F1 Blast from the past: Schumacher and Alonso Duel in the Desert
The 2006 Formula One World Championship began at the Sakhir Circuit in Bahrain. With Melbourne hosting the Commonwealth Games, the Arabian Gulf state’s third Grand Prix became the season-opener.
Background and Qualifying
A new season brought new rules, 2.4 litre V8 engines replaced the V10s and the knockout qualifying system was been used for the first time.
However, the new season had an all too familiar look for Kimi Raikkonen’s McLaren. A rear wishbone failure in the first part of qualifying meant he had to start from the back of the grid.
At the front, Ferrari returned to form after a disappointing 2005 with an all scarlet front row, Michael Schumacher taking pole position ahead of his new team mate Felipe Massa. World Champion Fernando Alonso lined up fourth.
57 laps of Bahrain began with Michael Schumacher converting pole into the lead while Alonso got ahead of Massa in Turn 4. Kimi Raikkonen stayed out of trouble at the back.
Debutant Nico Rosberg collided with compatriot Nick Heidfeld, sending the BMW Sauber to the back and forcing the Williams into the pits with a broken nosecone.
The opening laps saw the Honda pairing of Jenson Button and his new team mate Rubens Barrichello going wheel to wheel, Button eventually getting the upper hand.
Massa’s day got worse when he spun off at the first corner on lap seven, narrowly avoiding Alonso’s Renault. The Brazilian flat-spotted his tyres and headed for the pits, dropping him out of contention.
The second Renault was also in trouble. Giancarlo Fisichella had been losing places and on Lap 21 retired with a hydraulic failure. The Italian driver had been hoping for much better after a very difficult 2005.
Jenson Button continued his strong drive with a late-braking manoeuvre on Juan Pablo Montoya’s McLaren for third place. Further back, the other McLaren was on the offensive as Raikkonen continued to work his way up the field.
After the first round of stops, Michael Schumacher retained his lead but Alonso was getting closer. BMW Sauber’s difficult race took another blow when Jacques Villeneuve’s engine failed on lap 29.
Begin as you mean to go on
At the second round of pit stops, Schumacher came in first. Alonso encountered problems with traffic before his stop but fantastic work by the Renault mechanics enabled the World Champion to re-join side-by-side with the Ferrari. Alonso stuck to the inside line and forced Schumacher to yield.
Kimi Raikkonen’s one-stop strategy had paid off and the Finn was in third place following his team mate Montoya’s final stop.
After his first lap shenanigans with Heidfeld, Nico Rosberg was on a great recovery drive, setting the fastest lap of the race. He was also showcasing some gritty overtaking on both Red Bull drivers David Coulthard and Christian Klien.
The closing stages were a repeat of Imola the previous year with Schumacher chasing Alonso. Just like that San Marino GP, Alonso held his nerve, managing his car and keeping the charging Ferrari behind.
The Spaniard picked up where he left off in 2005 by taking victory in the first Grand Prix of the season, finishing just over a second ahead of Schumacher.
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The top three drivers of the era made the podium with Kimi Raikkonen finishing third from 22nd on the grid. Jenson Button just missed out on a podium
place, finishing 0.6 seconds behind the McLaren.
Montoya had a quiet race to finish fifth, while a good day for Williams Cosworth was completed with Mark Webber in sixth ahead of Rosberg, who became the youngest driver ever to score a points finish. The final point was taken by Christian Klien.
It had been a very exciting start to the new season with three different teams represented on the podium. Fernando Alonso signalled his intentions to retain his title but Ferrari were much closer this time round. The seeds of a season-long duel between the two had been sewn.
Grid Talk Podcast
Want more content to preview your Bahrain Grand Prix weekend? Host Louis Edwards with panellists Owain Medford, Garry Sloan and Soumil Arora stared in Grid Talk’s Bahrain Grand Prixview.
Video and audio versions of the show are linked below: