Alonso vs Schumacher: The final chapter

Michael Schumacher & Fernando Alonso, Barcelona, 2003Tomorrow will see the final battle between Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher – the two great drivers of Formula One today.

With a fired-up Schumacher starting tenth and a conservatively-minded Alonso fourth the two must surely cross paths at some point during the Brazilian Grand Prix.

It’s a terrible pity that this intense rivaly is being cut short just as it was starting to develop real edge and toughness. Let’s look back at how their rivalry developed through the past few years.

2003 Spanish Grand Prix, Barcelona

Spanish Grand Prix, Barcelona, fans, 2003Schumacher first faced down Alonso during the year of his sixth championship title. At the Spanish Grand Prix the first signs of ‘Alonso-mania’ were present and the Spaniard charged after Schumacher, who was wielding the new Ferrari F2003-GA.

Alonso’s trademark unrelenting paced forced Schumacher to press ahead all race long, and without the defensive actions of Schumacher’s team mate Rubens Barrichello in the opening stint, plus a delay behind the younger Schumacher later on, Alonso would have run the German much closer.

2003 British Grand Prix, Silverstone

Jarno Trulli, Renault, Silverstone, 2003The two crossed swords briefly again at Silverstone. After the event all the talk was about the frantic race, won by Rubens Barrichello, and the track invasion by a crazed priest.

But Alonso’s seethed at Schumacher’s move on the opening lap, when he lurched across the Hangar straight, driving the Spaniard onto the grass at 200 mph.

2004 French Grand Prix, Magny-Cours

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari, Magny-Cours, pits, 2004Ferrari’s dominance in 2004 was so great that other teams rarely got a look in. But Alonso came closer than most at Magny-Cours, when his surprising race pace drove Ferrari to new levels of inventiveness – four pit stops for fuel.

It saved Schumacher from having to make a pass on the circuit – but next time the two met Schumacher wouldn’t have that option available.

2005 San Marino Grand Prix, Imola

2005 would not be a good year for Ferrari. But when they turned up at the fourth round of the season with a super-quick Bridgestone tyre their hopes were high. But a mistake by Schumacher in qualifying left him thirteenth on the grid.

On race day Alonso seized the lead but high tyre wear left him a sitting duck to the charging Ferrari. But even with Schumacher able to lap two seconds quicker, Alonso kept him at sword’s length. It was the first time the young gun had put one over the old master.

2005 Japanese Grand Prix, Suzuka

Fernando Alonso, Renault, Suzuka, 2005Schumacher had no pace to challenge Alonso in the epic 2005 Japanese Grand Prix. But that didn’t mean he would make it easy when the Renault driver came up to pass him.

But that didn’t faze Alonso, who lined Schumacher up on the exit of the Spoon curve, and blasted past around the outside of the 180mph 130R corner, as if his rival were a mere backmarker.

2006 Bahrain Grand Prix, Bahrain

Fernando Alonso, Michael Schumacher, Bahrain, 2006The first race of 2006 hinted that the fight between the two would be closer than ever – in what would turn out to be their final year as enemies.

Schumacher took the pole and led but Alonso prised Felipe Massa out of second place and scraped ahead of the Ferrari leader through the pit stops. It was game on.

2006 San Marino Grand Prix, Imola

Michael Schumacher & Fernando Alonso, Imola, 2006Schumacher took revenge for the previous year’s beating at the San Marino Grand Prix. This time Alonso had looked faster and caught the Ferrari, but a questinable pit stop strategy brought him in for fuel before Schumacher.

It sealed a home win for the Scuderia.

2006 Monaco Grand Prix, Monte-Carlo

In the dying moments of qualifying Schumacher held pole position but knew that his second effort would not improve on it – and that Alonso probably had a better lap in the bag.

At Rascasse Schumacher ran wide and brought his Ferrari to a halt, provoking yellow flags and spoiling the laps of every pursuing driver – including Alonso. While Ferrari vehemently defended the move, insisting it was an honest error, everyone else cried foul. The stewards agreed, sending Schumacher to the back of the field.

2006 Turkish Grand Prix, Istanbul

Fernando Alonso, Michael Schumacher, Istanbul, 2006In an oddly uneven performance Schumacher fell behind Alonso through a combination of mistakes and misfortune: He foulled up in qualifying, then lost out thanks to an early safety car, and later ran wide at turn eight.

It allowed Alonso to capitalise and take second (behind Massa) on a day when Schumacher should have won easily.

2006 Italian Grand Prix, Monza

Although the two never crossed paths on the track in Monza it was a defining point in their rivalry. Alonso was given a ludicrous penalty in qualifying for allegedly impeding Massa. A furious Alonso denounced the move, insisting that he felt F1 was “no longer a sport”.

In the race he battled valiantly to third place before an engine failure robbed him of six valuable points. Meanwhile Schumacher romped home and announced his retirement.

2006 Chinese Grand Prix, Shanghai

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari, Shanghai, 2006Schumacher had worked wonders in qualifying to take sixth on the grid in wet conditions where Michelin excelled. But as the race started and Alonso pulled away, he could never have though he would win it.

But when Alonso was forced to change his intermediate tyres and found he couldn’t get their replacements back up to temperature, Schumacher was back in the hunt. He took the lead and a fumbled pit stop put Alonso even further back.

Alonso scorched through to reel Schumacher in, but ran out of laps to overhaul his rival. Schumacher’s win tied the championship with two rounds remaining.

2006 Japanese Grand Prix, Suzuka

Fernando Alonso, Renault, Suzuka, 2006Schumacher led and Alonso rose from fifth to second, passing the Toyotas and Massa on the way. He matched Schumacher’s pace but was struggling to haul him in – until the Ferrari’s engine unexpectedly failed.

It was a rare retirement for Schumacher, which swung the title battle firmly in Alonso’s favour.

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