Alonso retains F1 title after Schumacher has tire trouble; Massa wins race

Monday, October 23rd 2006, 8:56 am
By: News On 6

SAO PAULO, Brazil (AP)_ Fernando Alonso was virtually assured of his second straight Formula One championship barely 15 minutes into the Brazilian Grand Prix.

That's when his team was asking him to turn down the power of his engine after his only rival for the world title, Michael Schumacher, punctured a tire and dropped to last in his final race.

Alonso retained the championship Sunday when he was second to Felipe Massa in the season finale.

``The important thing today was to become champion again for the second time and we did it,'' Alonso said. ``Yes, it has been a fantastic weekend, especially the race.''

Schumacher, a seven-time F1 champion, needed to win his final race before retirement to preserve his remote chance of another title. But the German punctured a tire less than 10 laps in, dropped out of contention, and drove well to salvage fourth.

``I have been told my tire was cut but I didn't feel any contact. The only thing I really felt was my tire was done,'' Schumacher said.

Alonso heard about it from his team.

``Well, first of all they told me to drop the revs,'' he said ``Then they said he was back in 19th.''

Massa, Schumacher's Ferrari teammate, won the race from the pole before an adoring home crowd at the Interlagos circuit. His second career victory was also the first by a Brazilian here since Ayrton Senna in 1993.

``I think it is a dream come true. I always dream to have this day,'' Massa said. ``And I got it.

``It was the easiest race of my life since I have such an incredible car.''

Honda's Jenson Button was third.

As soon as Alonso crossed the finish line, the Spaniard thanked his crew over the radio in both French and English _ Renault's engines are built in France and the team is based in Britain. He helped Renault clinch the constructors' title in his final race for the team; he is joining McLaren next year.

``Thank you, thank you,'' Alonso said. ``Both championships again. It's been a pleasure for me. I wish you the best.''

Alonso became F1's youngest world champion at last year's Brazilian GP, and the 25-year-old continued to praise Renault, which gave him a start as a test driver in 2002.

``We grew up together and we won two consecutive championships. It will be difficult to forget the years I did with Renault.''

He said he had bad luck when he went out of two races, the Hungarian and Italian GPs, and squandered a 25-point lead in midseason. Schumacher tied Alonso in the standings after winning the Chinese GP on Oct. 1, but Alonso replied by winning the following Japanese GP to all but clinch the title. He topped Schumacher by 134 to 121.

``I was convinced (we would) win. I had no doubts in these couple of weeks,'' Alonso said. ``We deserved the championship.''

In Spain, a crowd of 6,000 poured into the streets of Oviedo, his hometown. People danced in the Plaza de America square and splashed in a fountain, Oviedo's traditional gathering place for triumphant sports moments. Many fans, wearing the blue-and-yellow colors of Renault, chanted, ``Champion Alonso.''

``Alonso's heroic deed will be bigger with the years to come,'' said Jaime Lissavetsky, Spain's sports minister.

Schumacher's race troubles made life easier for Alonso, who needed to finish eighth or better to secure the championship. He started in fourth place but moved up to second halfway through the 71-lap race.

Schumacher jumped from 10th to seventh on the first lap, and had just moved into sixth when his left-rear tire blew entering the ninth lap, and shattered his chances of victory.

He returned to the track in 18th place, more than a minute behind race leader Massa and out of contention with the race barely 15 minutes old.

Schumacher accepted his fate as soon as the incident occurred. ``This is part of racing, too,'' he said.

Schumacher also had thanks for his fans.

``In all the beautiful moments and the bad moments they always supported me,'' he said.

The 2007 season-opener, the Australian GP on March 18, will mark the first F1 season without Schumacher since 1991.