New rules, new race, new teams, new champions
After Ferraris domination the previous year, who could ever have predicted just what a fantastic season 2005 would be? It began with a Renault victory and it ended with one, but in between the blue team fought a fantastic battle with the silver arrows of McLaren, which boosted ratings across the globe and eventually saw Fernando Alonso crowned as the sports youngest-ever champion.
Three regulation changes proved crucial. First, teams had to use the same engine for two races; any failures were penalised by the loss of 10 grid places. Then they had to qualify and race on the same set of tyres. Finally, reductions in aerodynamics obliged everyone to rethink their wind tunnel and computational fluid dynamics programmes. Renault and McLaren hit the jackpot; Ferrari and BAR, last years front runners, did not. Each fell spectacularly from grace.
Renault began the season on notice from their new management that they were expected to fight for the world championship, even if they did not actually win it; in the end they exceeded expectations by not only crowning Alonso but going on to win the constructors championship for the first time too. Since Renault first came into Formula One racing in 1977, this marked their first title as a team rather than just as an engine supplier.
Although McLarens MP4-20 proved startlingly fast in winter testing, Renaults R25 was fully honed and reliable right from the opening race in Melbourne, which fell to Giancarlo Fisichella after the weather had upset qualifying. After that, Alonso quickly hit his stride, winning in Malaysia, Bahrain and Imola.
McLaren, meanwhile, had been fast but unlucky and/or unreliable. They had not quite honed the car in qualifying in those early races, but clearly it was very quick in races. Subtle suspension geometry changes tamed the car from Imola onwards, and Kimi Raikkonen was walking the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola until a driveshaft broke.
The Finn then won in Spain and at Monaco, both races in which Renault suffered rear tyre wear problems. Alonso hit back at Nurburgring, but only after the dominant Raikkonen suffered the bitter disappointment of a dramatic suspension failure at the start of the final lap. Earlier he had flat-spotted the right front Michelin tyre avoiding backmarker Jacques Villeneuve, and eventually his gamble failed when the serious vibrations that resulted finally caused the front suspension to break.
While Renault and McLaren slugged it out, it was Toyota at this stage who were the best of the rest. Mike Gascoynes TF105 was good straight out of the box and enjoyed one of Formula Ones most powerful engines. Jarno Trulli starred in several of the early races, while Ralf Schumacher would come to the fore towards the end of the season when the updated TF105B appeared and suited his style better. The highlights in Toyotas most convincing season to date included two pole positions (Trulli in America and Schumacher in Japan - though both were very low fuel efforts), and seconds for Trulli in Malaysia and Bahrain and third in Spain, and thirds for Schumacher in Hungary and China.
Click here for Part Two.