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2005 Race by Race - Part One 09 Nov 2005

Race winner Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA) Renault R25 in parc ferme.
Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Race Day, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, 6 March 2005 David Coulthard (GBR) Red Bull Racing RB1.
Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Race Day, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, 6 March 2005 Race winner Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) McLaren 
Formula One World Championship, Rd5, Spanish Grand Prix, Race Day, Barcelona, Spain, 8 May 2005 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault.
Formula One World Championship, Rd3, Bahrain Grand Prix, First Qualifying, Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain, 2 April 2005 The BAR pack up their equipment to leave the track.
Formula One World Championship, Rd5, Spanish Grand Prix, Practice Day, Barcelona, Spain, 6 May 2005

Australia, Malaysia, Bahrain, San Marino and Spain

From Giancarlo Fisichella’s triumphant Renault debut in Melbourne, to Kimi Raikkonen’s dominant breakthrough win in Barcelona, we look back at the first five rounds of 2005 in which Fernando Alonso laid down the foundations of his first world championship.

Round One - Australia - March 6
Pole: Fisichella
Fastest Lap: Alonso
Links: Results / Live Timing Archive, Photos, TV images, Technical Analysis

The new rules were the focus of attention in Melbourne - less downforce, engines to last two race weekends, one set of tyres for qualifying and race, and a revised two-part qualifying system, with the best times from a Saturday and a Sunday session aggregated to determine the grid. And what an unexpected grid it was, though thanks as much to the weather as to the new format.

A cloud burst midway through Qualifying One caused huge variations in the lap times. Under the new aggregate system, the ‘slow’ drivers had no way of making up the difference on Sunday morning, hence Renault’s Giancarlo Fisichella effectively sealed pole on Saturday afternoon, while Michael Schumacher found himself 18th on the grid. Jarno Trulli put Toyota on the front row, while Red Bull made a sensational debut, locking out row three. It set up the prospect of a thrilling race.

However, with the drivers still unsure as to how their tyres would cope with a full grand-prix distance under race conditions it was not quite as exciting as some had hoped. Fisichella drove impeccably to win on his Renault debut, while team mate Fernando Alonso stormed through the field to take third, justifying everyone’s suspicions that they would be the team to beat in Australia. Splitting the blue cars was the Ferrari of Rubens Barrichello, whose rise through the pack surpassed even that of Alonso. It was welcome news for the champions, who were still running a revised version of their 2004 car, with the new F2005 still a few races away. Less welcome was Michael Schumacher crashing out after a dubious collision with the Williams of Nick Heidfeld.

There were plenty of other surprises. Williams proved more competitive than pre-season testing had suggested, with Mark Webber fifth. Team boss Sir Frank had tipped Red Bull to raise a few eyebrows and so they did, with David Coulthard beating Webber to fourth and Christian Klien coming home seventh to give the newcomers an opening-race haul of seven points - more than previous incarnation, Jaguar, had scored in 2004 complete. The result was particularly sweet for Coulthard, whom many had written off after he was dropped by McLaren. To prove the doubters wrong he beat both the man who took his seat, Juan Pablo Montoya (sixth) and former team mate Kimi Raikkonen (eighth).

While Renault and Red Bull toasted their success, BAR and Toyota had less to celebrate. The former, Ferrari’s biggest rivals in 2004, were nowhere near the pace or the points and controversially retired both cars on the final lap, exploiting a loophole in the new regulations to give them fresh engines for Malaysia. At Toyota, the promise of Trulli’s second-place grid spot came to nothing as he slipped down the field to a distant ninth, with Ralf Schumacher 12th.

On a more positive note, three of the four rookie drivers completed the race, with Jordan’s Narain Karthikeyan and Tiago Monteiro 15th and 16th respectively and Minardi’s Patrick Friesacher 17th. Despite finishing last, Minardi were in plenty of headlines, thanks to boss Paul Stoddart’s battle with the FIA over his wanting to run 2004-spec cars in the race. After gaining a court injunction allowing him to do so, Stoddart then made an unexpected U-turn, hastily switching his cars to 2005 spec, after Max Mosley suggested that the affair could threaten the whole future of motorsport in Australia.

Round Two - Malaysia - March 20
Pole: Alonso
Fastest Lap: Raikkonen
Links: Results / Live Timing Archive, Photos, TV images, Technical Analysis

The unusual qualifying conditions in Melbourne had left plenty of questions over the true pace of the teams. Sepang answered those questions and surprisingly little changed. Renault were still the team to beat, Ferrari really were off the pace and Red Bull’s Australian outing had been no fluke. The big story, however, was Toyota. Trulli put the red and white team on the front row for the second grand prix in succession, but this time he had the race pace to match, giving them their first Formula One podium. With team mate Ralf Schumacher also in the points, it was the breakthrough the Japanese squad had been waiting for.

Alonso gave Renault their second pole of the season and a strong start ensured it was converted to their second win. However, team mate Fisichella had a less straightforward Sunday. Searing track temperatures meant managing tyre wear was critical and anything less than a perfect handling balance led to a very rapid reduction in grip, as the Italian discovered to his cost. After struggling to stay with leaders Alonso and Trulli, he then crashed out in an ill-judged repassing attempt on the Williams of Webber. With both men retired it cleared the way for Heidfeld to take third for Williams’ first podium of the year. That all followed a thrilling three-way scrap between Heidfeld, Webber and Ralf Schumacher that saw the trio all swap places several times in the space of a lap.

McLaren again came off second best to Williams, despite a promising qualifying session, with Montoya their best finisher in fourth. The unlucky Raikkonen was on course for better before falling victim to a puncture which dropped him out of the points. That left Red Bull as the only team besides Toyota to bring both cars home in the top eight, with Coulthard sixth and Klien keeping Raikkonen at bay for the final point.

So what of Ferrari? It was a bad weekend all round for Bridgestone who failed to match Michelin’s performance in the extreme heat. Barrichello and Schumacher were 12th and 13th on the grid - a genuine reflection of their pace. Schumacher clawed his way up to seventh in the race, while Barrichello pulled out with handling problems, all of which meant the planned debut of the new F2005 was hurriedly brought forward for the next round in Bahrain.

Only BAR had a more dismal time at Sepang. Takuma Sato was forced to withdraw from the meeting due to a virus, with third driver Anthony Davidson stepping into his seat. The Brit did a solid job at short notice, but his and Jenson Button’s races were over within three laps, both retiring with identical engine failures. It was all highly embarrassing for Honda, especially after the team’s intentional retirements in Melbourne to give them fresh V10s for Sepang, a tactic the FIA consequently banned ahead of the Malaysian Grand Prix.

Round Three - Bahrain - April 3
Pole: Alonso
Fastest Lap: De la Rosa
Links: Results / Live Timing Archive, Photos, TV images, Technical Analysis

Ferrari knew they had to do something and do it fast, hence the appearance of the new F2005 in Bahrain, two races earlier than originally planned. But would the gamble pay off? Ultimately the answer was no, though the car did appear to show plenty of potential, Schumacher beating Trulli’s Toyota to give the team their first front-row grid slot of the year, alongside the dominant Renault of Alonso. Barrichello, however, would start from the back after gearbox woes ruined his qualifying.

Ferrari’s promise did not last long. Schumacher kept his second place at the start and was pushing Alonso hard until lap 13 when a hydraulics problem sent him spinning into retirement. From there the Renault star went unchallenged, with Trulli driving a lonely race to second place, proving that his identical result in Malaysia had been no fluke. Behind them, though, there was action aplenty.

McLaren had their best weekend of the season to date, despite Montoya pulling out with a fractured shoulder. His replacement, Pedro de la Rosa, out-qualified Raikkonen and then put in a thrilling, if somewhat erratic, race drive to fifth, pulling off some spectacular passing moves on the way. And while the Spaniard bathed in the spotlight, Raikkonen coolly converted his ninth-place grid spot to a podium position in third. Between the McLarens was the Toyota of Ralf Schumacher, the German’s fourth place ensuring the Japanese team of their best ever result.

Webber brought his Williams home sixth, after losing an enthralling tussle with de la Rosa. It followed team mate Heidfeld’s early retirement with engine failure - his V10 had already endured the heat of Sepang and similar conditions in Bahrain proved too much. It wasn’t all good news for Renault either, Fisichella suffering a similar fate on only lap four, despite a fresher engine. Massa took seventh place for Sauber in their 200th Grand Prix, while Coulthard kept up Red Bull’s 100 percent scoring record in eighth. It followed bitter disappointment for team mate Klien, who, having qualified an excellent seventh, saw his race end before it had begun thanks to an electrical glitch.

So what of Barrichello? A spectacular opening first stint saw the Brazilian go as high as fifth at one point. However, the toll on his tyres was too high, leaving the F2005 all but undriveable by the end of the race and he was forced to surrender eighth place in the dying stages. Coulthard was the beneficiary, but only after he had punted the unfortunate Jacques Villeneuve out of the way.

So, a good race for Renault, Toyota and McLaren; a promising, though pointless one for Ferrari; and another nightmare one for BAR, who yet again saw both cars retire, this time with brake and clutch problems, leaving them as the only team yet to finish a Grand Prix in 2005.

Round Four - San Marino - April 24
Pole: Raikkonen
Fastest Lap: M Schumacher
Links: Results / Live Timing Archive, Photos, TV images, Technical Analysis

Everyone expected Bridgestone and Ferrari to fight back at Imola and that’s exactly what they did. In the end it wasn’t quite enough, although had Michael Schumacher not made a rare error in qualifying it could have all been very different. P1 on the grid went to Raikkonen, McLaren scoring the first non-Renault pole of the year. Alonso was, however, right behind him, followed by the much-improved BAR of Jenson Button. Schumacher, having gone third fastest in first qualifying, slipped up in the second, running wide at Rivazza and consigning himself to 13th on the grid.

Raikkonen maintained his advantage at the start, and he and Alonso quickly began to pull away from Button. The Finn had built a lead of 3.5 seconds over the Spaniard when his luck deserted him on lap nine, a driveshaft failure robbing him of potential victory. Behind Button, the now third-placed Toyota of Trulli was having to fend off a huge train of cars, the last of them Schumacher’s Ferrari, bottled up in 11th place behind his brother.

All that changed at the first stops, which saw Schumacher stay out four laps longer than leader Alonso. Ferrari’s strategy and some stunning pace from the world champion vaulted him into an amazing third place, from where he immediately started cutting into Button’s 20-second-plus advantage. It didn’t take him long - the speed of the F2005 was a shock to all and on lap 47 Schumacher swept past the BAR as Button came upon the battling Williams duo, now a lap down.

Schumacher’s relentless charge continued and few held out much hope of Alonso retaining his lead. For the last ten laps, the Ferrari was never more than half a second from the Renault’s gearbox. But the Spaniard soaked up the pressure in the style of a true champion - no erratic defensive moves, simply driving to the strengths of his car, ensuring Schumacher was never close enough to pass on the parts of the track where his Ferrari was superior. It was nail-biting stuff, and they took the flag just two tenths of a second apart.

In a distant third, Button gave BAR their first podium (and first finish) of the year, with Alexander Wurz an impressive fourth on his race return with McLaren, standing in for the injured Montoya. Sato consolidated BAR’s strong result in fifth, ahead of Villeneuve, who at last proved his critics wrong by scoring three points for Sauber. The Toyotas of Trulli and Schumacher were seventh and eighth after a disappointing weekend by their high, 2005 standards. It got worse when Schumacher was demoted to 11th by a time penalty for a pit-lane incident, handing the final championship point to fellow German Heidfeld. That was nothing, however, compared to the fate awaiting BAR…

Round Five - Spain - May 8
Pole: Raikkonen
Fastest Lap: Fisichella
Links: Results / Live Timing Archive, Photos, TV images, Technical Analysis

One topic dominated conversation at the start of the Barcelona weekend - BAR. The team turned up ready to compete, only to be handed a two-race ban for running an underweight car at the previous round at San Marino. They were also stripped of their Imola points and, despite protesting their innocence, left the Spanish paddock in disgrace. By the end of the weekend the topic had changed - to McLaren.

Having threatened to do so at Imola, before reliability gremlins struck, Raikkonen took a runaway victory, leading from start to finish. Such was his pace, the Finn never lost the lead - even during his two pit stops. Championship leader Alonso had no response and came home a distant second, almost half a minute down the road.

Qualifying was a thrilling affair. On Saturday, less than a tenth of a second separated Trulli, Alonso, Raikkonen and Ralf Schumacher at the top of the times, though notably, only the McLaren driver’s lap included a mistake. With an error-free run on Sunday morning, Raikkonen duly clinched pole, with a lightly-fuelled Webber leaping up the order to join him on the front row for Williams.

Raikkonen streaked away at the start, while Webber went rapidly backwards, and it soon became clear the McLaren star was unlikely to be headed. For a while Fisichella looked capable of challenging his Renault team mate, but again poor luck hit the Italian and he was forced to make an unscheduled stop with a bodywork problem, eventually finishing fifth. Ahead of him were the Toyotas, the Japanese team proving their loss of form in Imola was, as promised, only a temporary blip. Behind him was Webber, whose race strategy effectively went out the window with his poor start, and Montoya, who had a typically eventful race on his return from injury for McLaren, surviving a 360 degree spin on his way to seventh. Coulthard maintained Red Bull’s perfect point-scoring run in eighth.

And what of Ferrari, who had displayed such stunning race pace at the previous round? Whatever the perfect combination of factors that had played in their favour at Imola, it had disappeared in Spain. Schumacher could only qualify eighth, while an engine change dropped Barrichello to the back of the grid and things got worse in the race. Schumacher went as high as second before his first stop before two punctures in close succession ended his race. Barrichello wound up ninth in an ill-handling F2005 with blistered tyres. Both Ferrari and Bridgestone admitted they still had plenty of work to do.

Click here for Part Two.