Alonso has title in sight as blue team contain McLaren
Twenty cars started the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, and 20 finished it, with Renault arguably coming away the happiest.
This is not the first time that there have been no retirements; in 1961 everybody finished the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort; and at Indianapolis in June all six starters finished the United States race. But for such a thing to happen at Monza highlighted the technical brilliance of current Formula One cars - and the frustration slower teams feel when none of their faster rivals run into trouble.
In the end, though McLaren won and also finished fourth, courtesy of Messrs Montoya and Raikkonen, Renaults second and third places (Giancarlo Fisichella was the first Italian on the podium here since the late Michele Alboreto in 1988) meant that they dropped only one point; McLaren scored 15, Renault 14. The latter retained their lead in the constructors stakes, 144 to 136.
In fact, Renaults performance was something of a surprise to those who had expected McLaren to dominate as they pleased. Raikkonens fastest lap was 1m 21.504s, Montoyas 1m 21.828s, but Alonso lapped in 1m 22.146s and certainly kept Montoya honest throughout the first stint. The fact that he was at most 12 seconds behind by the 44th lap was more down to slightly less slick pit work.
Like Williams problems in Turkey, McLarens left rear tyre dramas were a product of set-up. In McLarens case they were aggressive in setting up the cars. Raikkonens tyre sustained a cut, but Montoyas outer tread wear was described by Michelins Pierre Dupasquier as being extremely unusual here. Talks are continuing between the two companies to determine the cause, but Ron Dennis admitted that set-up was the likely reason.
For Toyota, Monza was further endorsement of the strength and reliability of the TF105 as they scored another seven points. Suddenly they are looking a threat to third-placed Ferrari, with 78 points to 86.
Williams had a torrid time in qualifying, but once again some sound strategic decisions paid off. At least, they did where stand-in Antonio Pizzonia was concerned. He admitted that he made some silly little mistakes early on as he reacclimatised to a car he hasnt driven for three months, but seventh place with the sixth fastest lap (1m 22.870s) was a performance sufficiently impressive to stake a valid claim to a race seat in 2006. Poor Mark Webber was the victim in the first-corner kerfuffle. As David Coulthard snagged the back of Fisichellas car (lightly enough for the Italian not even to notice) and then backed off, Webber damaged his front wing on the back of the Red Bull. Later the Scot and the Australian had a terrific scrap which Webber ultimately won on his way to 14th overall, and the teams race speed was encouraging.
There was little for BAR to cheer. Jenson Button went backwards the moment the race started, had his own problems with the refuelling rig which forced him to stop four laps sooner than planned, and was generally a bit bemused by the 007s performance in low downforce configuration. Takuma Sato had an even worse refuelling rig problem which obliged him to stop again a lap later, and struggled with poor handling thereafter. Altogether a bruising race for the team.
Sauber were rather more upbeat, but suffered from the remarkable reliability everyone displayed. Felipe Massas strategy proved correct and the Brazilian dragged a nervous car home a good ninth, while Jacques Villeneuve benefited less from his low fuel qualifying strategy, fought a nervous car too, and lost out when marshals incorrectly forced him to concede track position to Kimi Raikkonen by mistakenly blue flagging him.
As for Ferrari, the race was their worst at Monza for years. Even running the F2005s light failed to get them up the field, and the inter-team fight between Rubens Barrichello and Michael Schumacher hindered rather than helped. The Brazilian should have finished ninth but lost out when his left rear Bridgestone picked up a puncture and had to be replaced. Schumacher, meanwhile, dropped back to 10th after taking one risk too many to pass Massa for ninth.
Red Bull didnt have much to be excited about, either. After Coulthards race came apart in Turn One, leaving him to track home 15th after his battle with Webber, Christian Klien brought his sister RB01 home 13th. Jordan, too, were compromised at the start after Christijan Albers hit Narain Karthikeyans left rear Bridgestone and punctured it. The Indian lost more ground than he could make up, especially as after his off on Saturday he was obliged to run a very old set of tyres, and finished 20th and last. Tiago Monteiro lost some bodywork in the melee and that hurt the handling of the new EJ15B, but at least the team got some useful mileage on it in race trim.
Minardi took 18th and 19th places. Robert Doornbos again did a strong job and enjoyed himself, but Albers lost time after the first corner incident. Subsequently he stopped four times; twice for fuel, once for a new nose, and once for a drive-through penalty after ignoring blue flags waved for Massa.