The 2006 Formula One season came down to a nail-biting final race in Sao Paulo, Brazil today, as hometown hero Felipe Massa sailed to the checkered flag and reigning champion Fernando Alonso claimed his second consecutive title with a comfortable second place podium finish.
Despite having dominated in the practice sessions on Friday and Saturday, retiring legend Michael Schumacher had to start the race from tenth position, as his team-mate Felipe started from pole. Things then went further downhill for Michael as he blew out a tire and limped back to the pits, then got back out on the course to fight all the way up to fourth place from twentieth. Renault reduced the revs on Alonso's car after Schumacher's blow-out to ensure he would finish in the points and secure the championship (Michael would have had to have won the race and Alonso to have earned no points for the German to win the title over the Spaniard). A smiling Jenson Button took third place on the podium.
With a Ferrari 1-4 and a Renault 2-6, the French team also secured the constructor's championship. That didn't seem to upset Massa too much, though, as the jubilant driver – wearing a special racing suit in his national colors – became the first Brazilian driver to win the Brazilian Grand Prix since Ayrton Senna. Felipe described the victory as the happiest day of his life.
Next season will see Massa stay with Ferrari to be joined by Kimi Raikkonen, whose place at McLaren will be taken by the champion Alonso, as Michael Schumacher retires after narrowly missing the shot at his eighth world championship. This was one of the most exciting seasons in recent history, and while Michael will be missed, the next should be even more gripping as the sport steps out from under the dominant figure's shadow.