THREE OUT OF THREE FOR MICHELIN AND RENAULT The third race of the 2006 Formula One world championship proved to be the most eventful so far - but a string of incidents and four safety car periods failed to put Michelin off its stride as it ...
THREE OUT OF THREE FOR MICHELIN AND RENAULT
The third race of the 2006 Formula One world championship proved to be the most eventful so far - but a string of incidents and four safety car periods failed to put Michelin off its stride as it maintained its stranglehold on the sport. World champion Fernando Alonso (Renault/Michelin) drove an unruffled race at the head of the field, but his serene progress was interrupted on several occasions.
The race began dramatically when Juan Pablo Montoya (McLaren Mercedes) spun while driving onto the grid. Seconds later, front-row qualifier Giancarlo Fisichella (Renault/Michelin) stalled, the start procedure was aborted and the Italian was sent to the pit lane.
With the race distance shortened by a lap, pole position qualifier Jenson Button (Honda/Michelin) repelled Alonso's repeated attacks through the first four corners, but the safety car was soon scrambled following a series of first-lap accidents that led to the retirements of Felipe Massa (Ferrari), Jarno Trulli (Toyota) and Nico Rosberg (Williams).
At the restart on lap four, Alonso swept past Button into the first turn to take control of the race. He began to pull away from the Englishman, but his advantage was negated on lap seven when the safety car reappeared - this time to allow Red Bull/Michelin driver Christian Klien's crashed car to be cleared away.
Once again Alonso stormed clear at the restart, although arch-rival Kimi Räikkönen (McLaren-Mercedes/Michelin) passed Button into Turn One to commence a pursuit that would last all afternoon. Despite two further safety car interruptions, caused by spectacular accidents that befell Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) and Vitantonio Liuzzi (Scuderia Toro Rosso/Michelin), Alonso kept his cool and was always able to re-establish a safe advantage.
He finally eased up during the closing stages, but by then his second victory of the season was assured. The defending champion now leads the title chase by 14 points.
Despite his unpromising start to the afternoon, Montoya looked to have done enough to secure third place until he ran wide at the final turn on lap 33. His car impacted hard with the kerb and suffered a subsequent electronic failure.
His misfortune enabled Toyota driver Ralf Schumacher to take third place, ahead of Nick Heidfeld (BMW Sauber/Michelin). Heidfeld's result was BMW's best since it entered the sport as a team owner in its own right at the beginning of 2006. Button was on course to finish fifth until his engine failed just before the final corner.
He stopped just metres from the line and was classified 10th, behind Giancarlo Fisichella (Renault/Michelin), Jacques Villeneuve (BMW Sauber/Michelin), Rubens Barrichello (Honda/Michelin), Scott Speed (Scuderia Toro Rosso/Michelin) and David Coulthard (Red Bull/Michelin).
Speed, who would have become the first American to score an F1 point since 1993, was later penalised for passing Coulthard while waved yellow caution flags were showing. Their positions were subsequently reversed.
Alonso's victory was Michelin's 96th in F1 and extends an unbeaten run that stretches back to last July.