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Alonso's straight fight with Schumacher, Bahrain 2006

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Andrew Benson | 09:00 UK time, Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Fernando Alonso's victory in the 2006 Bahrain Grand Prix is the event we have chosen to highlight in the latest episode in our series of classic Formula 1 races.

Bahrain was the first race of the season that year - Melbourne had been moved as a result of the Commonwealth Games - and it gave the Spaniard an early chance to answer some of his more short-sighted critics.

It had long been clear that Alonso was a driver of the very highest calibre but when he won his first world title in 2005 with Renault there were those who claimed that it was devalued because he had not had to fight Michael Schumacher to win it.

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Watch highlights from the 2004 Bahrain Grand Prix.
Watch highlights from the 2005 Bahrain Grand Prix.
Watch highlights from the 2007 Bahrain Grand Prix.
Watch highlights from the 2008 Bahrain Grand Prix.

Ferrari had a nightmare season in 2005 - those were the days of the tyre war between Michelin and Bridgestone, and a rule change that forbade tyre changes had rendered Bridgestone completely uncompetitive.

But the rules were changed back again for 2006 and Ferrari were right back at the front.

Schumacher put his Ferrari on pole in Bahrain, with Alonso's Renault third behind the second Ferrari of Felipe Massa.

The race was set up for the battle everyone had wanted to see in 2005 - the sport's greatest driver against the man who seemed poised to inherit his mantle.

It did not disappoint.

Alonso dispensed with Massa on the first lap and the race quickly distilled to a straight fight between him and Schumacher.

As so often, it came down to the crucial period around a pit stop - the sort of fight the German would always have been expected to win in the past.


Schumacher maintained his lead through the first stops but Alonso, who had been a handful of seconds behind the Ferrari in the first part of the race, quickly closed in.

The race looked his for the taking, especially when Schumacher came in for his final stop before his rival.

But then Alonso encountered traffic which prevented him putting on the charge he had planned before his stop.

As he came into the pits, it was clearly going to be close - and sure enough as the Renault accelerated out of the pits, the Ferrari was looming into view down the pit straight.

They headed into the first corner side by side, with Alonso on the inside - and it was the world champion who won the fight and emerged in the lead.

And that was that. Schumacher was never far behind for the rest of the race, but Alonso always looked to have it under control and duly delivered the win.

The race set the tone for an enthralling season - which did indeed develop into the Schumacher v Alonso fight everyone anticipated.

It got dirty at times, as it so often did with Schumacher-era Ferrari, and there were bitter political battles off the track as well as tough ones on it - plus the usual dubious interventions from race stewards.

But in the end it was Alonso and Renault who kept their nerve and prevailed - the first team and driver to beat Schumacher and Ferrari in a straight fight since Mika Hakkinen and McLaren in 1998.

And anyone who had doubted Alonso's claim to greatness had to think again.


  • Comment number 1.

    Well, there have been some races in Bahrain that have not immediately sprung to mind. However, I'll probably set the ball rolling with saying that 06 was the last Bahrain race that Massa didn't win (is that right?) and it sounded the best of the lot so far.

  • Comment number 2.

    Andrew, is any of this footage going to be on BBCi/Red Button? I can't watch it right now on the internet :(

  • Comment number 3.

    FreddyOfGreggs - the footage will be on the red button from 1830 Tuesday night until 0830 Wednesday morning and for the same hours on Wednesday into Thursday. It will be on satellite and cable but not Freeview - that is tied up with the World Snooker.

  • Comment number 4.

    It has to be 2006,I think 2006 was a great season because we saw a tight battle between two great drivers Schumacher and Alonso with no commentating or pundit bias towards either of them.I think alot of people underestimate how good that season actually was...

  • Comment number 5.

    Damn, forgot about voting last week!

    There's been some good races on whole though generally some great fights for best of the rest.

    Pedro De La Rosa was the star of 2005 with his attempts at overtaking and was deservedly - in the eyes of Martin Brundle - driver of the day.

    2007 saw a terrific scrap between Alonso and Heidfeld

    2006 wins it hands down deservedly for the tense scrap between Schumi and Alonso. There was nothing between them bar pit strategy.

  • Comment number 6.

    2006 definately has to be the winner here, although there has been plenty of great racing at Bahrain 2006 showed the pure genius of Fernando Alonso. The move on Massa on the first lap was inspirational, very few drivers would have been able to make that stick, and his ability to fend off Schumacher showed what a worthy world champion he is. If only he had the car this year!

  • Comment number 7.

    Thanks Andrew. Alonso's been my #1 driver since '05 and this performance was exciting for me because I didn't hold much hope he'd overhaul Schumacher from 4th (just a small heads up Andrew - Button qualified P3). I should add that Schumacher too performed well against Alonso and in races like the Nurburgring he showed his tremendous strengths.

    I agree with IrishF1fan, I think because 2007 and 2008 were so enthralling that 2006 has been to an extent forgotten at least from the forefront of people's minds, but it was a great head-to-head duel. I only wish their careers could have overlapped more as this was the sole season they both had championship winning machinery.

    Looking forward to Classic F1 for Spain, it will be good to hopefully have more people back on board with a greater historic profile in Spanish Grand Prixs and the possibility of full-length BBC highlights!
    I don't wish to false-start any voting but, for the record, my five suggested choice races for Spain would be:
    1981 - Villeneuve and his race-long fend-off for the win.
    1986 - Great top-5 battle and an epic finish (though I'm not sure Murray Walker, in his commentary, gauged just how close it was before calling the winner).
    1987 - Amazing scrap from about 2nd to 8th for just about the whole race. British interest with Mansell winning too.
    1991 - Damp conditions, great performances from Mansell and Schumacher (whilst he was on the road anyhow), and that wheel-to-wheel battle with Senna.
    1996 - Not really my favourite, but I'm sure many will appreciate Schumacher's crazily dominant win.
    I know that doesn't leave anything from the current era but honestly speaking I'm not sure anything, other than maybe 2000, captivated that many volumes of interest in watching.

  • Comment number 8.

    I also agree with Flukielukas #7 and IrishF1fan #4 that 2006 seems to have been lost in common memory and was a very hard fought season. Indeed there were five different winners throughout the season, and yet none of the five were Mclaren drivers. I seem to recall Kimi Raikkonen suffering many car failiures and accidents throughout that season which hampered his title chances. At the Bahrain GP it was suspension failiure in the first qualifying session that put him at the back of the grid. One wonders what part he would have played in this race had it not been for the qualifying problems?

    A good race that. I wont get into the debate about the Spanish Grand Prix yet. That's for another day.

  • Comment number 9.

    Thanks for the highlights.

    I look forward to the spanish and monaco GPs

  • Comment number 10.

    2006 definitely the right choice- and don't forget one of the other points of interest: Nico Rosberg's impressive debut- a drive through the field with fastest lap on the way! What happened to the rest of his season...?

    I agree that we don't remember 06 being as good as it actually was but I think that's largely because it only came alive halfway through. After Bahrain, the next few races were very disappointing because Alonso was dominant and McLaren, Williams and Honda had all looked quicker in Bahrain than they would actually turn out to be.

  • Comment number 11.

    The biggest story of that race was Raikkonen really, showing what he was capable of at McLaren. 22nd on the grid to third in a car that had lost a lot of speed compared to where it was in 2005.

  • Comment number 12.

    2006 all the way......a great race with so much going on, and of course, a real display of quality driving from both Schumi and Alonso. Makes me miss Mr Schumacher seeing those highlights...........great battles between the two best drivers of the 21st century.

  • Comment number 13.

    Well, you are just better off choosing all races apart from last years which was such a bore.
    Only 2004 to 2007 was the exciting races.

  • Comment number 14.

    Thanks once again Andrew.

    For Spain, I agree with Flukielukas to some extent that there aren't many post-1996 Spanish Grands Prix that jump out as being magnificent. My post-1996 favourite was 2003. Quite an eventful race.
    I think 1991 and 1996 (being a Schumacher fan, that was definately one of his finest hours) should certainly be on the list.

    Really enjoyed the feature so far. Thank you Andrew.

  • Comment number 15.

    Do you know I was trying to predict the classic Spanish Grand Prix picks and flukielukas has nailed them pretty much on the head. I had 2003 for your 1987 but yours sounds better. Great minds...

    Anyhow, 2006 was the only real choice for 'classic' Bahrain GP, although that may be stretching it a bit in terms of on-track action. The historical significance of the race is quite notable, it being the first time that it was truly Alonso vs Schumacher in a straight race. Alonso jumping Schumi at the pit stops - out Schumachering the master - just as he himself had done to Senna all those years back. It was also Nico Rosberg's F1 debut and he really announced himself as a future star with Fastest Lap on debut.

    As an avid student of Formula One history I greatly applaud the intentions of this column but isn't it sad that of the first 6 GPs, only two have any real history? And, in fact some of the contenders for 'classic' status were, as well as being very recent, in fact quite ordinary races. A sad advert for Formula One really.

    Please continue with your hard work Andy - this feature will come into its own once we start going to some proper races this summer.

  • Comment number 16.

    Hi, all,

    I was one of the first to read this blog and the first 4 comments. IMMEDIATELY I wrote something, but couldn’t transform it properly and post it. Just one of those NOT VERY good days…

    2006. WHAT A YEAR IN F1!!! When you know and had experienced some of the seasons before and discern the stories behind – that year of F1 RACING was incredible. More than just Alonso / Schummy battle. There were so many other things. At least for me. Real PLEASURE to watch. And anticipation for every single qualifying and race.

    Completely AGREE with post No. 4. At 11:22am on 22 Apr 2009, IrishF1fan wrote:
    It has to be 2006, I think 2006 was a great season because we saw a tight battle between two great drivers Schumacher and Alonso with no commentating or pundit bias towards either of them. I think alot of people underestimate how good that season actually was...


    I was still switching OFF completely my mobile during those 2 – 3 hours on Saturday and Sunday. Couldn’t be “found”. Was all around the world – “racing”! (Since 2007 F1 season is getting better in this “section” though – have my telephone on a SILENT mode : ). But still very “selective” : ) ).

    WELL DONE to the drivers, the teams, all the personnel and other factors that made that season so SPECIAL.

    Again as I mentioned before I wish Alonso to start winning with his Renault. It is good that we kept the points system for this 2009 F1 season!!!

    Andrew, I DO LIKE the photo on this blog. RESPECT between two very good drivers. Though they both are great CHARACTERS! And personalities on the track : )…

    Is this photo from that race in Bahrain 2006? These two men are so sweet to watch : ). The beaten Schummy is still smiling with respect to the winner Alonso. And his great defensive talent. Just as MS himself was too.

    What we gonna see and experience this weekend?…Open question. Just till Sunday.

  • Comment number 17.

    Sad for this not to be on Freeview, though I understand the matters why it was not on there. Thanks for this and looking forward, with others, to Spain/Monaco...

  • Comment number 18.

    Nice highlights, I have begun to really like and respect Jonathan Legard as a commentator so it was good to hear him on the 2004 highlights.

    2006 Bahrain saw the end of live radio transmissions after Fisichella's call on his ailing-engine car "yeah but it's f------ shit, f------ ..." *live broadcast killswitch*.

    If Spain's highlights can't be broadcast on Freeview, please request that Satellite has quality video bitrate at some point.

  • Comment number 19.

    Watching the footage brought back a few memories, as did rereading my race report from back then:

    Certainly a lot of firsts in that race:

    1. Nico Rosberg's debut

    2. First time we had the Q1, Q2, Q3 qualifying(though in '06 they were still doing fuel burning).

    3. First appearance of the Button-Barrichello partnership at Honda.

    And it was the first race of the season that year. Though if anyone does follow the link to my old report, please disregard my '06 cynicism concerning the race - Bahrain has since proved to be awesome! :)

  • Comment number 20.


    This isn't relevant really to this blog, but I'm wondering why the BBC are not showing an Ayrton Senna documentary next weekend to commemorate the 15th Anniversary of his death?

    I know the BBC showed several Senna documentaries in 1994 and 1995, and I don't think it would have hurt showing a documetary next Saturday @ 19:00 on BBC Four.


  • Comment number 21.

    BBC have produced some wonderful documentaries on Senna. I've got one recorded in late 1994/early 1995 presented by Steve Rider walking down the Imola track in the winter with very sad music which makes me teary every time.

    Can Andrew tell us why these were not on the red button this last week? Or was it that I just couldn't find it surrounded by all that snooker!


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