What a difference one pitstop makes. Or, at least, what a difference the lack of one pitstop can make. For the first two stints of Sunday's French Grand Prix, it looked like Renault's and Michelin's woes at Indianapolis wouldn't just be a one-off after all, and that the 2006 championships may yet be far from settled.
Despite an aggressive but futile first-lap effort to get past Ferrari's Felipe Massa from the second row of the grid, it soon became obvious that not only could Renault's Fernando Alonso not stay with Felipe Massa - he was also struggling to put daylight between himself and the next-best Bridgestone runner, Toyota's Jarno Trulli.
Felipe Massa (Ferrari) holds off Fernando Alonso (Renault) for 2nd place on the opening lap of the French GP at Magny Cours © LAT
On Sunday, Alonso had opened a three-second gap to fourth-placed Trulli after just a few laps. In any other GP in 2006, it would have been unthinkable for Trulli, often lambasted as a 'moving chicane' when he qualifies well, to keep within sight of the runaway championship leader. Yet, when Alonso pulled into the pits at the end of his first stint on lap 17, his advantage over Trulli still stood at a fraction over three seconds.
As Trulli continued on for another three laps before pitting, the previously unthinkable started to materialise into a distinct possibility. Could Alonso, who had already seemed to surrender the race to the Ferrari pair, end up succumbing to Trulli, Toyota teammate Ralf Schumacher and possibly Kimi Raikkonen's McLaren as well?