Nürburg, 7th May - Michael Schumacher scored a second successive tactical victory in Sunday's 60 lap European Grand Prix. He was led by Fernando Alonso for the first 38 laps, but then Schumacher stopped three laps later than the reigning World Champion at the second round of stops and after a succession of quick laps, emerged 5.8s ahead of the Renault driver to take a popular victory. With Felipe Massa finishing a close third, Ferrari moved five points closer to Renault in the Constructors' championship.
At the start, Alonso went straight into the lead in sunny conditions while the two Ferraris were side by side for second, Michael taking the position from his teammate. Jenson Button jumped into fourth place from sixth, Kimi Raikkonen remained fifth, while Jarno Trulli moved up one place to sixth. Rubens Barrichello dropped three places to seventh from Jacques Villeneuve who picked up one place at the start. A collision between David Coulthard and Vitantonio Liuzzi briefly brought out the safety car.
On lap four, Raikkonen overtook Button for fourth place, but already Alonso and the Ferraris were easing away. Raikkonen tried to stay with them, leaving Button in fourth from Trulli and then Barrichello.
Alonso briefly managed to pull away from Michael towards the end of the stint, but on lap 17 he dived for the pits and his first pit stop, Massa coming in on the same lap. Michael came in a lap later and rejoined just behind Alonso again.
On lap 24, Michael had a slight fright when he ran wide, and Alonso's lead widened to over two seconds. Raikkonen had come into the pits a lap earlier, the last of the front runners to stop.
In the second stint, Michael steadily cut Alonso's lead and as they neared the second round of pit stops, the pair set a succession of fastest laps. Alonso pitted on lap 38, but Michael didn't come in for another three laps, and when he went back out again, he was ahead of Alonso by 5.8s. The gap rose to just over nine seconds during the final stint, eventually narrowing to just over three seconds in the closing stages.
By this time, however, Felipe Massa had begun to threaten Alonso. The Brazilian had been losing time to his teammate during the end of the second stint, but after the stop, he found himself 7.2s behind Alonso. However, he was soon cutting that gap, so that it was under three seconds with nine laps remaining.
Massa, himself, however, was coming under pressure from Raikkonen in fourth place. The McLaren driver was soon on Massa's tail with four laps to go, and the pair closed right up on Alonso too, but none of them was able to challenge and they finished as they started that final stint, with Raikkonen claiming fourth place.
The rest were left far behind. Barrichello eventually took fifth place, just ahead of Giancarlo Fisichella, but they were only just ahead of Nico Rosberg who finished seventh after suffering an engine penalty of ten places and starting last on the grid. Villeneuve claimed the final point.
Fernando Alonso now has 44 points from two wins and three seconds, while Michael Schumacher is second with 31 points from two wins, a second and a sixth. Raikkonen is third with 23 points.
Michael Schumacher: "I am a fighter"
Maranello, 8th May 2006 - On Monday morning the warriors were already on a plane heading home. Now was the time to relax and wind down ahead of next weekend's race at Barcelona. Michael was finding it easy to wind down after such a successful weekend as the one just gone: "after a win like that the joy does not just disappear", smiled Michael. "I am sure that it is the same for the team. I am very proud of my squad and how they worked to improve the performance compared to last year. How they put things together was great. The fact that we have found the right set up by race five, having been behind in past seasons, is something that no other team has been able to do".
What makes Michael particularly happy is how much the hard work over the last two weeks has paid off. "We have got better a step at a time, testing and improving every single detail, developing the new parts and constantly searching for ways to refine the car. All of these details put together were decisive in yesterday's performance", stated the record breaking driver.
"It was exactly what we were aiming for. I think we have the right to say that the work we put in over the past few weeks was not only the fastest but also the best. Obviously it is extremely satisfying and stimulating. So, it is natural to enjoy the fruits of this work. On the other hand, we know how fast things can change as we have already been through it. So, what we have to do is not give in".
Jean Todt: "This result is not a surprise"
Maranello, 8th May 2006 - Ferrari team principal Jean Todt has not been surprised by the team's success in Michael Schumacher's winning performances in the last two Grands Prix, including Sunday's European Grand Prix at the Nurburgring in Germany.
"I knew, since the beginning of the season, that we have a very strong car," said Todt. "Coming to Germany, it was important to be competitive, to be a potential winner. But it's so tight, there's so little difference from being on one side or the other. So I knew that we were going to be competitive like I knew from the beginning of the season that we had the potential to do a good season. Unfortunately, in mainly the second and the third Grand Prix, we did not do a very good job, so we paid the price for it, but in a way it was our mistake, not the others if they did a better job than we did."
Todt even saw advantages that Michael Schumacher was chased to the chequered flag by Fernando Alonso, and Kimi Raikkonen wasn't far behind. "It's good for the championship to have big competition," said Todt. "For us, what does matter is that finally we can score important points, we can win races and maybe a few strong teams can go in the same direction in the future. But saying that, it's not a surprise to see at least three very strong teams in the championship at the moment."
Todt, however, sounded a note of caution. "What is true today, considering the input of the teams, may not be true in five Grands Prix's time, because we know how important it is to develop the car during the season. It will be very important to make a significant development possibly for each Grand Prix. We know how important the tyres are, so there's a big competition among the teams, there's a big competition among the tyre manufacturers. I don't know what can happen when it will be hotter or when the situation will be different. We don't know what can happen. But there's no reason why we shouldn't be competitive."
And Todt certainly wouldn't discount either McLaren nor Honda challenging Ferrari and Renault. "McLaren are very strong. When you see that Raikkonen made his first pit stop on lap 23, he had between 10 and 15 kilos more than the others, the cars in front, which means he did a very good lap time in qualifying. And then he finished the race four seconds behind the winner, so this time it went not so much in their favour but next time it could be in their favour. And Honda is very strong as well. As I said before, they can make some strong development and be strong contenders as well."
Michael Schumacher's new teammate, Felipe Massa finished a strong third, making his first visit to a Grand Prix podium, but Todt wasn't surprised by this performance either, citing previous performances. "He did very well in Bahrain, he was on the front row, then he made a little mistake and the team made a very big mistake, so he probably lost fourth or fifth position.
"In the second race, he started last on the grid and he finished fifth. It was a very good race, maybe a better race than this one. And in the third race, as I said several times, we make a mistake in the choice of the tyres and then he didn't race because he was taken off by two cars at the start. In the fourth race he lost a place in the pit stop and finished fourth and here he's finished fourth, so I think he's doing a very good job. I'm sure it helps him with the pressure that he has, gives him confidence. For me, he's already strong and calm."
However, Todt wouldn't compare Massa's pace with that of Schumacher or Alonso. "I think we have three drivers in this championship, who have something a bit more than all the others and I think Felipe is amongst the best behind those three drivers."