Ferrari's Felipe Massa became the first Brazilian since Ayrton Senna in 1993 to win his home race when he took the chequered flag at Interlagos for his second victory of the season. Massa led the Brazilian Grand Prix from pole to flag and Renault's Fernando Alonso became the youngest back-to-back world champion with second place. Renault also claimed the constructors' title for the second consecutive year.
Honda's Jenson Button had a strong drive from 14th on the grid to come home in third, while Michael Schumacher's final race was an eventful one. An early puncture dropped the German way down the field but he fought back in superb fashion, his determination taking him over the line in fourth place. Less than he had hoped for, perhaps, but Schumacher's performance was a memorable one to end his career.
It was fine and dry for race day, the conditions warmer than expected with a track temperature in the mid forties. The top seven held formation off the line: Massa, McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen, Toyota's Jarno Trulli, Alonso, Honda's Rubens Barrichello, Renault's Giancarlo Fisichella and Toyota's Ralf Schumacher. Michael shot off from 10th to battle with the BMW Saubers of Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica.
Meanwhile, it was to be a short and less-than sweet end to Williams' year. Nico Rosberg hit the back of Mark Webber at the first corner, Webber losing his rear wing. Webber headed to the pits to retire and Rosberg had a big shunt shortly afterwards. It seems some damage from the contact with Webber sent him spinning off just before the entry into the pit straight. The Williams hit the barrier hard and was badly damaged.
Rosberg appeared unscathed and was out of the car quickly. "I was pushing hard to make up some places and Mark braked very late and I hit him," he said of the initial incident. "It's disappointing for the team as it's not a good way to finish the season. I felt the front wing was wrong and had understeer then something broke."
The safety car was deployed as the Williams had spun back onto the track after the impact. Prior to the crash Fisichella had got past Barrichello for fifth and had Michael behind him. The BMWs had been squabbling with Ralf and there was possibly some contact there but all three seemed to survive, Ralf in eighth and Kubica and Button making up the top 10.
The safety car went in after four laps and Massa and Raikkonen shot away at the front. Michael was all over Fisichella's rear wing and had a look at the first corner but didn't go for it. Likewise Alonso was measuring up Trulli's Toyota but biding his time. Michael attacked round the outside of Fisichella into the pit straight but it went pear-shaped.
There didn't appear to be any contact but Michael suffered a left rear puncture and the rest of the pack went streaming past as the Ferrari slowed and began the long, precarious trek back to the pits. Bridgestone later said contact had possibly caused the puncture. Michael finally got in for the tyre change and rejoined way down in 17th.
At the front Massa had pulled away from Raikkonen and was going some two seconds a lap faster than the Michelin runners behind. The next unexpected events were Ralf pulling into the pits to retire and Trulli mysteriously dropping to 10th then following his teammate's lead and trundling to the pits to retire. A suspected suspension gremlin was the culprit.
"We're not sure," Ralf said about what happened. "Something was wrong at the back of the car, it seems to be the same on both cars." Trulli concurred and explained a little further. "Both cars had the same problem, a central component on the rear suspension," was the Italian's summing up of the situation.
That meant Buton was up to sixth, Kubica to seventh and the McLaren of Pedro de la Rosa to eighth. The Red Bull of David Coulthard was another retiree not long afterwards. "It was a gearbox problem again," Coulthard commented. "I initially thought it was the clutch but the gear disengaged and I lost fourth."
By then Heidfeld was ninth and closing on de la Rosa, while Toro Rosso's Scott Speed and Tonio Liuzzi were 10th and 11th. Super Aguri's Takuma Sato was going well in 12th, followed by the Spyker MF1 of Christijan Albers, the second Super Aguri of Sakon Yamamoto, Red Bull's Robert Doornbos, Tiago Monteiro's Spyker MF1 and Michael about to begin his fight back.
Raikkonen, Barrichello and Fisichella all dived into the pits together for the first time, Barrichello nearly hitting Fisichella on the way out. Massa was 13 seconds ahead of Alonso, up to second, and belting out fastest laps at the front. The Brazilian was next to pit and Alonso took over until his stop and he got ahead of Raikkonen when he rejoined.
Button managed to jump both Fisichella and Barrichello is his first visit to the pits and then homed in on Raikkonen and dispatched the McLaren into the pit straight. Kubica and Speed had a brief coming together with a little damage to Kubica's front wing but they both continued. It wasn't really clear what happened or who was at fault.
De la Rosa in second was on a one-stopper and had not yet pitted, collecting quite a train of cars behind him. Fisichella made an error at turn one which allowed Barrichello to close in, while Button was harassing the other Renault of Alonso. De la Rosa finally took his stop and Heidfeld and Michael moved up to eighth and ninth.
Michael slipstreamed the BMW into the pit straight and whipped past, then started setting fastest laps. Massa was forging ahead in front and picking his way through the backmarkers. Heidfeld pitted and got a new front wing -- the reason for the change was not clear but during the safety car period he had said on the radio the front of the car didn't feel right.
Michael was then homing in on Kubica and got past at turn one for seventh but then the Ferrari wobbled a bit and slowed. Surely not another problem for the German? That would be too much. However, it seemed it was just a mistake on Michael's behalf as he soon picked up the pace and had to pass Kubica all over again, which he duly did.
The second round of pit stops began circulating through, Barrichello and Michael first then Fisichella. Michael rejoined behind Barrichello and set about harassing his former teammate, overtaking him down the pit straight and into turn one for sixth. Raikkonen, Alonso and Massa took their second stops and Alonso rejoined ahead of Button for second.
The points order was then Massa, Alonso, Button, Raikkonen, Fisichella, Michael, Barrichello and de la Rosa. Albers had a brief trip across the grass but recovered and Doornbos was late to take his second stop with only about a dozen laps to go. Kubica was ninth and Sato hanging in there in fine style in 10th.
Michael and Fisichella were locked in battle, the Ferrari piling the pressure on through corner after corner. Many times Fisichella held him off but eventually the Italian locked up at turn one and skipped across the grass which gave Michael a wide open door to fifth. With about eight laps to go there was more drama.
Heidfeld's BMW snapped into an abrupt spin towards the end of the pit straight and crashed into the barrier at turn one. It looked like some kind of car failure but the German appeared to escape unscathed from the impact. Yellow flags came out while the track was cleared, which deprived Michael of his favourite overtaking spot.
He had homed in on Raikkonen, the man who will replace him at Ferrari next year, but couldn't go for it at turn one. Undeterred Michael harassed the McLaren all around the lap and they battled down the pit straight but Raikkonen held. But the Finn seemed to struggle through the twisty middle part of the circuit and next time they were side by side through turn one, then free of yellow flags.
Michael made it stick and claimed the fourth place; it was very close and they were wheel to wheel but it was fine driving from both men. With two laps to go Button was on Alonso's rear wing and Alonso put a little space between them; with Massa leading and Michael fourth the Spaniard couldn't afford any sort of clash with Button.
And that was it, the final race of 2006 and Massa took the chequered flag to the delight of the roaring crowds. It was a deserved win for the Brazilian; he has improved immeasurably this season and he and Raikkonen promise to be a very interesting paring at Ferrari next year. Brazil will be partying tonight.
"I think it's not for 13 years that a Brazilian driver has won the Brazilian Grand Prix and for me it's just amazing: to be here, in front of my people, my first year that I have a good car -- I mean a fantastic car, because after the race today, I think it was maybe the easiest race of my life, because I could control everything," said an emotionally verbal Massa.
"You see all the people bringing the flags, screaming your name and they are really jumping and dancing, whatever, just for you, so I think it's difficult to explain. I'm sure every driver would love to be in my position. Fernando won his home Grand Prix this year and I'm sure it was very very special for him. So it's just the best day of my life."
It's never over until it's over and there was always room for something to befall Alonso and prevent his second title. However, the odds were in his favour today and he has proved his worth for the second year in a row. There are those that will detract from his achievement for one reason or another but Ferrari's shortcomings and misfortunes are not his fault and he fought hard for this title.
"It's been a fantastic weekend, and 'specially the race, a very long race, obviously, for us because we only needed one point to become champion, and for sure, if I could help the team become Constructors' champion as well, I was ready to do it, and you know everything was as planned," an equally emotional Alonso rambled.
"Ferrari were too quick, but we managed to overtake Kimi in the first pit stop and then a lot of pressure from Jenson, but we managed to finish second. But as you say, it didn't matter the position, the important thing today was to become champion again for the second consecutive time and we did it. Nothing more to say, it's an unbelievable feeling."
Button did a good job to get home third and the Honda showed some good pace at Interlagos. Too little too late for this year, and there's a long way to go before the start of next season, but the team finished 2006 on an upward trend. Barrichello no doubt hoped for more than seventh but at least it was points and considering his track record in Brazil that's not too bad.
"For me, coming from fourteenth to third after yesterday's problems, is a great result and a perfect way to end the year, so it's been a fantastic day, probably one of the most enjoyable races I've had, fighting my way through the field," Button commented, less emotional but just as verbal. "It wasn't just done on pit stops or from people stopping."
"We couldn't have challenged Felipe, they were very very fast, but second was definitely possible. You could see by the pace. Obviously Fernando was controlling the pace and I couldn't do anything about that. They were very quick in a straight line but I've got to say a big well done to all the boys. After yesterday's problem, they've kept strong and we've come away with another podium."
What to say about Michael Schumacher? In his last race he reminded us just what F1 will be missing with his absence. After his bravado performance today some are bewildered as to why he is retiring -- he drove with the utter commitment he's always shown at his best. Maybe that is why he's retiring; leaving at the top of one's form is perhaps the best way to go.
"Today my racing career comes to an end," said the seven-time, numerous record-breaking former champion. "Obviously, it is a special moment for me and I am proud to have lived my career with some fantastic people, namely everyone who is part of the Ferrari family. There is so much I could say about them, but it is difficult to find the right words"
McLaren didn't think it could keep up with Ferrari's pace but as it happened it wasn't up to Renault or Honda either. Raikkonen's fifth was damage limitation and de la Rosa's eighth was not particularly spectacular. Fisichella was also a little lacklustre in sixth but his and Alonso's efforts were enough to retain Renault's constructors' title.
BMW finished the season fifth in the standings behind Honda, just one point ahead of Toyota. It was more than BMW had expected in its first year but today was a lost chance to pick up points after both cars started in the top 10. Kubica crossed the line ninth and Heidfeld was classed 17th despite his premature end to the race.
Sato delighted Super Aguri with 10th and teammate Yamamoto was 16th. Speed was the best of the Red Bull owed-outfits in 11th, with Doornbos 12th and Liuzzi 13th. Both Spykers made it to the flag, Albers 14th and Monteiro 15th. Brazil was a good race and although not everyone will be happy, it was a fair and decent fight at the end of the season. Final top eight classification: Massa, Alonso, Button, M. Schumacher, Raikkonen, Fisichella, Barrichello, de la Rosa.