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Sun, 11 June, 2006Britain: Alonso strolls to dominant victory

Fernando Alonso continued his effortless march towards a second consecutive world drivers' title this afternoon in Silverstone by taking a dominant, well-deserved and crucial victory from Ferrari's Michael Schumacher which now puts the German more than two race wins away from the Spaniard. For the first time since the Italian Grand Prix back in 2004, a driver took pole position, the race victory and the fastest race lap, with Barrichello being the last man to do so for Ferrari. Alonso once again showed his maturity, skill and pure speed to demolish the opposition with precision driving and the perfect pit-stop strategy.

Right from the off it was clear Alonso made business, but when the safety car came out after a collision involving Webber, Ralf Schumacher and Speed on the opening lap, his scamper from the pack was delayed somewhat. When the safety car came in two laps later, Alonso did not escape as many would have thought, with the gap never growing beyond three seconds. The reason for this apparent lack of pace was revealed when they pitted for the first set of pit-stops. Schumacher, qualifying third, was first to pit, followed by Räikkönen, who qualified second, a lap later. Alonso though went a full three laps longer than Kimi, once again underlining the sheer speed the Alonso-Renault package, by securing pole position by almost two tenths of a second with three laps more fuel on board.

Alonso was then out of his own. With those three extra laps to his advantage, the Spaniard opened a gap of eleven seconds, and that gap remained constant until the chequered flag, albeit with a different second-placed driver. During the second round of stops, Schumacher again stopped first, but thanks to a blistering out lap, during which he set the fastest second and third sector times of the race, he got out in front of Kimi Räikkönen, who again pitted a lap later. Even more amazing was the fact that he emerged two seconds ahead of the Finn. Schumacher thus took his third second position of the season, eventually finishing fourteen seconds off the pace. Räikkönen managed to hang on to third place, despite some pressure from Fisichella in the dying laps who finished fourth for Renault.

Felipe Massa finished fifth after a very uninspiring race from fourth on the grid. He lost out to Giancarlo Fisichella in the first round of stops, and never recovered from the loss. He eventually finished ten seconds off Fisichella, with a gap of 20 seconds to Schumacher, funnily enough almost the same gap that separated the Renault pair. Juan Pablo Montoya did a great job to finish his car in sixth place after driving the full race with damage to his right sidepod. In the first corner, BMW Sauber's Jacques Villeneuve collided with the Colombian, punching a hold in the McLaren's sidepod. The damage wasn't severe though, and he was able to continue, although he did finish more than a minute off the pace.

The final points scorers this afternoon were the BMW Sauber pair of Nick Heidfeld and Jacques Villeneuve, the former of which was running second for some time after gaining positions thanks to 25-lap long first stint. Jacques Villeneuve ran even longer, but it took until the second round of stops to leap-frog Williams' Nico Rosberg to get into the points. Rosberg finished in ninth, after a solid, but unrewarding drive from 12th on the grid. He was also the last driver on the same lap as the leader at the flag.

Tenth was Rubens Barrichello, who was let down by a less-than-perfect fuel strategy, with Jarno Trulli following him home in 11th place. Surprisingly, he was the first driver to pit, on lap 17, despite having to start the race from the back of the grid after an engine failure in qualifying yesterday. David Coulthard and Vitantonio Liuzzi were next, the former suffering from understeer, with the latter benefiting greatly from a one-stop strategy. Christian Klien finished in 14th, from the same place on the grid, while at MF1, Christijan Albers continued to rule over his team-mate Tiago Monteiro, as he finished a lap ahead of the Portuguese driver. And, rounding off the classified drivers, for only the second time this season, both Super Aguri drivers drove the distance, with Takuma Sato beating Montagny to the line by 25 seconds, three laps behind Alonso.

Along with Speed, Schumacher and Webber who retired on the first lap, Jenson Button was the only other driver to watch the race from the motorhome, after his Honda V8 engine suffered an oil leak, bringing an end to a truly dismal weekend for the Brit at home.

On the drivers' championship front, Alonso now extends his lead to 23 points over Michael Schumacher, with Kimi Räikkönen retaking third back from Fisichella, in a scrap which is sure to go down to the wire. In the constructors' championship, Renault are now 31 points clear of Ferrari after their 15-point haul today, with McLaren third, pulling evermore away from Honda in fourth who failed to score points today.

The Formula One circus now moves to Monza next week, where another intensive test will see many teams make an appearance. The teams will be hoping to use Monza's long straights to prepare for Montreal and Indianapolis, hosts to the Canadian and United States Grands Prix respectively. One thing is for sure though, Renault and Alonso are the force to beat. But, will anyone be able to beat them? Only time will tell.

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