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Alonso wins Chinese GP, Renault is champion

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Alonso wins Chinese GP, Renault is champion

Fernando Alonso won the Chinese Grand Prix, leading from pole to flag, and with Giancarlo Fisichella fourth Renault celebrated its first constructors' championship as a full works team. In a race of bizarre incidents, that began even before the ...

Fernando Alonso won the Chinese Grand Prix, leading from pole to flag, and with Giancarlo Fisichella fourth Renault celebrated its first constructors' championship as a full works team. In a race of bizarre incidents, that began even before the lights went out at the start, McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen came home second and the Toyota of Ralf Schumacher was third.

Podium: race winner Fernando Alonso celebrates with Flavio Briatore.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Race day was fine and dry but it was not a fine start for Michael Schumacher and Christijan Albers. The Ferrari and Minardi crashed on the way to the grid! Schumacher was going quite slowly while Albers was much faster as he came up behind. It appeared to be a misunderstanding of who was going where and they just collided. Both had to start from the pit lane in the spare cars.

After that bit of strangeness the race start was fairly sedate. Jordan's Narain Karthikeyan ducked into the pits at the end of the formation lap to check out a problem and pole-sitter Alonso led away at the front. Fisichella defended his second pace successfully from Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya moved his McLaren up one place to fourth.

Gainers in the first lap were David Coulthard's Red Bull up a place to sixth and Ralf and Mark Webber's Williams up one each to eighth and ninth. Takuma Sato, who's BAR started 17th, shot up to 12th but that was because he jumped the start. He got a drive through penalty for his efforts but later retired with a gearbox failure anyway.

Toyota's Jarno Trulli gained ground to 10th and the Sauber of Felipe Massa held station in 11th. Michael was struggling in 17th in the spare car, which had not raced before. Alonso led Fisichella by a comfortable margin, which he was increasing every lap, while the McLarens were just behind Fisichella but not making any move to threaten.

Kimi Raikkonen.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Perhaps McLaren was confident in its strategy and was waiting for it play out but the best laid plans often go pear-shaped. Further down the field Antonio Pizzonia's Williams was 13th, followed by the Sauber of Jacques Villeneuve and Tiago Monteiro's Jordan. Michael was making slow progress, up to 16th, with Sato behind him after his penalty.

Webber was having the odd look or two at Ralf and Pizzonia at the Red Bull of Christian Klien, while Montoya was doing likewise at Raikkonen. Kimi was perhaps focusing more on keeping his teammate behind him than catching Fisichella. Giancarlo may have been controlling the pace somewhat but McLaren was not making an impression anyway.

The first pit stops started rolling through on about lap 16, with Monteiro in first then Coulthard and Trulli a couple of laps later. Then it all went a bit weird again. Montoya hit what looked like debris on the kerb and he dived into the pits for a tyre change. It turned out it was actually a drain cover sticking up and the safety car was deployed while it was fastened.

Seeing as it was just about in the first pit stop window, cars started reeling through for their stops. Montoya came back in for fuel -- it's not permitted to refuel while changing a tyre -- and dropped to 14th. The top three of Alonso, Fisichella and Raikkonen held formation, with Barrichello up to fourth and Ralf fifth.

The Ferrari of Michael Schumacher after his spin.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Just as Sauber was on the radio to Massa warning him of Michael behind him getting ready to pounce when the safety car went in, Michael spun off all on his own! The Ferrari came to a halt on the grass and that was the end of Schumacher's rather unfortunate season.

"I don't know (what happened with Albers), I suddenly got a bang when I was warming up the tyres," Michael said of the first incident. "The second one was simply cold tyres."

The safety car finally went in after 15 minutes and Raikkonen leapt straight onto the back of Fisichella's Renault. This time Fisichella wasn't having it and held him off, while Montoya was back in the pits yet again, this time to retire with an engine failure. That pretty much signalled the end of McLaren's hopes of winning the championship.

"It's a bit sad," said the Colombian. "I went on the kerb at the exit (of the corner) and one of the drain covers got my car. You can't see them." It turned out the drain cover had punched a hole through the bottom of the McLaren, which led to other problems. "I knew straight away it was over, the team told me there was too much damage."

Whatever next? There was not a great deal of racing action but there was enough oddness to make up for it. A few laps later there was more. Karthikeyan had a big shunt coming out of the corner onto the back straight, the Jordan impacting with the tyre barrier and then spinning across the track, scattering debris everywhere.

Narain Karthikeyan.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Villeneuve did well to avoid colleting any of it on his way past and thankfully Karthikeyan got out of the car, which was on fire at the back, under his own steam. He was taken to the medical centre but was declared unharmed. "After a long safety car period the tyres were cold and I got onto the marbles and that was it," he explained. "It was okay, it wasn't that bad."

So, the safety car was back out and many drivers took the opportunity to make their second stop and fuel to the end of the race. Ralf, Massa and Klien, who were running second, third and fourth after others went in, chose not to and it eventually paid off. Raikkonen managed to get ahead of Fisichella in their stops, which put the Finn behind Alonso.

However, the hope of a straight fight between Kimi and Fernando for the win didn't materialize. Raikkonen rejoined the track in fifth, although he was technically second as the three cars between him and the lead Renault hadn't pitted, which held him back from closing up on Alonso. The safety car went in a few laps later and off they went again.

Sato wobbled and slowed, which let Webber and Button past, and then the BAR pulled off onto the grass to retire with the gearbox gremlin. Webber then homed in on seventh placed Barrichello and the Ferrari was locking up quite often as the Williams tried to find a way past. Webber tried at the first corner but didn't make it.

Mark Webber.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Meanwhile, BAR was annoyed at the Australian. Chief executive Nick Fry claimed that Webber had backed Jenson up some 20 car lengths behind the safety car (five is the permitted distance) which lost Jenson a lot of time. BAR complained to the stewards but no action was taken at the time, which Fry was not happy about.

Barrichello locked up again at the second to last corner and went wide, so Webber shot past with Button hanging on his rear wing. Coulthard, who was next in line, thought he'd have a go as well but Barrichello recovered enough to hold the Red Bull behind. Just before his second stop Klien set the fastest lap of the race up 'til then. In a Red Bull!

Massa took his second stop and rejoined in sixth while Coulthard finally got Barrichello at the same corner on the next lap. Klien got ahead of Massa after his last stop and Ralf and Barrichello filtered through on the next couple of laps. The points order was then Alonso, Raikkonen, Fisichella, Ralf, Klien, Massa, Webber and Button.

Webber was then harassing Massa and then next thing was Fisichella under investigation for holding up other cars when entering the pits during the first safety car period. He duly got a drive though penalty and it did seem on the replay that he had hampered Raikkonen and Michael. After serving it the Italian rejoined fourth behind Ralf.

Felipe Massa.
Photo by xpb.cc.

And that was pretty much it to the chequered flag five laps later. Webber was doing his best to frighten Massa out of the way but Felipe didn't waver and there were no changes of position in the top eight. Albers had some kind of problem with the left front wheel -- it looked like a wheel nut flew off -- and retired to the pits.

There was a little bit more strangeness right at the end when Pizzonia ground to a halt on the last lap with a puncture and Robert Doornbos' Minardi stopped actually down the pit lane after the finish. Shanghai may not have seen a lot of racing as Suzuka did but all the oddities made it very unpredictable and quite entertaining.

Alonso took his seventh win of the season to equal Raikkonen's tally so perhaps some people will now stop whining about how it would not be right if the driver with the most wins didn't win the title. Having Fernando and Kimi on an even number of victories at the end of the season seems like a fitting way for it turn out.

"I think I was a bit unlucky with the safety car," said Alonso. "I had a 20-second gap and it disappeared after the safety car. I think a lot of people were surprised how long we could go in the first part without the safety car, probably longer than the McLaren for the first time, and also I am a little bit sad because we didn't prove that."

Podium: race winner Fernando Alonso celebrates.
Photo by xpb.cc.

"I think for the team it has been a fantastic season but we arrived in the last race with two points only ahead of McLaren and we pushed the car a little bit, the chassis side and the engine side, to win the Constructors'. It was not crucial but quite important for the team for the motivation for next year and thanks to the team we are here."

Renault president Patrick Faure was, naturally, delighted. "This has been a perfect season, and I would like to congratulate the whole team, thank Flavio for his excellent management, and also pay tribute to our partners, who have enabled us to win," he commented. "This victory is a welcome reward for all their work, and a great moment in Renault's history."

Fisichella's penalty did not make any difference to the constructors' championship as Alonso's win had already sealed it. Montoya's retirement, which was very unlucky, doomed McLaren anyway. Raikkonen did not have an easy race, the car looked off the pace, but he drove well to take second.

"The car was not quick enough," the Finn stated. "It was not difficult to drive but it just wasn't quick at the start of the race but at the end of the race it got quicker and quicker and it was perfect but unfortunately it came about 40 laps too late so I was not able to do anything any more. I did my best but it wasn't enough today and the Renault was too quick, our congratulations to them and next year we try again."

Podium: race winner Fernando Alonso with Kimi Raikkonen and Flavio Briatore and Ralf Schumacher.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Ralf has a rather quiet race, at least to the observer, and while he obviously benefited from Fisichella's penalty he did well enough to be up there to take advantage of it. Trulli's strategy fell foul of the safety car and he finished 15th. It was a good year for Toyota compared to previous ones and hopefully we will see more improvement next year.

Ralf was a little surprised to be on the podium."The whole weekend we have been struggling big time, really. In Japan we seemed to have been strong with a bit of luck, but in the race we had a bad time with the safety car. Here we didn't expect too much from the race. The safety car helped a bit but then during the race we picked up the pace massively and that enabled me to go forward and we had a good strategy as well."

Fisichella didn't have the luckiest season and it was a shame he got the penalty today but he drove well and played his part in Renault's victory. Klien had a stellar race to come home fifth after starting 14th and Massa did Sauber proud to score points in sixth for the team's last ever race. Both had feisty drives that proved their worth.

Button and Webber lost out early on when they made their stops before the safety car period and took the flag in seventh and eighth. Coulthard missed out on the one point he needed to take his career tally to 500 and finished ninth. Villeneuve completed the top ten, then came Monteiro in 11th to close his season with 18 finishes from 19 races.

Family picture for the 2005 Formula One drivers.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Barrichello wrestled with his tyres and dropped to 12th by the end, while Pizzonia, Doornbos, Trulli and Albers were classed 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th to complete the result. In parc ferm? an evidently delighted Alonso gunned his Renault engine so hard it promptly burst into flames, but there's nothing like going out with a bang.

So, we finally reach the end of another season. There will no doubt be debate about who deserved the constructors' title more, as much as there was about who deserved the drivers' but congratulations to Renault and Alonso, 2005 world champions. Final top eight classification: Alonso, Raikkonen, R. Schumacher, Fisichella, Klien, Massa, Webber, Button.

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