The temperature in Bahrain gave Formula One the hottest race ever and Fernando Alonso certainly put in a scorching performance. He took his second, and Renault's third, consecutive Grand Prix win at Sakhir, leading all the way from pole to flag. Toyota's Jarno Trulli had another strong race to finish second and Kimi Raikkonen fought his way up from ninth on the grid to give McLaren its first podium of 2005 in third.
Christian Klien's good efforts in qualifying were lost when his Red Bull stalled at the start of the formation lap due to an electronic gremlin. He went into the pit lane to start from there but the mechanics struggled to sort the car out and he had to retire.
"It's very disappointing," said Klien. "It was some sort of electronic problem and they couldn't fire the car up. They found the fault but it was too late by then."
On track it was a fairly clean start, with Alonso getting safely away in the lead. Michael Schumacher's Ferrari cut across to block Trulli and hold his second place and the top six remained in formation. Raikkonen moved up to seventh, while his teammate Pedro de la Rosa dropped a couple of places and fought with the BAR of Jenson Button.
Rubens Barrichello was flying for Ferrari in the early laps, up from the back, where he started due to an engine change, to 10th and in the mix with Button, de la Rosa, the Renault of Giancarlo Fisichella and the Sauber of Felipe Massa. Button got ahead of the McLaren then Fisichella's engine started puffing smoke sporadically.
David Coulthard's Red Bull had dropped to 16th and Narain Karthikeyan retired his Jordan to the pits within a few laps with an electronic problem. Fisichella retired shortly afterwards, evidently his engine was not going to survive. Mark Webber got himself in front of Williams teammate Nick Heidfeld for fourth.
Alonso was eight tenths ahead of Michael, followed by Trulli, Webber, Heidfeld and Ralf Schumacher's Toyota, while Raikkonen and Sato made up the top eight. Ralf and Raikkonen closed on Heidfeld, who appeared to be struggling a little. Ralf got past the Williams quickly but Raikkonen had to bide his time.
Michael was closing up on Alonso little by little but the anticipated battle between the reigning champion and the young pretender failed to happen. Michael went off track between turns nine and ten after a big lock up and although he managed to keep it going, it was race over for the German with a hydraulic failure.
It's the first mechanical failure Michael has had in over three years. "I think I picked up debris off the track when I was following Fernando," he said. "It may have damaged the radiators or something."
De la Rosa, who had a very active race, was harassing Sato but Taku held him off. Trulli had inherited second and was keeping in touch with Alonso, with Webber and Ralf not far behind. Raikkonen was still stuck behind Heidfeld but Barrichello got past Button a little further down the track.
Ralf was the first to pit, on lap 19, followed by Alonso a couple of laps later. De la Rosa had another go at Sato but ran wide and dropped two places and had to start all over again. Ralf had a bit of a moment at turn 10 and Barrichello did the same next time around; turns nine and 10 saw quite a lot of random off track excursions.
Heidfeld's day came to a premature end when his BMW engine couldn't hold up for a second race distance. "It's disappointing not to finish when we were in a good position," he remarked. "The engine already did one hot race in Malaysia and now another hot one here…"
Sato was the next retiree. His BAR had been throwing out brake dust by the bucketload and eventually he spun and had to retire with brake problems. After the shakeout of the first pit stops, it was Alonso leading from Trulli and Webber, then Raikkonen up to fourth, Ralf fifth and Barrichello doing very well in sixth.
Button and de la Rosa were battling behind them in seventh and eighth. The McLaren attacked at the first corner and got past in a nice clean move. Pedro was putting in a very feisty performance considering he hasn't raced for a couple of years.
Webber went careering off the track very fast, which allowed Ralf up to fourth and Raikkonen to third, but Sakhir's huge run-off areas allowed the Australian to wrestle the Williams back under control. De la Rosa now had his sight set on Barrichello and was closing rapidly. Massa was fighting gamely in ninth, followed by Sauber teammate Jacques Villenenve, then Coulthard.
Raikkonen copied Webber with a speedy off-track excursion at turn 12 but he too continued after a quick argument with the McLaren. At the front, Alonso was reeling off fastest laps and Trulli was falling away. De la Rosa went for Barrichello at turn one but overdid it and ran wide, allowing the Ferrari to escape.
Alonso was first in for his second stop, with no dramas, and the persistent de la Rosa finally overtook Barrichello for sixth. Button was next to close in on the Ferrari and he too got past -- Barrichello was struggling with his tyres and things just got worse for the unfortunate Brazilian.
Button was also in trouble. He was running fourth until his second stop, when the engine stalled with a clutch problem. The mechanics tried desperately to get the BAR going again, which they did after about a minute, but it proved to be pointless as Button pulled over and stopped at the end of the pit lane.
Back on track de la Rosa's charge was still at full steam ahead. Webber was his next target and proved to be a difficult opponent. Lap after lap the McLaren harassed, fidgeted, swerved about and generally got very impatient but just couldn't find a way past the Williams and the finish was looming ever closer.
Massa, who had a rather quiet but solid race, caught up with the ailing Ferrari of Barrichello and swiftly dispatched it to take seventh. Alonso was now 11 seconds ahead of Trulli and the chequered flag was just a few laps away. Villeneuve was a very late retiree when he had contact with Coulthard in an unseen incident and spun off, although he was classified 11th.
Just when Webber must have been thinking he was probably safe, de la Rosa threw the McLaren back into the fight. They went side by side for a few corners and finally de la Rosa took the advantage to gain fifth. On the last lap Barrichello fell to Coulthard and Ferrari lost any chance of points.
Alonso crossed the line 13 seconds clear of Trulli, with Raikkonen about 20 seconds behind the Toyota. Another excellent drive by Alonso and while Renault was disappointed to have Fisichella retire, the team continues to be the one to beat this season.
"The R25 was perfect today, and the team has been fantastic all weekend, with no mistakes," said Alonso. "To score 26 points out of 30 possible is brilliant, but we need to stay cautious: we have only done three races out of nineteen in a very long season. However, I think that if we stay competitive like we are, and if we can avoid mechanical problems, then we will be hard to beat."
Toyota is also to be commended for its performance. Trulli did another great job for second and Ralf came home fourth, one better than he did in Malaysia.
"I am so pleased with this result," said Trulli. "After Malaysia, I thought we would be competitive and to claim our second consecutive podium is fantastic. The car performed amazingly well, it was quick and reliable with no issues whatsoever. The braking, cooling, Michelin tyres, engine, everything worked well."
Raikkonen worked quite hard for his deserved third place and de la Rosa was, frankly, rather amazing. He had to be the most active driver out there this afternoon and certainly provided a lot of entertainment. Juan Pablo Montoya had better watch out!
"I am very pleased with third place after a difficult two qualifying sessions," Raikkonen commented. "The car felt really good in the race, but unfortunately I was stuck behind a lot of traffic early on. I managed to gain a few places, but once I was in third position the front two cars were too far ahead for me to catch them and in agreement with the team we decided to conserve the engine for Imola."
Webber lost out on the podium again when he went off track and it was a rather disappointing race day for Williams after a strong qualifying. Massa was unusually quiet but drove well to take Sauber's first points of the season with seventh, and Coulthard was really just lucky that Barrichello was having problems. However, the Scot kept Red Bull's run of points going.
The other classified finishers were Jordan's Tiago Monterio in 10th, Villeneuve 11th and the Minardi pair of Patrick Friesacher and Christijan Albers 12th and 13th respectively. Albers was compromised early on after having to pit for a new nose cone as a result of an incident with Coulthard. There was not much for the backmarkers to do except keep out of the way and make it to the line.
So was Ferrari too hasty in deciding to debut the F2005 in Bahrain? It certainly didn't pay off and the Scuderia has a lot of work ahead of it to return to the front. But it's only three races gone and while things currently look grim, you can bet that Ferrari will fight back. If anyone is having a crisis it's probably BAR -- the team has yet to score a point.
Alonso and Renault are on a high and have every intention of staying there but they know that it's not going to be easy. Toyota is making its presence felt and McLaren is rapidly picking up its pace. Williams is not quite finding its feet yet but no doubt will, so while Renault is enjoying its current success, there will be no resting on laurels.
There's three weeks now until the San Marino GP, a race where traditionally many teams introduce revised packages. After three interesting long-distance races, it seems a long time until Imola but hopefully it will be worth waiting for. Final top eight classification: Alonso, Trulli, Raikkonen, R. Schumacher, de la Rosa, Webber, Massa, Coulthard.