Renault's Fernando Alonso won what was a thrilling San Marino Grand Prix by keeping Michael Schumacher's Ferrari right on his rear wing for the final nerve-wracking laps. Schumacher charged up through the field from 13th on the grid and piled the...
Renault's Fernando Alonso won what was a thrilling San Marino Grand Prix by keeping Michael Schumacher's Ferrari right on his rear wing for the final nerve-wracking laps. Schumacher charged up through the field from 13th on the grid and piled the pressure on Alonso for every trip of the circuit in the last nine or so laps, but the Spaniard never faltered and took the chequered flag two tenths of a second ahead.
Jenson Button had a chance of the win at one point but Schumacher got the better of him when the pair came up behind backmarkers. But Button had a good race overall to score BAR's first podium of the year in third.
The start was clean, with pole sitter Kimi Raikkonen's McLaren shooting away very rapidly and the top three holding position. Toyota's Jarno Trulli made up one place to fourth and in the first lap other gainers were BAR's Takuma Sato up to fifth and Sauber's Jacques Villeneuve to eighth.
Mark Webber lost out but his Williams went side by side with Sato and he took fifth from the BAR to regain one place. Tonio Liuzzi moved ahead of Red Bull teammate David Coulthard and Nick Heidfeld's Williams dropped back to 10th. At the back of the grid Felipe Massa's Sauber was very slow off the line but he managed to get going.
On the second lap Raikkonen was already over two seconds ahead of Alonso and Massa was rapidly dispatching the Minardis and Jordans. Giancarlo Fisichella was the first retiree when his Renault went into the gravel and hit the barrier for an unknown reason.
"We will investigate to find out what happened," said the Italian. "I completely lost all the controls on the car. It was another bad weekend, I'm really disappointed."
Sadly for Raikkonen his McLaren developed a driveshaft problem and he abruptly started to slow. Alonso shot past and Kimi eventually crawled back to the pits to retire and he was, understandably, rather angry. Minardi's Patrick Friesacher also retired after slowing on the pit straight with a gearbox-related problem.
The order at the front was then Alonso, Button and Trulli, with Webber, Sato, Wurz and Villeneuve following and Rubens Barrichello edged his Ferrari into eighth. Massa was still climbing the field, up to 14th and Michael was stuck behind the Toyota of brother Ralf in 11th.
Massa then had a visit to the pits after contact with Coulthard at Rivazza and a piece of bodywork came off the Sauber. Barrichello was the first of the scheduled stoppers but he retired just a couple of laps later with a possible electrical problem.
"This weekend was much better than Bahrain," Barrichello said. "But the reliability hasn't been very good lately. I'm disappointed because the car had been good."
Trulli, Webber, Sato and Wurz were nose to tail, with Villeneuve hanging on behind, and Sato made his move at the first corner. He got past Webber and Wurz chanced his luck as well but Webber managed to keep the McLaren behind. At the front Button was really pushing to close the gap to Alonso as the first round of pit stops got going.
Trulli and Webber pitted together and Trulli stayed in front. Ralf was next in, then Alonso who rejoined in the lead. Michael was now up to fourth as he neared his first stop and putting the hammer down until he came up behind Wurz.
He had to wait a little but then Wurz dived in the pits and Michael closed up on Button for a lap or two until the Ferrari man took his stop. He rejoined third -- great strategy by the team. Webber went wide at Variante Alta and Villeneuve took the opportunity to move up to seventh.
The second Minardi of Christijan Albers also retired with a gearbox problem. By now Michael was absolutely flying -- he was lapping two seconds quicker than Alonso and Button and it suddenly became apparent that he could possibly win this race. If anyone could do it from 13th on the gird, it would be Michael.
Massa and Coulthard had another dodgy moment when the Sauber elbowed its way past for 13th but Massa escaped that one unscathed. At the front, Michael was closing on Button lap by lap and Alonso was the first to take his second stop. He rejoined behind Michael and Button as the pair in front started to battle.
Michael was hounding Button round the track and they came up to lap the two Williams' that were squabbling between themselves at Variante Alta. Button slowed slightly but Michael hurled his Ferrari down the inside and made the most of the moment to get ahead of the BAR. Button pitted on the next lap and resigned himself to third.
Michael was blasting out fastest laps before his second stop and he rejoined right behind Alonso -- the Ferrari left its box as the Renault came down the straight and it was very close. No matter what else was happening on track, for the last nine or ten laps the focus was firmly on the pair battling for the lead.
Time and again Michael had a look at the Renault, harassing and trying to unnerve Alonso but every time the Spaniard held him off. Fernando had better traction out of the slow corners but Michael was quicker under braking and it was touch and go all the way.
They were coming up on backmarkers but Alonso wasn't about to let Michael push him forward and pull the same move he had on Button. Right to the last lap the Ferrari was fighting to find a way past but Alonso withstood the challenges and took his third consecutive win of the season.
"It was probably one of the best fights I have had," said Fernando. "I knew that Michael was more than one second faster than me so my only chance was to hold him up a little bit in the middle of the corners and then to be on the throttle a little bit earlier than him, just to have this little space for the straight and it worked well."
It was superb racing from both drivers -- Michael's drive through the field was just astonishing and Alonso's nerve and cool-headedness under intense pressure was applause worthy. Easily the most thrilling race we've seen for quite some time.
"I had a couple of areas where I thought I could have had a go but it wasn't quite enough to finally do it," Michael said of the fight with Alonso. "I tried, we got very close in a couple of corners, but he did a great race and did not make mistakes but that is why he won the race and I got second."
Button made the most of BAR's improved competitiveness and third was a just reward, although he was no doubt disappointed to lose out. Wurz did a good job for McLaren to come home fourth and Sato underlined BAR's form with fifth. BAR had perhaps hoped for more but both cars in the points is a big step forward.
"I'm very happy to be here on the podium," Button commented. "We have got so much information from this race, it is the first one we have finished this year and so it is great to be back on the podium and I think we are going to be strong when we arrive in Barcelona."
Villeneuve also had a good race to finish sixth, which should silence the critics but probably won't, and the pair of Toyotas took the last points positions with Trulli seventh and Ralf eighth. Not quite so good as the team's previous efforts but not bad seeing as Imola isn't a circuit that Toyota goes well on.
However, Toyota confirmed after the race that Ralf had been given a 25 second penalty for an incident involving Heidfeld's Williams. Toyota will appeal. Additionally, Button's BAR was found to be underweight in post race scrutineering but after a currently unknown explanation from the team the stewards decided to take no action.
Williams had a poor time of things, Heidfeld and Webber eventually crossing the line ninth and 10th respectively. Liuzzi did a good job in his first race to come home 11th ahead of Coulthard in 13th, but Red Bull also lacked its previous performance. Massa finished 12th, which was disappointing for the Brazilian.
The two Jordans at least had reliability and Karthikeyan was 13th ahead of Monteiro as the last to take the flag. The smaller teams have so little chance this year -- Raikkonen was already homing in on them before he retired on just lap nine.
The battle between Alonso and Michael was intense and it was an important fight for Fernando to win. The reigning champion may be back with a vengeance but for Imola at least, Michael's best was not good enough to defeat Alonso.
If Michael hadn't made the mistake in qualifying you can be sure it would have been a different story. However, there's no point in debating the 'what ifs'. Alonso heads to his home race in Spain an even bigger local hero than he was before. Final top eight classification: Alonso, M. Schumacher, Button, Wurz, Sato, Villeneuve, Trulli, R. Schumacher.