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Alonso wins Japanese Grand Prix after Schumacher drops out

Fernando Alonso's victory at the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday, after race leader Michael Schumacher dropped out with engine failure, means the 2006 Formula One Drivers' Championship remains undecided going into the final round of the championship.

Alonso, who had seen his championship lead whittled down by Ferrari and Schumacher, emerged from the penultimate round of the 2006 championship with a renewed lead over Schumacher, who has announced his retirement after the end of the season. Ferrari's Felipe Massa, the race polesitter, claimed second place.

With the 2006 season coming down to the wire, the Formula One world came to one of the drivers' favourite circuits - the Japanese circuit of Suzuka. The fight for the Drivers' Championship was deadlocked between Schumacher and Alonso. Schumacher's surging performances in the second half of the season, culminating with last Sunday's victory in Shanghai, had overhauled Alonso's early championship lead.

The teams were faced with blustery, rainy conditions for Friday practice but the rain stopped in time for Saturday qualifying. For the Shell V-Power-fuelled Scuderia Ferrari, it would be another stellar result, their fifth all-Ferrari front row of the season. Massa claimed pole position with his seven-time World Champion team mate alongside in P2.

With Schumacher's fight with Alonso for the championship in the spotlight, fans were expecting a real battle between the two drivers. Separating the front-row Ferraris from the Renaults were the two Toyotas of Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli. Alonso started on the third row of the grid, taking fifth position alongside team mate Giancarlo Fisichella.

A crowd of 160,000 fans watched the start of the race, which saw Massa and Schumacher start well, Massa leading the first two laps before Schumacher took the lead at the end of the second lap with a pass on the start-finish straight. Alonso got up to fourth in the start, passing Trulli.

Schumacher made his first pit stop on lap 18, having stretched his load of Shell V-Power a few laps longer than Alonso. He returned to the circuit after an 8.9-second stop, maintaining a 5.4-second lead over Alonso, who had passed Ralf Schumacher on lap 13, and Massa, who emerged from the first round of pit stops in P3.

Schumacher kept his lead through the second round of pit stops but his car began to smoke on lap 37 and Schumacher withdrew from the race with engine failure. Alonso inherited the lead with Massa in second position. The pair would finish the race in those positions with Renault's Fisichella claiming the final spot on the podium.

Shell Motorsport Technical Manager Mike Copson commented: 'Our technical partnership means we're with Ferrari in the good times and the bad and today is an illustration of that with Felipe's podium finish and Michael's disappointing retirement.'

Honda's Jenson Button, McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen, Trulli, Ralf Schumacher and BMW-Sauber's Nick Heidfeld rounded out the points positions.

Alonso now leads the Drivers' Championship with 126 points to Schumacher's 116. Renault leads the Constructors' Championship by 9 points over Ferrari.

The final race of the 2006 Formula One World Championship season is the Brazilian Grand Prix, Sunday, October 22 at the Interlagos circuit in São Paulo.