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24 Apr 2006 09:05
Overtaking at the San Marino Grand Prix is about as difficult as passing another car on the narrow, single-lane country roads that surround the Enzo and Dino Ferrari circuit.
Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso know the routine all too well.
Schumacher held off Alonso for nearly half of the 62 laps in a duel to the finish on Sunday, recording his seventh win at Imola and the 85th of his career.
A year ago, the roles were reversed and Alonso beat Schumacher by blocking the Ferrari driver over the final 12 laps.
“Luckily this is a circuit where we know from last year that overtaking is almost impossible unless you make a mistake,” Schumacher said. “You study who is behind, and where the moments are where it could get critical, to prepare yourself just for those areas.”
Schumacher earned the 66th pole position of his career on Saturday to break the record he shared with Ayrton Senna.
Alonso started five cars behind but, by the 35th lap, he was on Schumacher’s tail.
The Spaniard tried to pass Schumacher on laps 37 and 40—but Schumacher blocked both attempts.
Alonso went into the pits on the 40th lap, while Schumacher came in one lap later and managed to come out just in front of the Renault driver.
“I waited for an opportunity and it didn’t come,” Alonso said. “We were still the quickest on the track today, so it looks good for the championship.”
Alonso leads the drivers’ standings with 36 points. Schumacher moved up to second with 21.
Alonso had planned to take his second pit stop later, but changed strategy when he got stuck behind Schumacher.
“We tried to get Fernando a lap of clean air to beat Michael in the pits and it didn’t quite work,” Renault engineering director Pat Symonds said.
Like Alonso last year, Schumacher didn’t panic with a faster car behind him. The seven-time world champion checked his rear-view mirrors repeatedly and glanced over his shoulder every now and then to check the whereabouts of Alonso’s Renault.
“With all my years of experience, I knew what I wanted to do was keep Alonso behind me, but at my pace, not pushing out flat, and that’s what I did,” Schumacher said.
Apart from last year’s United States Grand Prix, when only six cars competed due to a tyre dispute, it was Schumacher’s only other win since the end of 2004.
“When I was going up to the podium, I said to Michael that I could not remember the way any more, as it had been such a long time since the last victory,” Ferrari director Jean Todt said.
Schumacher clocked one hour, 31 minutes and 6,486 seconds. Alonso finished two seconds behind and McLaren’s Juan Pablo Montoya was 15,8 seconds back for third and his first podium finish this season.
Schumacher’s Ferrari teammate, Felipe Massa, was fourth, matching his best Formula One result in his first race for Ferrari in Italy.
McLaren’s Kimi Raikkonen crossed fifth. Williams’s Mark Webber finished sixth and Honda’s Jenson Button came seventh after starting from the front row for the fourth straight race.
Button was in fourth position when he lost time while trying to leave the pits with a fuel line still attached to his car.
Alonso’s Renault teammate, Giancarlo Fisichella, took the last point in eighth.
Renault leads the constructors’ standings with 51 points to McLaren’s 33 and Ferrari’s 30.
Schumacher’s run of five straight world titles was ended by Alonso last season and Ferrari worked overtime in the off-season to regain their edge.
It looked like it was going to be a close battle when Alonso and Schumacher finished 1-2 in the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix. At the next race, though, Renault claimed both of the top spots with Fisichella winning ahead of Alonso and Schumacher sixth.
In Australia three weeks ago, both Ferrari cars crashed and Alonso won again.
The next race is the European Grand Prix at Nürburgring in two weeks’ time.—Sapa-AP
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