Australia 2005 - Renault run riot 28 Mar 2006
The 2005 season was not going to be another of Ferrari domination. Renault made that clear from the outset by finishing first and third at the opening round in Melbourne.
The new rules were the focus of attention at Albert Park. 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 Renaults Giancarlo Fisichella effectively sealed pole on Saturday afternoon, while then champion 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 everyones 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 the whole of 2004. 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, Ferraris 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 Trullis 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 Jordans Narain Karthikeyan and Tiago Monteiro 15th and 16th respectively and Minardis Patrick Friesacher 17th. Despite finishing last, Minardi were in plenty of headlines, thanks to boss Paul Stoddarts 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.
Links: Results / Live Timing Archive, Photos, TV images