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Written by: Cassio Cortes RACE

Written by: Cassio Cortes RACER Magazine
Monza, Italy – 9/10/2006


Michael Schumacher posted a perfect performance in what was the last Italian Grand Prix of his stellar career, clinching a dominant win in front of the tifosi to keep his hopes of an eighth world title more alive than ever, as rival Fernando Alonso retired from the race at Monza.

McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen finished second after starting from pole, ahead of Robert Kubica who gave BMW its maiden podium as a constructor in Formula 1. It was Schumacher's fifth Monza win and the 90th of his career.

At the start of the race it was Alonso who shone, however, jumping from 10th on the grid - courtesy of a penalty for blocking Felipe Massa's Ferrari in qualifying that dropped him from fifth - to hold the seventh spot by the end of the first lap. The BMW of Kubica also pulled strongly from the line, and the Pole jumped to third, behind Raikkonen and Schumacher but ahead of Massa, Jenson Button's Honda, the BMW of Nick Heidfeld, Alonso and McLaren's Pedro de la Rosa.

Alonso wasted no time in disposing of Heidfeld in the second lap, but from then on the Spaniard's progress was stopped by Button. Similarly, Massa couldn't get ahead of Kubica, allowing Raikkonen and Schumacher to pull away at the front.

The first casualty of the race came on lap nine, when Williams' Nico Rosberg parked his FW28 with gearbox problems. Five laps later, Pedro de la Rosa kicked off the first round of pit stops among the frontrunners.
On lap 16, Raikkonen pitted from the lead, with Schumacher following one lap later. In typical Schumacher fashion, the German emerged ahead of the Finn, but behind Kubica who then led a few laps in only his third-ever F1 race.

Massa and Alonso pitted together on the 20th lap, with the Brazilian keeping his edge over the Spaniard. The Renault man then managed to get past Button to gain another spot.

On the 22nd lap, it was de la Rosa's turn to retire with mechanical problems. Kubica came in on the following lap, allowing Schumacher and Raikkonen back in the lead ahead of Renault's Giancarlo Fisichella - running a one-stop strategy -, Kubica, Honda's Rubens Barrichello (also on a one-stopper), Massa, Alonso and Heidfeld, who would be hampered one lap later with a pitlane speeding penalty.

After Fisichella and Barrichello made their stops, the fight for the final podium spot was left to be decided at the last round of pits. Massa was the first in on lap 38, with Kubica and Alonso pitting together one lap later. The duo exited the pitlane side-by-side, but Alonso held the inside line and moved past the Pole, with both men emerging ahead of Massa.

The Spaniard's joy would be short-lived, however, as his Renault engine blew up spectacularly on lap 43. The cloud of smoke caused Massa to ride the brakes hard, delaminating the Brazilian's right-front tire and forcing him to an extra stop that would knock him out of points contention.
From then on, Schumacher cruised to a crucial win ahead of Raikkonen and Kubica, a result that bridged his gap in the championship to Alonso from 12 to just two points, with three races left in the calendar. Fisichella and Button completed the top-five, with Barrichello, Toyota's Jarno Trulli and Heidfeld in the remaining points-paying positions.

And as soon as the German climbed out of his 248 F1, it became clear that this was no ordinary win. Ostensibly, Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo had broken an ancient tradition and watched the race from the track instead of staying in at the Scuderia's factory. Montezemolo and team director Jean Todt had a hard time keeping their tears in while the Italian anthem played on the podium - curiously, Schumacher whispered something in Raikkonen's ear at that very moment, as if passing on the torch to the man who will be officially confirmed as his successor later this afternoon.

At the post-race press conference, Schumacher confirmed his retirement and thanked the support from his teammates, family and friends (see separate story for Schumacher's and Ferrari's full statements.)

The 2006 F1 season resumes in three weeks' time with the Japanese GP.
 
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