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Monday, July 04, 2005

French Grand Prix

If Michael Schumacher thought he was in with a chance of winning this weekend, then I'm sure the lads at Renault and McLaren must be only too pleased to prove him wrong. Dead wrong.

These two were the stars of today's show. Fernando Alonso's performance was flawless. Pulling out an unassailable lead before the first round of stops with the help of Jarno Trulli who was keeping Michael Schumacher and everyone else behind him. But take nothing away from Alonso. His pace was simply astonishing and I'm sure even if Michael had gotten past Trulli at that early stage, he simply could not stay with the brilliant young Spaniard.

Meanwhile behind stuck in midfield were the two McLarens of Juan Montoya and Kimi. The pair were very heavily fueled. In Kimi's case, it was not very obvious in qualifying. Nevertheless, the pair stayed out longer than all else. After the front runners dived into the pits, the McLarens were truly unleashed. Their pace nigh unbeatable. Kimi in particular putting a charge very reminiscent of Michael Schumacher.

When finally Juan Montoya dived into the pits, such was his pace he came out again ahead of the Ferrari of Michael Schumacher. But Kimi stayed out and kept on hammering fastest lap after fastest lap. He surely would leapfrog the both of them after his stop. And that was about 4 laps after Montoya's stop.

That certainly put a new light on his third place grid position. Had he been following orthodox three stop strategy, he could have been simply way out in front on pole position.

After the excitement of the first round of stops, the positions remained as such. Fernando Alonso responding to the growing threat of Raikkonen's McLaren with some consistently fast laps in the 1m 16s bracket. Kimi was simply too far behind to catch Alonso since he was running at a similar pace.

Meanwhile, Michael Schumacher was hassling Montoya behind. Both of them being dropped by Kimi Raikkonen. I wonder if this was simply McLaren team tactics though. Because once Kimi pulled away and left them for dead, so Montoya started to leave Michael Schumacher behind.

In the post race interview, Michael Schumacher complained that Montoya had held him back. But at the time when Montoya was having his hydraulic problems in the car later on, Michael Schumacher was absolutely no where to be seen. In fact it was several laps before Michael Schumacher was finally seen and was able to overtake Montoya, who in the end retired from the race with no hydraulics.

In front, clearly Alonso was still keeping up the pace. He was able to lap the entire field up to Michael Schumacher. At one point before his final stop, he was right behind the German. Ahhh, what a difference a year makes. The satisfaction at Renault must be immense.

At the end Alonso was nearly an entire lap ahead of Michael Schumacher. Which make me wonder how those die hard Ferrari sympathizers Peter Windsor and Star Sports' Steve Slater could call this a strong performance from Ferrari? Rubens Barrichello was utterly annihilated. Michael was almost lapped by Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen finished 55 seconds ahead of him. How could anyone have called it a strong performance? In this light, their humiliation is as bad as it was at Sepang. And back then they were using the F2004. Its still happening with this year's car.

Michelin too must be immensely satisfied as well after their cock up 2 weeks ago at Indianapolis. Far from just all the bad publicity and politics, their mistake gifted a victory to Maranello. A hollow victory mind you but still one that allowed Michael Schumacher to catch up. Glad to see Kimi and Fernando putting him in his place. But what I liked most was that on the podium when the French national anthem was being played, Fernando pointed to the Michelin motif on his cap and smiled away. Hah! May as well have been a two fingered salute to Bridgestone.

Juan Montoya's problems sadly cost him a definite podium. Alright, he may have done many things wrong all by himself this season but really he deserves better luck than this. Another suffering team mate is Giancarlo Fisichella. He got lapped by Fernando. In all his career he's always had the upper hand on all his teammates including Ralf Schumacher and Jenson Button. But Fernando is proving to be light years ahead. I'm pretty sure he's facing car trouble in there but really it doesn't look good for him. Especially at Montreal when Fernando was screaming to be let past.

All told Jacques Villeneuve had a good race for Sauber, taking the last points finish spot denying the Ferrari of Rubens Barrichello. Its Michael Schumacher's brilliance thats keeping Ferrari in the game. Otherwise this would be the early 90s all over again. Luckily for them they got Indianapolis because I don't think Ferrari are in any position to win on merit anywhere this year except perhaps at Monza and Suzuka. They usually are blindingly quick there.

The BARs were threatening in qualifying but like everyone else simply could not get to terms with McLaren and Renault. Taku once again battling himself more than the opposition.

Silverstone is next. On current form, I fancy Kimi Raikkonen to take that one. Although, in the championship, Fernando Alonso is looking ever stronger with today's win. He just needs podiums from now on. Its a tall order for either Raikkonen or Schumacher to catch him even if they won everything from now on.

Its such a pity McLaren didn't sort their car out earlier because on pure speed Raikkonen deserves victory I believe. He's superemly fast and his car looks like a championship winner. But Renault and Alonso are simply too far out in front now. Five victories in the bag. The championship can't be far behind.

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