Alonso holds off Schumacher in race of drama

"At the beginning of the season the Canadian Grand Prix was on my 'to do' list, Fernando Alonso admitted, and yesterday, just as he had done in Spain, Monte Carlo and England, he put a big red tick against another major race. His fourth victory on the trot - and his sixth in another runaway season, further extended his lead over arch-rival Michael Schumacher in the fight to retain his crown.

Behind him, a lousy day in the pits kept Kimi Raikkonen on his toes on an afternoon when McLaren-McLaren looked likely to repeat their 2005 triumph, and as Schumacher did everything he could to exploit his misfortune.

It did not take long for drama to unfold. It began when the rookie Nico Rosberg, fighting to maintain fifth place under pressure from Juan Pablo Montoya, missed his braking for the final corner and ran over the run-off area at the end of the opening lap. As he lost momentum, Montoya hounded him until Turn 4, where they touched, the German spinning his Williams into the wall. Meanwhile, Tiago Monteiro had spun his Midland-F1 further round the lap, at the hairpin, after colliding with team-mate Christijan Albers. Out came the safety car for two laps as Rosberg's car was craned away.

On the restart Alonso sped away again with Raikkonen in pursuit. Having jumped the original start and then lifted off, Giancarlo Fisichella had dropped back to third and was soon handed a drive-through penalty which he took on the seventh lap, dropping only to fifth behind Jarno Trulli and Michael Schumacher. Soon he was threatening both.

Up the road, Raikkonen entertained similar ideas with Alonso, and on the 11th lap the two of them went side-by-side down to the last corner. The Spaniard kept his nerve and his lead, but though he then pulled out a small lead he was the first to pit for fuel, on the 23rd lap. It was thus clear that McLaren were genuine challengers for victory, especially as Raikkonen did not stop until lap 25. Alas, there was a problem with his right rear wheel, and any hope he had of taking the lead evaporated. For the time being, Alonso was safe.

For a while Schumacher kept them company, not stopping until the 32nd lap as Ferrari pursued a different strategy. It was clear the fight for the lead was between the Renault and the McLaren at this stage, but they had another stop to come, whereas Ferrari did not. The real battle, for Raikkonen at any rate, lay ahead.

Throughout the second phase of the race Alonso had complete control, maintaining his lead between seven and nine seconds. Schumacher was still 23 seconds behind the Finn, but lapping at the same pace as the leaders.

The key pit stops enlivened an otherwise dull affair when Alonso came in on lap 50, losing the lead to Raikkonen but staying well clear of Schumacher. The real debate was whether the German could jump the Finn for second place. He duly stopped on the 53rd lap, and yet again there was drama, this time as his Mercedes engine stalled, In a nailbiter, he just got out of the lengthy pit lane exit ahead of the Ferrari, setting up a cliff-hanging ending. The German sensationally found the pace to sneak past Raikkonen on lap 69 - but by then Alonso was already well on his way to victory.

It was another miserable outing for Jenson Button' Honda. After running in the top six early on, he fell victim to the single-stop strategies of Ferrari and Sauber-BMW, and finished a lap down in ninth place, out of the points.

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