Schumacher races to French victory


Formula One: Michael Schumacher bolstered his world championship ambitions with a dominant victory in the French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours today.

The Ferrari driver disappointed a capacity 84,000 crowd on Renault's home turf with a masterful display, controlling the race from pole position.

Schumacher took the flag 10.1 seconds clear to become the first driver to win a grand prix eight times and further trim Fernando Alonso's championship lead.

The Renault driver needed a clever pit stop strategy to pip Schumacher's Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa to second.

He opted for two stops to Ferrari's three and cashed in late on by edging ahead of Massa and limiting the damage to his championship lead, which stands at 17.

Massa drove a solid race, holding Alonso at bay before eventually settling for a third place which moves Ferrari within 21 points of Renault in the constructors' championship.

Well behind the top-three scrap, Ralf Schumacher continued Toyota's resurgence with a superb fourth place after holding off a late charge from McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen in fifth.

Giancarlo Fisichella was sixth in the other Renault with Pedro de la Rosa scoring seventh in his first McLaren race for over a year. Nick Heidfeld was eighth for BMW-Sauber.

Jenson Button suffered another race to forget after struggling to overcome his qualifying disaster.

The Honda driver started down in 18th but was unable to make up much ground and retired on lap 62, making it five races in succession without a point. David Coulthard was ninth for Red Bull after losing ground at the start, which saw Massa bravely fight off Alonso as Schumacher scampered into the distance.

Massa held firm despite two lunges from Alonso, giving Schumacher the chance to make his escape and establish a five-second lead within 10 laps.

By the first stops, Schumacher had stretched that further and both Ferraris were able to pit without losing a place to Alonso.

Massa's predecessor at Ferrari, Rubens Barrichello, was enduring a torrid race which ended on lap 20 when his Honda expired.

Honda's bitter rivals Toyota translated their fine qualifying form into race pace and briefly ran one-two due to late pit stops.

Jarno Trulli's went smoothly but Ralf Schumacher suffered a stuck wheel nut and lost time. Trulli did lose a place soon after though when Raikkonen took fourth on lap 27.

However, he was denied more points on lap 40 when he suffered a problem immediately after his second pit stop and retired.

Two laps later Alonso made his second stop later than the Ferraris and dropped to third, although unlike Schumacher and Massa he had enough fuel to reach the end.

When Schumacher and Massa pitted for the final time on lap 53 and 55 respectively, Alonso crept up to second but he was too far adrift of Schumacher, who cruised to the flag.

Race Result:

1.  Michael Schumacher (Germany)- Ferrari - 01:23.592
2.  Fernando Alonso (Spain) - Renault - +00:10.131
3.  Felipe Massa (Brazil)- Ferrari - 00:22.546
4.  Ralf Schumacher (Germany)- Toyota - 00:27.212
5.  Kimi Raikkonen (Finland)- McLaren- 00:33.006
6.  Giancarlo Fisichella (Italy)- Renault - 00:45.265
7.  Pedro de la Rosa (Spain)- McLaren - 00:49.407
8.  Nick Heidfeld (Germany)- BMW Sauber - 1 lap
9.  David Coulthard (Britain)- RedBull - Ferrari - 1 lap
10.  Scott Speed (U.S.)- Toro Rosso - Cosworth- 1 lap
11.  Jacques Villeneuve (Canada)- BMW Sauber- 1 lap
12.  Christian Klien (Austria)- RedBull - Ferrari - 1 lap
13.  Vitantonio Liuzzi (Italy)- Toro Rosso - Cosworth - 1 lap
14.  Nico Rosberg (Germany) - Williams - Cosworth- 2 laps
15.  Christijan Albers (Netherlands) - MF1 - Toyota - 2 laps
16.  Franck Montagny (France) - Super Aguri - Honda - 3 laps

r.   Jenson Button (Britain)- Honda -  9 laps
r.   Mark Webber (Australia) - Williams - Cosworth - 17 laps
r.   Jarno Trulli (Italy) - Toyota - 31 laps
r.   Rubens Barrichello (Brazil)- Honda - 52 laps
r.   Tiago Monteiro (Portugal)- MF1 - Toyota - 59 laps
r.   Takuma Sato (Japan)- Super Aguri - Honda- 69 laps

(rank: r = retired, nc = not classified)           

Fastest Lap: Michael Schumacher, 1:17.111