April 24, 2006 Ferrari F1 supremo Jean Todt had this to say when Michael Schumacher scored a narrow win over Fernando Alonso in Sunday's San Marino Grand Prix at Imola: "When I was going up to the podium, I said to Michael that I could not remember the way anymore, as it had been such a long time since the last victory!” The result came courtesy of a lot of hard work by the Ferrari team, and was “all the better coming in front of so many of our fans and employees who filled their own grandstand here.” Ferrari's win moves Schumacher to second in the Drivers' championship, and gives Ferrari 30 points in the World Championship to Renault's 51 and McLaren's 33. Renault F1 Managing director Flavio Briatore, after this week giving notice he would be extending his contract with Renault, thought it was just another day at the office. “We had both cars in the points, Fernando has a big lead in the drivers’ championship, and it was another good team performance today,” said the colourful power player. Sadly, the drama of the event surrounded the historic circuit’s reputation as a circuit on which it is almost impossible to overtake and Schumacher starting from pole position meant raging championship favourite Fernando Alonso could only hope to pressure his rival into a mistake that never came. Schumacher had every reason to make a mistake, as his tyres “suffering “a bit of graining” and he drove a large portion of the race at modest speeds by driving on the limit of adhesion.
Ferrari's mechanics cleaned oil and cement dust from an earlier accident off Michael Schumacher's grid position and it allowed him to shoot straight into the lead at the start of the sunny 62 lap race. Front row grid neighbour Jenson Button slotted into second in the Honda with Massa going third from Alonso as Rubens Barrichello slumped to fifth. Ralf Schumacher stayed sixth, Montoya remained in seventh from Jarno Trulli, Mark Webber and Kimi Raikkonen who lost two places to tenth.
Michael eased away from Button during the opening laps after an early safety car period. He had a 2.1s lead after seven laps and three seconds after 12 laps. Similarly, Massa dropped away from Button as Alonso initially did from Massa, closing up again during the final stages before the first pit stops. Trulli was an early retirement in the pits.
Barrichello was the first to make a slow pit stop on lap 14, and teammate Button confirmed Honda's tactics with a stop a lap later. Massa came in from what was now second place on lap 19, having been just ahead of Alonso, while Michael pitted a lap later. Raikkonen came in on lap 22, Montoya pitted with Webber on lap 23 and Alonso finally came in on lap 25.
After the pit stops, Michael had an 11 second lead over Alonso who had leapfrogged both Button and Massa during the pit stops. Button was now in third place, Massa fourth being pushed by Montoya, while Webber was next.
Michael, however, suffered tyre graining during this stint, and his lead rapidly disappeared, so that Alonso was on his tail by lap 34. However, there he remained, for lap after lap, scarcely getting a look around the Ferrari, even though he was obviously quicker. Button made a second, disastrous stop on lap 30 when he was signalled out of the pits before the fuel hose had been disconnected. Three mechanics were bowled over before Button stopped for what was left of the hose and nozzle to be removed, before rejoining having lost a further 13 seconds.
At half distance, Michael was just ahead of Alonso, Massa was just ahead of Montoya who was fourth, Webber was next from Raikkonen and after Ralf Schumacher pitted, Button was next.
Alonso came in early for his final stop on lap 41, but Michael came in a lap later and when they emerged, they resumed their nose to tail battle. Massa also came in on lap 41 while Montoya stayed out until lap 44 and when he rejoined, he was just ahead of the second Ferrari. Raikkonen pitted on lap 47 and rejoined just behind Massa.
In the closing stages, there were three battles: Michael Schumacher just leading Alonso for the lead; Massa just ahead of Raikkonen for fourth place and Button just ahead of Fisichella battling over seventh place. But such is the difficulty of overtaking at Imola that there was no change in the order. Indeed, Alonso hit a kerb three laps from home and ran wide, losing two seconds to Michael which resolved the lead battle in Schumacher's favour, much to the tifosi's delight.
Alonso therefore finished second with Montoya in third place. Massa was close behind in fourth place, just ahead of Raikkonen in fifth. Webber had a lonely race to sixth, from Button and Fisichella who claimed the final points.
Michael Schumacher: "I am very happy! The result shows that work pays off and that the effort put in by everyone - the team and our partners - has delivered its reward. The key moment was staying ahead after the second pit stop. As we saw last year, overtaking at this track it's almost impossible, unless the guy in front makes a mistake. With all my years of experience, I knew that what I wanted to do was keep Alonso behind me, but at my pace, not pushing flat out and that's what I did. At this time I had a bit of graining, as had been the case in free practice and now we must work out what caused it. I hope we can keep up this standard in the coming races and I think that from now on, we will be very competitive."
Felipe Massa: "It was a very difficult race, but it turned out well for Ferrari in the end. Michael's win and my fourth place make a very nice result. I would have liked to have been on the podium, but I am still pleased with this as it was important to bring so many points home. I had some problems in my second stint, but in the third one I could push as hard as I wanted again."
Ferrari’s Ross Brawn: " Naturally, we are very happy with this result. Winning in front of our fans is something very special. It was a very tough race and the team did a great job in Michael's final pit stop, which got him back out on track ahead of Alonso. We struggled a bit in the second part of the race, probably because of the tyres, and we could not maintain the pace we had in the first stint. In these laps, Michael drove perfectly, managing to keep Alonso behind him. Felipe drove a strong race. He had some difficult moments but he proved capable of getting out of them in fine form, driving very well. A fantastic result down to great work from the team, from Bridgestone and from Shell. It is the first "real" win for a car designed by Aldo Costa, which is particularly pleasing. Let's hope this is a good omen for the rest of the season."
Fernando Alonso: “Second place and eight points is a perfect result for me this afternoon. We suspected that we had qualified with more fuel than the others, and the race showed we were right to pick that strategy. At a normal circuit, we could have won but this is Imola where overtaking is almost impossible. I could see that I was much faster than Michael in the second stint, and I was just trying to put pressure on him, hoping he would make a mistake. We did not plan to make our second stop when we did – we pitted early to try and overtake him but it didn’t quite work. So I stayed in his slipstream and in the last five laps, put all the revs on the engine and tried to overtake. But the Ferrari was a lot quicker again at the end, and it didn’t happen. Looking at the championship, though, this is perfect. My closest rivals at the start of the weekend were Fisichella and Raikkonen, and I have taken points from both of them. I am happy with this, and I know we will be stronger again in the Nuerburgring.
Giancarlo Fisichella, Renault F1 driver, 8th position: “This was a race to try and recover what happened in qualifying yesterday afternoon and I cannot be happy to finish eighth, but I still got into the points. The start was fantastic but I got crowded out as others drivers closed the door, and then struggled with the grip in the first stint. We took off some front wing at the stop, and then the pace was in the car. I was much faster and started to make up a lot of ground because we ran further than the other cars, but in the end, there were only a couple of seconds in it at the second stop – and I came out just behind Button and Webber. The race showed the speed is there in the car, though, and I think we can have a much stronger weekend in Germany in two weeks.
Flavio Briatore, Managing Director: The Renault was very competitive this afternoon, and we only just lost out to Ferrari on a circuit where overtaking is so difficult. Fernando did everything he could, but we just didn’t quite have the answers we needed to beat Michael this afternoon. Fisico was always going to have a hard day, but did his best to get to the points, and managed it. We had both cars in the points, Fernando has a big lead in the drivers’ championship, and it was another good team performance today.
Pat Symonds, Renault Executive Director of Engineering: “We saw a very typical Imola race this afternoon, and an interesting reversal of last year’s result. I think the Renault was the faster car but in fact, this appearance was probably exaggerated by the fact that Schumacher had such a dreadful middle stint. With Fernando stuck behind him, we were left with very few options to try and capitalise on our performance advantage, as we believe our planned lap for the second stop was, contrary to what the figures on television seemed to indicate, very close to his. We pulled in early because running longer was unlikely to pay off for us, as the Ferrari’s tyres seemed very quick at the start of a stint. So we tried to get Fernando a lap of clean air to beat Michael in the pits and it didn’t quite work but as the phrase goes, “nothing ventured, nothing gained”. And in this case, nothing lost either. Giancarlo had a steady race, and he was unfortunate not to get ahead of Button at the final stop. Realistically, though, his race was all about mitigating the effects of qualifying yesterday, and he did everything that could be asked of him
Jacques Villeneuve, BMW Sauber F1, 12th place: “It was not that exciting because I had a problem in the first pit stop. We were not as competitive as we expected. However, the balance was good and with this we should have been able to do some quick laps. The start was bad but then the first corner was okay. For the next race we have a new engine and that should help a lot, which is important as we are racing in Germany.
Nick Heidfeld, BMW Sauber F1 13th place: “This was a disappointing race for us especially as I had expected our race pace to be higher. But unfortunately this was not the case. My start was okay but still I couldn’t gain positions. One of my main problems was lack of grip, but at the second pit stop we changed the front wing settings and the tyre pressures so the last stint was a little bit better.
Mario Theissen, BMW Motorsport Director: Over this Imola weekend only the free practice on Friday was really good for us. Neither in qualifying nor during the race were the drivers able to set the lap times we expected. It was only in the last stint of the race that Jacques was able to match the speed of the top drivers at certain times. During Jacques’ first pit stop there was a problem when two wheel nuts got stuck, but even without this problem he would not have made it into the points. On the positive side for the first time this season our engines have completed two full race distances at the same time, so they have passed this test successfully.
Willy Rampf, Technical Director Chassis, BMW Sauber F1: Our average race speed was not as quick as we expected. After the second stops both drivers were quicker and happier with the balance of the cars, but in the middle of the race we were far to slow. We have to analyse these fluctuating lap times. Jacques had a slow first pit stop due to sticking wheel nuts and this lost him approximately 15 seconds.
Juan Pablo Montoya, McLaren Mercedes, third place : "I'm pleased with today's race and that we managed to get a podium position and some important Championship points. I made a good start off the line but was squeezed by traffic going into the first chicane and had to lift in order to avoid an incident. I then got stuck in traffic which cost me some time. I think it was clear as the race progressed that we had qualified on quite a heavy fuel load, but we were really able to take advantage of our strategy during the race. The guys did a great job in the pit stops which helped, but once I was in clear air the leaders were already about 13 seconds ahead, and it was too late for me. The focus was then just to bring the car back and get third place and some points. Everybody has been working hard for the past couple of weeks, and I think we have definitely made some progress with our package, I can't wait for the rest of the season and hopefully winning some races soon."
Kimi Räikkönen, McLaren Mercedes, fifth place: "I was not entirely happy with my car today and wasn't able to really go for it. My start was not very good and I lost a couple of positions, and then traffic hampered my progress during the first half of the race. After the second stop the car improved quite a bit and became easier to drive and I could start pushing again. However I got stuck behind Felipe Massa and to overtake here at Imola is virtually impossible as we could see in the race today. We can leave Imola with some points which is important and I now look forward to the next race in Germany."
Team Principal, McLaren Mercedes, Ron Dennis: "Juan Pablo had a relatively uneventful race. He made a good start but lost of some the advantage when he was squeezed coming into the first corner. However his strategy unfolded well and a fully deserved third place. Kimi's race was badly influenced by a rare mistake in qualifying which cost him some grid positions and was further compounded by him not making a particularly good start. However he drove in a disciplined manner to pick up valuable points for himself and the team. We could have raced a little harder but suffered badly from traffic. Everybody is now looking forward to the Silverstone test next week and the European Grand Prix – both of which should see us move further forward in our competitiveness and World Championship objectives."
Norbert Haug, Vice President Mercedes-Benz Motorsport: "A difficult race after an unsatisfactory qualifying during which Juan Pablo and Kimi improved to third and fifth respectively starting from seventh and eighth. Once they were out of traffic, which hampered the progress of both drivers during the first half of the race, they showed that the pace was there. Again we demonstrated reliability in the race. We will continue to improve our performance and are looking forward to the first of Mercedes' two home Grands Prix at the Nürburgring in two weeks time."
Ralf Schumacher, Panasonic Toyota Racing, ninth place: “It is a pity that we missed out on the points but that was not the best afternoon for me. We had a very aggressive strategy but circumstances played against us. We were a bit unlucky with traffic and the safety car didn't help us but we also struggled for grip in the early stints. The pace improved in the latter stages when I was gaining ground on Fisichella and Button so there must be some problem. I don't think it is related to the tyres because other Bridgestone teams did a good job so we need to investigate where the issue lies. We will test some new items next week and I believe we can improve at the European Grand Prix." Jarno Trulli, Panasonic Toyota Racing, DNF: "A lot of bad luck seems to be coming my way at the moment and today was no exception. We still have to investigate exactly what happened but something seemed to go wrong with the steering column and that meant I had to retire. It's a pity because we have been looking good all weekend and I was confident that we could have had a better day today. I made a very good start and I made up a place on Raikkonen as I went through the field. Unfortunately the car in front had a moment at the first corner so I had to slow down. It's frustrating because whatever I do, something goes wrong. But I will keep pushing because I know that the team and the package are good. Once everything starts working for me I know I will have a lot of success." Team Principal Panasonic Toyota Racing, Tsutomu Tomita: "It was a disappointing Sunday for us and the results were not so good. But I'm sure that our car is quicker than it was able to show today. It performed well this weekend and was well matched to the Bridgestone tyre in the conditions. Unfortunately the race started very badly when Jarno had to stop with a mechanical problem with his steering column. We are very disappointed about that so apologies to him. Ralf raced hard on a three-stop strategy which should work here because of the short pit lane. However you risk losing out if you have a safety car in the first stint, which is exactly what happened. That meant the strategy was hampered early on. He had some inconsistency with grip during the race which we need to investigate but Ralf's pace in the last stint when he was free of traffic was good and encouraging. I am sure that our car has the potential to bring better results in the next few races. Nonetheless we clearly need to develop further and push hard to improve performance during the coming tests."