Analysis: Pretender Beats Old Master

Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher, separated by more than a decade in age but next to nothing on the track, gave Formula One a battle to remember on Sunday

Analysis: Pretender Beats Old Master

The last 10 laps of the San Marino Grand Prix were a glorious duel, a clash of the generations with 23-year-old Spanish heir apparent Alonso holding his nerve against the most successful champion of them all.

Schumacher was the faster, revelling in his new Ferrari's pace after three fraught races with little gain and plenty of pain.

Yet it was the Spaniard, nursing the engine of his Renault after winning with it in Bahrain three weeks ago, who defended his advantage all the way to the chequered flag and his third victory in succession.

"I think this is the best of the three," he said.

Renault won their fourth race in a row but nobody leaving Imola, Ferrari's home circuit, on Sunday could doubt that the battle lines were drawn for what promises to be a thrillingly competitive season.

Schumacher, with 83 wins to his credit in 216 races, had to admit that sometimes finishing second can be just as exciting as winning.

"I enjoyed it a lot, it was one of the good ones," declared the seven-times World Champion, at 36 the oldest man on the racetrack. "It's not always that you need to win a race to enjoy a race."

The German's first podium of the season was also his 100th for Ferrari and he could not have hoped for it before the start, when he was 13th on the grid after an error in final qualifying.

"I'm happy in one way for the race but naturally disappointed about what happened to me this morning," he said.

"If you think about what would have happened if (this morning's mistake) hadn't happened then, well...it would have been the perfect day for us.

"Everybody has worked extremely hard and this is the payback. Everyone has done a great job to show that people should think of us. We're still there and we'll continue to be there."

Breathtaking Speed

Schumacher's speed after the second pitstop proved breathtaking.

"The pace of Michael was staggering," said BAR's Jenson Button, who finished third and was overtaken by Schumacher. "It was just a staggering performance."

If Schumacher had the speed, Alonso had the lead and he was not letting go.

"It was difficult but at the end I managed to be first. Obviously Michael was much quicker than me, he was more than one second quicker and I knew that," said Alonso.

The Spaniard, who started on the front row of the grid but was trailing McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen before the Finn came to a halt on lap nine, played a strategic game.

He slowed in the turns before corners with overtaking opportunities to deny the champion the chance of gaining the momentum.

"There were two moments when we were very close but I think everything was under control, my engineers were probably more excited than I was in the car," he said.

While the Ferrari had a new engine, Alonso's Renault had already completed a race distance. That made for a nail-biting time on the team pit wall.

"From Friday we knew that maybe we had some problems in the car with the engine so we limited the laps on Friday and on Saturday morning a lot," he said.

"That cost me time in qualifying one because it was my third timed lap of the day. In the race we were running very low revs and trying to finish."

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