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17 Jul 2006 07:26
Michael Schumacher cruised to a polished victory for Ferrari in Sunday’s French Grand Prix and then set his sights on a remarkable eighth drivers’ world title.
The 37-year-old German, seven-times drivers’ world champion, drove a faultless race to finish ahead of defending champion Fernando Alonso of Spain.
Schumacher’s second successive victory has breathed new life into the title race as he became the first man in Formula One to win the same race eight times.
His win, which sealed his 150th podium finish, enabled him to trim Renault driver Alonso’s lead in the title race from 19 points to 17, with seven races remaining.
Schumacher, who started in pole position, won by 10,1 seconds and he is confident of challendge Alonso for the title.
He said: “That is what we have to look at now and then hope for in the coming races, to keep the momentum going. Obviously, it is going to be a battle of development between us.”
The next race is one of Schumacher’s “home” events, the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim on July 30 and he added: “We had a good start and we drove our race from there.
“We were not sure how the race would go because we didn’t do any long runs because of problems on Saturday morning so it was a guess how the race would go.
But I must say the car, tyres the whole package worked superbly.”
Schumacher’s Ferrari teammate Brazilian Felipe Massa was third in a processional race of little real incident and the German said: “I am sorry for Felipe, he could not keep second, but we are back on the podium and we got important points for that.
“We had a great start, and being first and second that is the ideal situation to start the race, it is a good result at the end of the day and we can be quite happy about it.”
A week after Italy beat France in a penalty shoot-out in football’s World Cup final, this was another defeat for Les Bleus by an Italian team.
But on this occasion there was no doubting the winners’ superiority even if there are seven races to go before the championship is decided.
Schumacher punched the air as he crossed the line.
Despite being unable to live with Schumacher’s pace, Alonso finished second to claim eight points on a day when it looked unlikely, and took defeat on the chin.
Alonso said: “We were probably two or three tenths of a second off Michael this weekend so second is okay really.”
Asked about a close battle with Massa at the first corner, he said: “It was close, yes, but I was nearly in the grass and I had to back off and after that I tried to overtake him and it was difficult on the track.
“I waited for the stops and hoped to have a better consistency with the tyres after that but at the end it was all working as planned.”
Schumacher’s younger brother Ralf was fourth for Toyota—giving the German-based team a boost after his teammate Italian Jarno Trulli retired earlier.
Finn Kimi Raikkonen was fifth for McLaren Mercedes-Benz, Italian Giancarlo Fisichella sixth for Renault, Spaniard de la Rosa, in his first race for more than a year, was seventh for McLaren and German Nick Heidfeld eighth for BMW Sauber.
It was Heidfeld’s fifth points finish in the last six races.
The race, which celebrated the 100th anniversary of the first French Grand Prix, was another nightmare for Honda, the only team to have both cars fail to finish.
Brazilian Rubens Barrichello and Briton Jenson Button both retired with engine failures. Barrichello, who went out on lap 18, described it as a “nightmare race”.
The Williams team had a disappointing day, too, as Australian Mark Webber suffered a left-rear puncture half-way through the race. - Sapa-AFP
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