Michael Schumacher's 90th grand prix victory here yesterday proved a bittersweet affair. It began tarnished by the controversy that saw title rival Fernando Alonso relegated from fifth to 10th place on the grid, ended with the win and only a two-point gap to the Spaniard, and finally concluded with the long-awaited confirmation of his imminent retirement and the signing of Kimi Raikkonen to take his place.
On the track, Schumacher had a relatively easy time. Raikkonen led for the first 15 laps before refuelling his McLaren, but the two extra laps Schumacher was able to run proved decisive and thereafter he ran away and hid.
By contrast, the day was a disaster for Alonso. The interpretation of the rule about blocking other drivers in qualifying was widely regarded as grossly unfair, as he had had no intention of holding up Ferrari's Felipe Massa as he strove to make up on Saturday afternoon for the ill fortune of a puncture. ITV's Martin Brundle proved outspoken in sympathising with the Spaniard, who explained: "I tried my best for my championship fight and for all the fans who came here today like they do in Spain. I am a sportsman and I never deliberately blocked anyone. I don't consider any more that Formula One is a sport."
Not content with that, Brundle tackled Max Mosley, the president of the sports ruling body, the FIA, at one stage disagreeing with his opinion and reminding him trenchantly that he had a rather better idea of things, having competed in 158 grands prix. When Mosley offered further rebuttal, Brundle summarised the feelings of many by turning his back and rushing away with a terse, "Thank you for your opinion."
The sour taste in Alonso's mouth got worse when, just as he seemed poised for a podium finish to safeguard his points lead, his engine exploded on the 44th lap. The place finally went to Polish rookie Robert Kubica after a superb performance for Sauber-BMW. The day, however, belonged to Schumacher, and there were emotional scenes on the podium as he was feted by the adoring tifosi.
"It was pretty emotional on the in lap after the race, informing everybody of my decision," Schumacher admitted, apparently in control of his emotions but every now and then betraying himself as his voice became shaky. "That, and being on the podium, knowing it was the last opportunity here with such a crowd. They gave me so much in terms of their feelings to me. Monza is just unbelievable. It has always been very special, particularly after a race when all the fans are around. Due to the nature of the circumstances, it was an unbelievable feeling.
"This is a very special day, and it is great to finish this in this style. All the fans and motor sport-interested people had a right to be told what's going to happen. I'm sorry it took longer than you would have wanted. But this is the right moment. It's been an exceptional time, what motor sport in more than 30 years has given to me. I have really loved every single moment, the good and the bad ones, they are what make life so special.
"I particularly want to thanks my family, starting with my dad and my passed away mum, my wife and my kids, who at all times supported what I was doing. Without their strength, to survive in this business would have been impossible. And to all my mates in the Benetton time, and in the Ferrari days, when I made so many friends, met so many great guys. It was really tough to decide to not work at this level again with all of them. But one day it has to come, and I felt that this is the moment."
Thus the curtain came down on an extraordinary day and an extraordinary career, charged with emotion good and bad. A day on which the sport's management again did themselves no favours, but one of its most controversial figures took a final European bow with becoming grace.
* Renault chief Flavio Briatore last night distanced himself from remarks that the title race had been fixed in Schumacher's favour. "This is a world championship which has been decided at the table. They have decided to give the championship to Schumacher," Briatore had said to Italian TV, but last night he claimed a "jokey remark has been turned into something it was not intended to be".
Result: 1 M Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari 1hr 14min 51.975sec; 2 K Raikkonen (Fin) McLaren-Mercedes 1:15:00.021; 3 R Kubica (Pol) BMW-Sauber 1:15:18.389; 4 G Fisichella (It) Renault 1:15:24.020; 5 J Button (GB) Honda 1:15:24.660; 6 R Barrichello (Br) Honda 1:15:34.384; 7 J Trulli (It) Toyota 1:15:36.637; 8 N Heidfeld (Ger) BMW-Sauber 1:15:37.284; 9 F Massa (Br) Ferrari 1:15:37.930; 10 M Webber (Aus) Williams-Cosworth 1:16:04.577; 11 C Klien (Aut) Red Bull-Ferrari + 1 lap; 12 D Coulthard (GB) Red Bull-Ferrari + 1 lap; 13 S Speed (US) Toro Rosso-Cosworth + 1 lap; 14 V Liuzzi (It) Toro Rosso-Cosworth + 1 lap; 15 R Schumacher (Ger) Toyota + 1 lap; 16 T Sato (Japan) Super Aguri-Honda + 2 laps; 17 C Albers (Neth) Midland-Toyota + 2 laps. Not classified: 18 T Monteiro (Por) Midland-Toyota 44 laps completed; 19 F Alonso (Sp) Renault 43 laps; 20 P de la Rosa (Sp) McLaren-Mercedes 20 laps; 21 S Yamamoto (Japan) Super Aguri-Honda 18 laps; 22 N Rosberg (Ger) Williams-Cosworth 9 laps.
Fastest lap: Raikkonen 1min 22.559sec.
Championship standings: Drivers: 1 Alonso 108pts; 2 M Schumacher 106; 3 Massa 62; 4 Raikkonen 57; 5 Fisichella 57; 6 Button 40; 7 Juan Montoya (Col) 26; 8 Barrichello 25; 9 Heidfeld 20; 10 R Schumacher 18; 11 De la Rosa 14; 12 Coulthard 14; 13 Trulli 12; 14 J Villeneuve (Can) 7; 15 Kubica 6; 16 Webber 6; 17 Rosberg 4; 18 Klien 2; 19 Liuzzi 1.
Constructors: 1 Ferrari 168pts; 2 Renault 165; 3 McLaren 97; 4 Honda 65; 5 BMW Sauber 33; 6 Toyota 30; 7 Red Bull 16; 8 Williams 10; 9 Toro Rosso 1.Reuse content