Michael Schumacher maintained his mid-season revival in the Formula One world championship when he drove his Ferrari to a polished victory in Sunday's French Grand Prix.
The 37-year-old German, seven-time drivers' world champion, drove a faultless race from pole position to the chequered flag to finish ahead of defending champion Fernando Alonso in a Renault.
Schumacher won by 10.1 seconds and his win cut Alonso's advantage in this year's title race from 19 points to 17. It was Schumacher's second win in succession.
Schumacher's Ferrari teammate Brazilian Felipe Massa finished third ahead of German Ralf Schumacher in a Toyota, Finland's Kimi Raikkonen in a McLaren Mercedes-Benz and Italian Giancarlo Fisichella in the second Renault. Pedro de la Rosa and Nick Heidfeld completed the point-scoring positions.
It was Schumacher's eighth victory in the French Grand Prix, the 88th of his career and his fourth win in 11 races this year.
On another day of stifling heat, with the air temperature rising to 35 degrees Celsius and the track temperature to 54, the big sellout 84,000 crowd, many decked out in the blue and yellow colours of Renault, Schumacher made a clean start from the record 68th pole position of his career.
His Ferrari teammate Massa pulled away behind him, but had to resist an attack from Alonso as they ran into the first corner and again during the opening lap. But the Brazilian hung on to second place to provide a crucial defensive cushion for the 'red baron' as he pulled away at the front.
Schumacher reeled off several fastest laps as Massa did a slowing job behind him, the German opening up a lead of more than six seconds before the first round of pitstops. In the train behind the leader, there were no changes from grid positions.
The spectators were kept alert thanks to the occasional attack by Mark Webber on Pedro de la Rosa, usually resisted easily.
Tiago Monteiro, driving a Midland, retired after hitting a kerb at the Nurburgring chicane, joining Takuma Sato, the Japanese who had abandoned the race at the start with his Super Aguri, in the list of non-runners. Before 20 of the 70 laps were up, Brazilian Rubens Barrichello was also out, retiring with some kind of mechanical problems.
The first pitstops shook up the field briefly and gave the two Toyota drivers Italian Jarno Trulli and German Ralf Schumacher opportunities to lead while waiting their turns to pit, after which Michael Schumacher was back in front.
This flurry of action was completed with Schumacher enjoying a six seconds lead ahead of his Ferrari teammate Massa with Alonso, in his Renault, third, a further five seconds adrift.
A problematic pitstop for Ralf Schumacher, as the Toyota team had difficulties with his left rear wheel, cost him 17 seconds and dropped him down the field to seventh.
Some cars were running on two-stop strategies, but the majority were on three stops', a situation that resulted at the half-way stage after 35 laps in Schumacher leading Alonso by 16 seconds, Massa having taken his second pit stop after 34 laps.
This changed again when Schumacher made his second stop after 38 laps and emerged in second place just half a second behind the Spaniard. A thrilling chase followed as they raced at close quarters, rushing past backmarkers and enlivened the crowd.
Australian Webber went off at the Imola chicane and damaged his car badly, limped back to the Williams pits and retired and then Trulli pulled in for his third stop and also abandoned the race. Webber rejoined the fray a few laps later.
Alonso led for four laps before he made his second stop after 42 laps, Schumacher regaining his lead ahead of Massa as Ferrari re-established their superiority at the front. Alonso rejoined third ahead of his Renault teammate Giancarlo Fisichella.
Schumacher set another fastest lap before he pitted for a third time, by when Massa had also pitted again and conceded second to Alonso, but the Spaniard was unable to make any real impression.
Schumacher's 22 seconds lead was trimmed to just 18.4 seconds by his third stop and with 12 laps remaining he looked to be comfortably in control as Alonso, on a two-stop strategy, settled for second in his wake.
PROVISIONAL RACE RESULTS The French Grand Prix Magny Cours, France; 70 laps; 308.586km; Weather: Sunny. Classified: Pos Driver Team Time 1. M.Schumacher Ferrari (B) 1h32:07.803 2. Alonso Renault (M) + 10.131 3. Massa Ferrari (B) + 22.546 4. R.Schumacher Toyota (B) + 27.212 5. Raikkonen McLaren-Mercedes (M) + 33.006 6. Fisichella Renault (M) + 45.265 7. de la Rosa McLaren-Mercedes (M) + 49.407 8. Heidfeld BMW-Sauber (M) + 1 lap 9. Coulthard Red Bull-Ferrari (M) + 1 lap 10. Speed Toro Rosso-Cosworth (M) + 1 lap 11. Villeneuve BMW-Sauber (M) + 1 lap 12. Klien Red Bull-Ferrari (M) + 1 lap 13. Liuzzi Toro Rosso-Cosworth (M) + 1 lap 14. Rosberg Williams-Cosworth (B) + 2 laps 15. Albers MF1-Toyota (B) + 2 laps 16. Montagny Super Aguri-Honda (B) + 3 laps Fastest lap: M.Schumacher, 1:17.111 Not classified/retirements: Driver Team On lap Button Honda (M) 63 Webber Williams-Cosworth (B) 55 Trulli Toyota (B) 41 Barrichello Honda (M) 19 Monteiro MF1-Toyota (B) 12 Sato Super Aguri-Honda (B) 1 World Championship standings, round 11: Drivers: Constructors: 1. Alonso 96 1. Renault 142 2. M.Schumacher 79 2. Ferrari 121 3. Fisichella 46 3. McLaren-Mercedes 71 4. Raikkonen 43 4. Honda 32 5. Massa 42 5. Toyota 21 6. Montoya 26 6. BMW-Sauber 20 7. Button 16 7. Red Bull-Ferrari 11 8. Barrichello 16 8. Williams-Cosworth 10 9. R.Schumacher 13 9. Toro Rosso-Cosworth 1 10. Heidfeld 13 11. Coulthard 10 12. Trulli 8 13. Villeneuve 7 14. Webber 6 15. Rosberg 4 16. de la Rosa 2 17. Klien 1 18. Liuzzi 1 All timing unofficial
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