Alonso's Spain win fit for Spanish royalty
Fernando Alonso restored Renault's dominance of this Formula One season, winning the Spanish Grand Prix in masterful fashion and earning his first victory in his home race.
Alonso, who hails from Oviedo, Spain, beat Michael Schumacher's Ferrari by 18.5 seconds over 66 laps of the 2.856-mile (4.627-kilometer) Circuit de Catalunya. He earned his third win of 2006, boosting his lead in the drivers' standings to 15 points over Schumacher, who had won the previous two events. Renault's Giancarlo Fisichella was third, helping to extend his team's lead to 19 points over Ferrari in the constructors' championship standings.
Alonso and Fisichella staged a fast getaway at the start from the first two spots on the grid, helping Alonso build a lead he relinquished only during the interval between his pit stops and those of his competitors. While Schumacher struggled gamely to keep up and his Ferrari team gained some on-track advantage through pit strategy, they were ultimately unable to match Alonso's pace.
"I think we did our maximum race performance today," Alonso said. "This time Ferrari was not coming really strongly so I was just maintaining the gap and, especially in the last stint, controlling the revs and trying to finish. I finished everything in front of everybody here, in front of my people, my supporters.
"I think it was the best feeling so far in Formula One."
The victor accepted his spoils from royalty, as Alonso was handed the winner's trophy by Spain's King Juan Carlos before an estimated crowd of 130,000 spectators, about 800 of whom were Alonso's personal guests. He has finished no lower than second in any race this year. It was the 10th straight time the event was won by a front-row starter.
Schumacher, who qualified third, has won a record six Spanish GPs and came into the weekend with momentum after victories at the European and San Marino races. He seemed resigned to taking up the chase again in a fortnight in the seventh round of the championship on the streets of Monte Carlo, where he's won five times but hasn't taken checkers since 2001.
"The race result was decided in the first stint, as Fernando was able to pull out quite a gap because I simply did not have the pace to stay with him," Schumacher said. "After the lap times we had done earlier in the weekend this was surprising, but we have seen before that in Barcelona very small things can change your performance quite quickly. I could say that while I was disappointed to have only [narrowed the championship gap by] two points last Sunday, here I can be happy to have only lost two."
Fisichella's day might have been brighter had he not thrown his car off track just after his first pit stop while in pursuit of Schumacher, extending his deficit to the Ferrari to more than eight seconds from less than two seconds. He eventually posted his fifth points-paying drive this season and pulled within three points of Kimi Raikkonen for third place in the drivers' standings. Formula 1 awards points on a 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis to the top eight finishers of each race.
Felipe Massa was fourth for Ferrari, finishing where he qualified and enjoying his third consecutive scoring drive. Massa, new to Ferrari this year after spending 2005 at Sauber, posted the race's fastest lap of 1 minute, 16.648 seconds but was unable to make inroads on Fisichella for third place after the Renault left the circuit.
Raikkonen was fifth for McLaren Mercedes, his car apparently none the worse for wear after shedding a piece of bodywork on the front straight near the race's halfway point. Teammate Juan Pablo Montoya retired after spinning and beaching his car on the trackside curbing on Lap 18; he now has three DNFs in the last four races.
Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello came home sixth and seventh for Honda Racing, the first time this year that manufacturers placed both cars in the points. Barrichello has been improving of late, scoring three times in his last four races after early difficulties adapting the car to his driving style, and vice-versa. Button has points in two of his last three starts but has seemingly been losing pace after finishing third in the season's second race in Malaysia.
Nick Heidfeld claimed the last available point by finishing eighth for Williams, improving his qualifying position by two places. Mark Webber, his teammate, was ninth after starting 11th. Williams has not scored in half of this season's races, which must be galling for a team with nine constructors' titles to its name. It did at least improve on its disastrous qualifying effort at the European GP, its worst in 31 years.
Jarno Trulli's Toyota rounded out the top 10 finishers; he has yet to score this season. Ralf Schumacher retired the second Toyota with electronics problems after colliding with Trulli after an ill-advised attempt to pass on Lap 17. Neither result seems likely to please a manufacturer reportedly spending $500 million a year and getting very little in return in 2006. Toyota is sixth behind Williams, which is not receiving support from a major carmaker this year.
Seventeen of 22 starters earned classified finishes on a warm, sunny day. There were no major on-track incidents. Nico Rosberg's Williams and the BMW-Sauber of Jacques Villeneuve were 11th and 12th respectively, with Villeneuve advancing from 21st on the grid thanks to a one-stop pit strategy.
Vitantonio Liuzzi's Scuderia Toro Rosso was 15th, followed by Tiago Monteiro's Midland and Takuma Sato's Super Aguri. Sato has managed to finish four of six races with a new-spec Honda engine powering a four-year-old chassis that once belonged to the former Arrows team.
Among non-finishers, Christijan Albers retired after 48 laps after spinning in his Midland, his third early shower this season. Scott Speed, the only American in Formula One and the first in 13 years, exited after 47 laps as the engine in his Toro Rosso malfunctioned. Franck Montagny parked his Super Aguri after 10 laps because of driveshaft failure. Montagny replaced the hapless Yuji Ide two races ago but has had little luck in the team's second car, completing only 39 of a possible 126 laps since taking over.
Michael Kelley is a freelance journalist and a contributor to ESPN.com.
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