Michael Schumacher ended eighteen months of living in Fernando Alonso’s shadow with his first Grand Prix win against a full grid since Suzuka 2004. The trademark leap of joy, and this time relief, at the summit of Imola podium marked a return to form for the German following a narrow win at Ferrari’s favoured hunting ground. Victory ensured Ferrari is still intent of having a say in the outcome of this years Championship.
Having already secured the record for pole positions in Saturday’s qualifying, Schumacher set about extending his own record for number of wins. The sixty-sixth pole of his career, dethroning Ayrton Senna of this honour coincidently on the track which claimed his life, placed Schumacher in ideal position to close the gap on Alonso’s impressive points total.
Schumacher took full advantage to create a lead over the again-disappointing Jenson Button. In a race that was interesting rather than thrilling, all momentum hinged on the second round of pit-stops. Schumacher’s car became sluggish after the initial round of stops whereas Alonso and the McLaren’s found the extra pace to mount a challenge.
Button’s race was effectively ended with a pit-lane fiasco that left a severed fuel nozzle lodged in the side of the Honda, pit-crew dragged to the floor in a carnage of fuel hose, and a lollipop broken over the head of the embarrassed driver.
Alonso ran Schumacher close for the second half of the race, biding his time whilst reserving extra impetus for the final few laps. However, a couple of widely-run corners ensured that Schumacher returned to the podium position that appears so natural to him for the first time since Indianapolis last year; and first time since Suzuka against the Michelin-based teams.
Doubts will remain as to whether this really be the re-birth of Ferrari as genuine title contenders or if this is merely a peak in the poor consistency that Ferrari suffered last year.
Imola, a track notorious for its lack of overtaking opportunities – only slightly more manoeuvrable than the procession of Monaco – has always been a Ferrari favourite. If Ferrari were unable to win at their local circuit, and one of such tradition for the prancing horse, then how could they expect to succeed at other Michelin-favoured tracks? Fortunately for the Italians, they survived to clinch a much-needed victory.
Last year Alonso was the main beneficiary of his own consistency; or the lack of others. Either way, Ferrari needs to prove their undoubted ability consistently and not let this triumph become another false dawn. For now though, Ferrari and Schumacher can bask in the glory of a hard-fought victory, it’s been long overdue.