Race analysis - Renault raise their game 17 Oct 2005
The Chinese Grand Prix went against the expectations of most, as Renault turned the tables on McLaren just when they needed to. It is difficult to know whether Kimi Raikkonen would have posed more of a threat had the two safety cars not intervened, but Fernando Alonso was 17.5s ahead of Giancarlo Fisichella when the first was deployed, so Renault more than anyone had a right to feel cheated.
Even McLaren personnel acknowledged that the Anglo-French team had made big progress since Brazil, to their surprise. McLaren were fast all through practice, but Alonso was also hooked up all weekend. Fisichella, on a lighter fuel load (he was due to refuel on lap 21 against Alonsos planned stop on lap 23), did exactly what he was expected to do, except for holding people up too much on the in lap for his second stop on lap 30. That earned him a drive-through penalty that dropped him from third to fourth place, but he nonetheless said it was the best fourth place of his life.
According to Raikkonen, his McLaren didnt come on until late in the race. That was mystifying for everyone in the team as he had been quick all weekend except when it really mattered. Certainly the safety car periods meant that the strategic advantage of being able to run a few laps longer couldnt be exploited, but there was a feeling in McLaren that they just werent quite there in China.
Juan Pablo Montoya hit the errant drain cover on lap 17 and pitted for a new tyre on lap 18 but under the rules couldnt refuel at the same time, so by the time he came in a lap later he dropped way back. Subsequently he drove straight into the garage to retire on lap 24 with an engine problem. The team said that was not a result of the collision with the drain cover.
Thus were the silver arrows frustrated. McLaren had the fastest car for most of the year and it won them 10 of the 19 races, but while Renault won eight their car was more reliable, and thats what ultimately counted. In the final analysis, Renault scored 191 points to McLarens 182.
Toyota had a much more satisfactory race than they did in Japan. Podium finisher Ralf Schumacher said that his TF105B was difficult in qualifying and in the early laps, but the first safety car came out at just the right time for him. He pitted on lap 19. Some great strategy in staying out during the second helped him up to second place ahead of Raikkonen, and allowed him to build a sufficient advantage to resume in fourth place after his second stop on lap 47. That became third when Fisichella had to serve his drive-through.
Team mate Jarno Trulli had just refuelled on lap 17, so he got messed up by the first safety car. Toyota tried to recover the lost momentum but their strategy there failed, and eventually the need to replace the left front tyre ruined his race further.
Overall, however, Toyota had a great season, finishing fourth overall only 12 points adrift of Ferrari who, of course scooped 18 at Indianapolis. They will be a big threat in 2006.
Red Bull had a good day with Christian Klien finishing a feisty fifth. David Coulthard looked very strong early on, challenging Jenson Button hard for fifth place, but there was a mix-up between the safety car driver and Montoya and the team suggested that during the first safety car period the driver believed Montoya was the leader. Coulthard had made his first refuelling stop the previous lap, 17, then claimed that both Montoya and Jenson Button passed him while he was trying to figure out what the safety car wanted him to do. The team requested clarification from the FIA during the race, but said none was forthcoming. He eventually finished a disappointed ninth.
Klien was delighted with his best race to date, benefiting from the bold strategy of staying out during the second safety car period and later setting what was for a time the fastest lap on lap 43.
This was the last race for Sauber in its current guise and with Peter Sauber at the helm. Felipe Massa was in the hunt in the early laps but it was the high-risk strategy of staying out during the second safety car that really helped the Brazilian to score a fitting sixth place.
Jacques Villeneuve said his race was compromised by the safety cars, and later he was extremely lucky not to get involved in the immediate aftermath of Narain Karthikeyans heavy shunt.
Once again Mark Webber was pushing hard for points all afternoon, but the Williams lacked pace down the long straights. Where he was fast in the corners, Barrichello was fast down the straights, so he had to tolerate a stalemate for a long time until the Brazilians mistake on lap 44.
Antonio Pizzonia lost out when the team refuelled both cars on lap 30 as the second safety car period began, and he too lacked straight-line speed. At the end he dropped from 11th to 13th as a right rear puncture brought him to a halt on the last lap.
This was yet another disappointing race for BAR. It began badly when Takuma Sato blatantly jumped the start, and later he was forced into retirement when gearbox problems that he had been experiencing early on got worse. Button lost out in the first safety car period having just pitted on lap 18, and lost places in the mix-up with Montoya. Initially the car had felt good, but towards the end Button said it was no better than it had been in Japan the previous week. Altogether its been a gruelling year for the team that finished second in 2004, and they only made it to sixth this time around.
This was the 250th and final race for the Jordan marque. Narain Karthikeyan was very lucky to escape unharmed from his sizeable shunt, but by contrast team mate Tiago Monteiro had no problems on his way to an 11th place finish.
For Ferrari, the race pretty much summed up the nature of their season. There was the disaster for Michael Schumacher on recognition lap, for which the stewards subsequently officially reprimanded him, and then later the spin into the gravel and retirement on the 23rd lap when he got caught out on his own by cold and very worn Bridgestone tyres while running behind the safety car. Barrichello, the winner here last year, benefited from some good strategic work during the first safety car period, but thereafter his front tyres were so worn that he had to replace one in a late stop on lap 46. The Brazilians last race for Ferrari was not therefore a happy one, but the team nevertheless finished third behind Renault and McLaren in the constructors world championship.
China marked the final race for Minardi, too. Christijan Albers had to run the spare car, which had no power steering and different tyres, after the incident with Schumacher on the recognition lap wrecked his intended race car. He struggled throughout, and later failed to finish after the left rear wheel nut came loose and flew off the car down the back straight. Team mate Robert Doornbos had no problems en route to 14th.
And so came to a close the longest season in Formula One history, with a championship double for Renault and the emergence of what looks set to be one of sports greatest ever rivalries, between Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen. Roll on 2006.