Italian secures popular second career win
Giancarlo Fisichella always knew that this would be his make-or-break season. The Italian veteran has spent years in the middle and back of the grid, working his way up to a drive with Renault. But in spite of his P1 grid position, he could barely have dreamed of taking such a spectacular victory in his maiden drive for his new team, giving them and Michelin the perfect start to the 2005 season.
With Fernando Alonso speeding through from 13th on the grid to third it was indeed a great day for the blue team, but Ferrari did not go away altogether empty-handed as Rubens Barrichello took a strong second place.
Fisichella leaped into the lead at the start from Jarno Trulli, but behind them David Coulthard created a fabulous opportunity for Red Bull by diving down inside Mark Webber to snatch third place. Further back Jacques Villeneuve was slow away and was passed on the outside by Nick Heidfeld, and later in Turn Three by Christian Klien.
At the end of the lap Fisichella had a 1.4s lead over Trulli, with Coulthard leading Webber, Heidfeld, Klien, Montoya, Barrichello, Villeneuve, Alonso, Button, Ralf Schumacher, Massa, Sato, Michael Schumacher, Raikkonen (who had stalled at the original start and taken the restart from the pit lane), Karthikeyan, Monteiro, Friesacher and Albers.
For the next 16 laps that was the order, though on lap seven Alonso had jumped by Villeneuve only to be repassed immediately when he ran wide. It was difficult to know whether this was because everyone was biding their time, conserving their tyres, or because they genuinely could not overtake round Albert Park. But it is probably safe to assume that neither Schumacher nor Raikkonen would happily have run for so long in 15th and 16th places!
As Fisichella pulled away from Trulli, Coulthard contained Webber and Heidfeld held off Klien, Montoya and Barrichello. Then there was a gap as Villeneuve bottled up Alonso, with Button some way back, ahead of Ralf, and Massa, on a single-stop strategy, holding off Sato, Schumacher and Raikkonen.
Trulli and Heidfeld were the first to refuel, on lap 18, followed by Webber and Klien on lap 20, Coulthard and Button on 21, Villeneuve on 22, and then Fisichella and Montoya on 23. Barrichello assumed the lead at this point, before stopping on lap 25, and because of the gap between them Schumacher was able to stop that same lap without risk of congestion in the Ferrari pit.
Up front Fisichella was having no problem maintaining his lead, but Barrichellos long run had helped him into the fight for podium contention, chasing along behind the Coulthard/Webber battle and ahead of Montoya. Further back, Alonso had finally got rid of Villeneuve and was on a charge, but Schumacher was completely unable to do anything once Raikkonen had passed him during their stops and seemed detuned.
The next round of stops started with Trulli on lap 36, and saw Alonso lead for a time when Fisichella pitted on lap 42. By this time Raikkonen was losing ground after his right-hand barge board bent back and caused his Mercedes engine to overheat; during his lap 39 stop the offending aerodynamic aid was removed. On lap 40 Klien got a new nose, having tapped the back of Friesachers Minardi while lapping it on lap 16.
As Alonso led Fisichella in a Renault 1-2 on lap 43 the first major drama occurred. Schumacher had brought his Ferrari into the pits the previous lap, and rejoined just ahead of Heidfeld. As they pounded down to Turn Three the younger German pulled up on the inside of the Ferrari, only for Schumacher to move over on him and put him on to the grass. As they arrived at the corner Heidfeld was unable to brake properly and they touched. The Williams was an immediate retirement, and Schumacher trailed slowly to the pits to retire. It was a disastrous start to his world championship defence.
With the new tyre regulations it was expected that the last section of the race would come alive, as drivers who had nursed their tyres really began to push. After the stops Barrichello had moved up to second place ahead of Alonso, with Coulthard and Webber now fighting for fourth. This was when Barrichello really got the hammer down, reducing Fisichellas lead from 12.4s on lap 47 to 5.5s by lap 54. At the same time the Brazilian had Alonso doing something similar to him. But when it mattered, Fisichella had everything under complete control and was finally able to confirm his true talent with a superb victory.
Brazil 2003 was my first, he said afterwards, but this is the best day of my racing life. The car was fantastic and so were the tyres, and I am so pleased to deliver this result for Renault.
Behind the top three Coulthard held on for a brilliant fourth for Red Bull, whose cup was filled as Klien brought the sister RB01 home seventh, holding off Raikkonen by just over half a second. Between them, Webber equalled his previous best result, with Minardi here in 2002, and Montoya scored McLaren points with sixth.
Massa just failed to catch a disappointed Trulli for ninth at the end, while Button and Sato were very unhappy with 11th and 14th places respectively for BAR. Ralf Schumacher got going after some mechanical problems hampered his Toyota early on, making up ground to finish 12th, Villeneuve was 13th and Narain Karthikeyan was the best of the rookies in 15th place after a solid drive for Jordan. Team mate Tiago Monteiro had one spin on his way to 16th, and after Albers retirement on lap 17, Friesacher was the final finisher in 17th, for Minardi.
Up and down the pit lane there was universal pleasure for Fisichella, who has for so long been underrated, and his victory got the 2005 championship off to a great start.