 14, Turkish Grand Prix, Race, Istanbul Park, Turkey, 27 August 2006 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault R26.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 5, European Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Nurburgring, Germany, 6 May 2006 Race winner Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari on the podium.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 15, Italian Grand Prix, Race, Monza, Italy, 10 September 2006 Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari 248 F1 waves to the crowd.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, British Grand Prix, Race, Silverstone, England, 11 June 2006 Race winner Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault celebrates in Parc ferme.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Spanish Grand Prix, Race, Barcelona, Spain, 14 May 2006

Who better to describe the 2006 season than the drivers?

It was a season full of suspense: what looked set to be a walkover for Fernando Alonso in the first half, changed dramatically in the second, with Michael Schumacher pushing the Spaniard all the way after announcing his retirement in Italy.

There were happy faces further down the order - the likes of Nico Rosberg, Robert Kubica and Scott Speed all making names for themselves - as well as some not so happy ones - like Mark Webber, who was left ruing his decision to join Williams after one of the team’s worst seasons in years.

Having given them time to reflect on their 2006 campaigns, we asked the 22 men who finished the season to look back on the highs and lows. We start at the top of the championship table, with the two title rivals…

Fernando Alonso, Renault
Championship position: 1st (134 points)
Wins 7, Poles 6, Fastest laps 5

“It was an exciting season for Formula One fans to have an open title fight with a show-down at the very last race. I personally liked being in the lead by 25 points as it was in mid-season! For sure, we started the season 95 percent ready and the others were maybe at 90 percent, so when they caught up, the competition became very close and tough. We didn't take anything for granted, and we never thought what the press was saying, that the championship was already decided.

"Then Ferrari came back strong, but we gave them points as well - in Hungary with the wheel problem, and in Monza with the engine problem. That meant the advantage disappeared very quickly, and there were bad moments with some decisions. So the situation was not comfortable but in the final weeks, I had no doubts. Ferrari were quick but we were too, and I was convinced we were able to win. And we deserved it. I felt that time would put everybody in the place they should be, and Renault is on top because they did the best job.

"I think from those 18 races each and every single one was key - you can't look back at one and say it decided the championship. It is a long year, and every race counts. But in terms of emotions, there were special races. Barcelona, of course, then Silverstone, Monaco, Suzuka - it was fantastic to win at those legendary circuits in the history of Formula One.

“And Michelin were fantastic all year, pushing 100 percent. It would have been easy for them to give up, but they gave us fantastic tyres and showed the real sporting spirit all year. They lost some ground in the summer, but by the end of the year we were back on even terms - and that gave us the performance with the Renault package to be winners. I have only ever driven for Michelin in Formula One, and we have shared fantastic times together. We will miss them, but I am glad they departed as champions.

“Now that I will move on to another chapter in my Formula One career I have to say this team was my family. They did a fantastic job - everybody in Enstone, Viry, the test team, the race team, and my team mates. All of them! But it is good to leave in the right manner, at the top, as champions. These are the best memories: winning last year, and the emotion in the garage in Sao Paulo last Sunday, when we celebrated together. The years I did with Renault will always be in my heart.”

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari
Championship position: 2nd (121 points)
Wins 7, Poles 4, Fastest laps 7

“We understood during the winter time in particular what would make us go forward, and we obviously worked very closely together and developed it to the point where we had a very competitive package, car and tyres together, and this year we were back on the road of winning races. We had points to recover from the beginning where things didn't work out for us very well, but if you look since Canada how many points we took in comparison to our opponents, we were very strong.

“Monza was just unbelievable. It always has been very special, particularly after the race when all the fans are allowed to celebrate this moment so close to us and with us, and due to the nature of the circumstances, it was obviously an unbelievable feeling. It was obviously pretty emotional to take the lap back after the race. I was talking to my team, and informed everybody of my decision.

“This was the most emotional moment, along with being on the podium to celebrate. And at that moment knowing it's the last opportunity I would have to finish so well with such a crowd, with so much they gave to me in terms of their feelings, it just overwhelmed me. I always said that the day I will retire, I will just do nothing for a while and then I will see what I'm doing, what is my mood and what's going to happen, but I will always be part of that Ferrari family, I will have to find out how, but I will always stick with my friends there. The things I will miss are probably the fans. At every moment they have been behind me and always supported me. That support helped me perform, especially in moments when it was difficult. Over the years that was immensely important. I can only say thank you to all our fans.”

Click to see more exclusive driver reviews from Felipe Massa, Giancarlo Fisichella, Kimi Raikkonen, Jenson Button, Rubens Barrichello , Nick Heidfeld , Ralf Schumacher, Pedro de la Rosa, Jarno Trulli, David Coulthard, Mark Webber, Robert Kubica , Nico Rosberg, Vitantonio Liuzzi, Scott Speed, Tiago Monteiro, Christijan Albers, Takuma Sato, Robert Doornbos and Sakon Yamamoto.