Alonso's perfect drive reasserts title supremacy

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The Independent Online

"I am very proud to win here today, for the team for Renault, for Michelin who have had a difficult time in the last two weeks, and for all the fans who came to support us," the Spaniard said. "The race was quite easy; I pushed until the first pit stops, and then controlled the gap, only making small adjustments to the car."

It was a surgical dissection of the anatomy of a grand prix victory, a textbook performance that demonstrated that Renault have moved forwards again. Alonso did not set the fastest lap, but he came mighty close.

The man who did finished second after starting 13th: Kimi Raikkonen. The Finn needs to keep beating Alonso if he is to overcome the Spaniard's 24-point advantage, but the moment his McLaren-Mercedes digested its engine on Friday afternoon, saddling him with a 10-grid place penalty, Raikkonen and his team were obliged to hit damage-limitation mode. He qualified with a hefty fuel load, and having reached 11th place at the end of the opening lap, Raikkonen climbed to second by the 26th lap by running longer than everyone else.

Alonso stopped three times, on laps 20, 41 and 58, never losing his lead, but when his team-mate Juan Pablo Montoya pitted for fuel on lap 25, Raikkonen moved up and emerged from the pits still ahead of the Colombian after finally refuelling on lap 28. There was never going to be anything he could do about Alonso after starting so far back, but he set the fastest lap and ultimately finished 11.8sec adrift after a superb team effort.

Montoya should have joined him on the podium, but after fighting off a challenge from Michael Schumacher, a hydraulic problem slowed his McLaren after 42 laps. "I was really enjoying this race," he said glumly as his wretched luck continued. "We were on the right strategy and the car is simply unbelievable, which makes it even harder to retire. I was on a different tyre to Kimi so it took a bit longer to get them warm, but I think that could have paid off towards the end of the race."

As Montoya pulled off the track on lap 46, Michael Schumacher swept gratefully by to inherit a distant third place. "I think that was the best I could have done today," the champion admitted. "It is true that I lost a lot of time stuck behind [Jarno] Trulli for 18 laps and that meant that Montoya got past me. Without that delay, our strategy might have put me ahead of Kimi. This race was all about different drivers on different strategies, but today we did not quite match the pace of the leaders."

Jenson Button had a relatively quiet race, always running in the thick of the midfield battle without standing out, but was delighted to score his and BAR-Honda's first official points of the season. "It's great finally to get some on board after such a difficult first half of the season," he admitted. "This is a great result for the team and things can only get better for us during the rest of the year. It's also a real boost as we prepare for our home grand prix at Silverstone."

For Alonso it was a perfect day, his 10-point haul extending his championship lead to 24 over Raikkonen, and 29 over Michael Schumacher.

This was probably the least dramatic race of the season, but it gave the partisan crowd exactly what they came for. It also gave Michelin a boost. "This was a brilliant result at the end of 10 turbulent days," said the company's Formula One director, Nick Shorrock.

After the acrimony of Indianapolis, Formula One got itself back on track in France, but storm clouds remain on the horizon. There is deep unrest in the Grand Prix Drivers' Association as a result of FIA president Max Mosley's alleged displeasure at the statement that 19 drivers signed last week. This was used in support of the Michelin teams' stance against a speed limit at Indianapolis and their wish for a chicane, when they appeared before the World Motor Sport Council in Paris last Wednesday.

At one point yesterday everyone was on alert for a statement about the conversations which took place between Mosley and the GPDA chairman, David Coulthard, as 60 per cent of the latter's members were in favour of complete transparency about the exchanges. But the best evidence suggests that, while the Scot admitted that several drivers had serious concerns about the content and nature of the conversations, all parties were better off washing any soiled linen in private. Accordingly, a meeting between GPDA representatives and the FIA president has been arranged for later this week.