Imola 2005 - the Schumacher-Alonso show 18 Apr 2006
Everyone expected Bridgestone and Ferrari to fight back at Imola after their difficult start to the 2005 season and thats exactly what they did in last year's San Marino Grand Prix. In the end it wasnt 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 Kimi Raikkonen, McLaren scoring the first non-Renault pole of the year. Fernando Alonso was, however, right behind him, followed by the much-improved BAR of Jenson Button. Schumacher, having gone third fastest in the first qualifying session, 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 Jarno Trulli was having to fend off a huge train of cars, the last of them Schumachers 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. Ferraris strategy and some stunning pace from the world champion vaulted him into an amazing third place, from where he immediately started cutting into Buttons 20-second-plus advantage. It didnt 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.
Schumachers 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 Renaults gearbox. But the Spaniard soaked up the pressure in the style of a true future 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. Takuma Sato consolidated BARs strong result in fifth, ahead of Jacques Villeneuve, who at last proved his critics wrong by scoring three points for Sauber. The Toyotas of Trulli and Ralf 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 Nick Heidfeld. That was nothing, however, compared to the fate awaiting BAR, who would later be stripped of their Imola points and handed a two-race ban for running an underweight car.
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