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Alonso invincible in Bahrain 03 Apr 2005

Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault R25 celebrates his race win as he enters Parc Ferme.
Formula One World Championship, Rd3, Bahrain Grand Prix, Race, Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain, 3 April 2005

Renault make it three wins from three races in 2005

A second consecutive victory, and potential title challengers Michael Schumacher and Giancarlo Fisichella failing to finish, made the Bahrain Grand Prix a perfect race for Fernando Alonso and Renault as they further extended their world championship leads.

With Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari alongside him on the front row of the grid, Bahrain was Fernando Alonso’s sternest test of mettle. But at the start the Spaniard made no mistake, and though Schumacher remained close to him for the first 11 laps the Renault driver was always in control and there was always a suggestion that Schumacher may have been running a lighter fuel load. That became moot on the 12th lap, however, when Schumacher plunged wide in Turn 10 and then pulled into the pits at the end of the lap to retire with an hydraulic problem that affected his gearshifting. It was the champion’s first mechanical retirement for 58 races, and left Alonso unchallenged on the way to the third win of his career.

At the start Jarno Trulli almost took his Toyota round the outside of Schumacher to snatch second place, but had to settle for third initially. As in Malaysia the Italian’s car lacked the outright pace to stay on the Renault’s tail, but it was still there in a strong second place, 13.409s adrift, when the chequered flag fell, boosting Trulli’s second place points score. To make it a wonderful day for the revitalised Toyota team, Ralf Schumacher completed an up and down race by taking fourth place, giving Toyota their best-ever result and maintaining their second place in the constructors’ championship.

Third place fell to Kimi Raikkonen, who was in challenging mood all afternoon in a McLaren that once again came to life in the race. The Finn fought with the two Williams of Nick Heidfeld and Mark Webber, passing the former after their first fuel stops on laps 23 (Heidfeld) and 24 (Raikkonen), and then pressuring Webber into a big spin in Turn 10 on the 34th lap. Various offroad moments for Ralf Schumacher also helped the Finn, who finished a further 32s adrift of Trulli but set the third fastest lap.

As Heidfeld retired from seventh place on the 26th lap with engine failure, the other star of the race, Pedro de la Rosa in the second McLaren, stormed to fifth after the best drive of his Formula One career. Standing in for the injured Juan Pablo Montoya, the Spaniard drove pretty much as one might have expected the Colombian to, charging after Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello (who had sprinted up to the midfield after a post-qualifying engine change relegated him to the back of the grid). Barrichello blocked de la Rosa for several laps until he finally made a move stick in the final corner on the 41st lap, but the Brazilian’s defensive driving lesson was nothing compared to the one Webber gave de la Rosa. The Spaniard closed on to the Australian’s tail by the 46th lap, and they circulated literally nose to rear wing, with de la Rosa looking every whichway for an opportunity and Webber placing his car exactly where the McLaren driver needed to be. It was gripping stuff, conducted only millimetres apart and at high speed all the way, but it never bordered on the stupid. This was big boy’s racing, conducted cleanly and fairly, but without any compromise.

The Williams was not using its tyres as well as the McLaren, and de la Rosa was losing three seconds a lap to Raikkonen having earlier matched his team-mate. De la Rosa actually set the fastest lap on lap 43, but Webber was doing what Williams pay him to do and it was not until de la Rosa got a better exit from a corner and was able to pull alongside on the 55th of the 57 laps that he was able to make it stick.

Behind Webber, Barrichello looked set for seventh place but began losing time hand over fist as his tyres went off. First Massa passed him in Turn One to move his Sauber into seventh place for the team’s first points of the season in their 200th race, then David Coulthard grabbed eighth place literally on his final lap. With Alonso lapping Barrichello on lap 53, it was indeed a tough day for Ferrari.

There were plenty of disappointed drivers besides Schumacher and Barrichello. Giancarlo Fisichella’s terrible weekend came to an end in the pits on the fourth lap after he had already called through the previous lap. His engine was smoking ominously and he had dropped many places when it finally broke. Takuma Sato had run as high as sixth, fending off a train comprising de la Rosa, Barrichello and BAR team mate Jenson Button during the race’s mid-point, but the Japanese driver retired on lap 27 with a brake problem. Button seemed on course for a top six finish, but when the clutch failed during his final stop on lap 46 he was only able to creep to the end of the pit road after the team deliberately dropped the car off the jack to get it going again.

Sauber’s Jacques Villeneuve was in contention for the final point but was pushed into a spin by Coulthard on the 54th lap, the French-Canadian retiring in the pits with rear suspension damage.

Narain Karthikeyan was ahead of Jordan team mate Tiago Monteiro by the second lap, but retired his Jordan with an electrical problem. Monteiro, however, went on to take 10th place for the team.

Patrick Friesacher overcame Minardi team mate Christijan Albers for the first time in the weekend to take 12th place, with the Dutchman the final finisher in 13th.

There was huge disappointment too for Christian Klien, whose Red Bull stalled on the parade lap and therefore was pushed away to start from the pit lane instead of from seventh on the grid; unfortunately the team could not fire it up due to an electronic problem so he was the first retirement.

The race was run in sweltering conditions, and the result extends Alonso’s title lead over Trulli, 26 points to 16. Fisichella is third with 10, from Ralf Schumacher and David Coulthard on nine apiece and Rubens Barrichello and Juan Pablo Montoya on eight each. Michael Schumacher’s title prospects have taken a huge hit, as the champion trails Alonso by 24 points after the three ‘flyaway’ races.

In the constructors’ stakes, Renault lead Toyota 36 to 25, with McLaren third on 19 ahead of Williams on 13 and Red Bull on 12. Ferrari are sixth with 10, and a mountain to climb.