F1

Dominant Australian GP win for Schumacher

Dominant Australian GP win for Schumacher

Michael Schumacher took a dominant victory at the Australian Grand Prix season opener, second placed teammate Rubens Barrichello giving Ferrari a formidable looking form. The scarlet duo led from start to finish, only the Renault of Fernando...

Michael Schumacher took a dominant victory at the Australian Grand Prix season opener, second placed teammate Rubens Barrichello giving Ferrari a formidable looking form. The scarlet duo led from start to finish, only the Renault of Fernando Alonso keeping anywhere near in touch to come home third. The cool, cloudy conditions were perfectly suited to Ferrari's Bridgestone tyres while the Michelin runners struggled for grip.

Start: Michael Schumacher takes the lead ahead of Rubens Barrichello.
Photo by Ferrari Media Center.
Championship hopefuls Juan Pablo Montoya and Kimi Raikkonen fared not so well. Montoya had a poor start, and although he fought hard, it was only fifth for the Colombian, behind Williams teammate Ralf Schumacher. Raikkonen's concern about McLaren not even finishing the first race unfortunately turned out to be prophetic as he retired with an engine failure.

Alonso made a very quick start, moving up behind the Ferraris. Montoya nearly held his third spot but locked up into the first corner and went wide, allowing Alonso to claim the position. Montoya fell to seventh, BAR's Jenson Button kept his fourth but Mark Webber's Jaguar dropped back to eighth.

Button's teammate Takuma Sato clipped the back of Jarno Trulli's Renault at the first corner and had to have the car's nose changed in his first stop. Montoya set about working his way up, taking Ralf for sixth and homing in Trulli, who suffered a damaged diffuser from the contact with Sato. Within half a dozen laps Michael was lapping over two seconds up on last year's pole lap. Alonso kept in touch with Barrichello but the rest of the pack began to fall behind.

Giancarlo Fisichella was fighting with Nick Heidfeld but Sauber surely didn't expect to be scrapping with the Jordans. McLaren was 3.5 seconds off the pace of Ferrari and Felipe Massa was harassing Raikkonen. The Sauber managed to get past but Raikkonen's rear wheels locked as the engine failed, and he spun off to retire.

"We lost water pressure and then the engine just gave up," said a frustrated Raikkonen. "It was disappointing. We were not expecting 10th place on the grid. We shouldn't be in that position, we should be fighting at the front."

By the time the first pit stops came round, Michael had enough of a time advantage to rejoin in the lead. The top eight remained the same after the stops and Minardi's Zsolt Baumgartner was the next casualty, cruising into the pits with an engine electronics problem. Teammate Gianmaria Bruni started losing power after 20 laps and he eventually had to pit out of sequence. The engineers managed to solve the misfire but Bruni finished too many laps down to be classified.

Ralf was closing on Button and Montoya on Trulli but neither was near enough to really make an attempt at passing. Massa caused most of the entertainment to be had, in what was a fairly good performance until he too was forced to retire. The Brazilian had a couple of trips across the grass and also spun a complete 360 on track before carrying on as if nothing had happened. Eventually he pulled off the track with an engine problem.

At the front it was half a minute between the three leaders and fourth placed Button. Montoya was desperately trying to get past Trulli, which he finally did but then went in for his second pit stop. It was an overly long stop for the Williams, some trouble with the left front tyre. Alonso had a very slow out lap after his stop, which allowed Ralf to close up to the Renault. Ferrari had very good stops and Michael and Barrichello were half a minute ahead of Alonso when everyone had returned to the track.

Webber was the next retiree, a gearbox problem putting him out of his home race. "It was a shame, I wish I was still out there," he said. "That's where the pace of the car was, hanging on to the big guys, but then I started losing gears."

Fisichella and Heidfeld had another set to further down the field, Fisichella getting the better of the German this time around. Montoya was battling with Button, the Williams much quicker under braking than the BAR and finally taking fifth at turn 13.

Alonso was the first of the stoppers for the third round of pits and again the order was static afterwards. Montoya had another long stop, this time the rear right tyre having problems. Heidfeld retired after trouble with his stop. He nearly missed his pit box and accidentally hit one of the mechanics. He managed to get away but then pulled off track on exiting the pit lane with a clutch problem.

Podium: race winner Michael Schumacher with Jean Todt, Rubens Barrichello and Fernando Alonso.
Photo by Ferrari Media Center.
In the final laps Michael slowed to cruise home, even pulling over to let Button unlap himself. Barrichello caught up to cross the line 10 seconds adrift and it was a further half a minute before Alonso took the chequered flag for third.

A rather processional season opener with little in the way of excitement. Some fans are already groaning with dismay at the prospect of another Ferrari dominated year. The Scuderia certainly showed impressive form and the rest of the grid has an awful lot of work to do to match it.

Williams had the pace but struggled with the Michelins in the cool conditions. Montoya showed his usual flair and aggression but it was to little avail. Alonso had a solitary race, too far off the Ferraris to challenge and too far ahead of the rest to be in any danger. The Renaults showed good pace and reliability, Trulli finishing seventh, but it was not enough.

"I had a little problem with Montoya," said Alonso of the first corner. "He squeezed me a bit. He ran wide on the dirty part of the track and he didn't brake enough. After that, I was too slow to race with the Ferraris and a little quicker than Jenson and Ralf, so it was an easy race."

BAR couldn't keep the pace, also struggling with the tyres, Button making sixth, although it was a reasonable performance. Sato finished just outside the points in ninth. McLaren was fairly dismal, Raikkonen's engine failure was early in the race and David Coulthard struggled on the edge of the top ten most of the time. The Scot claimed the final single point with eighth.

"We've had our first reality check on our performance," said Coulthard. "We are going to improve, but I can't honestly say we are going to be running at the front. But we'll do our best."

As for the rest, it was generally unimpressive performances all round. Webber was doing a fairly solid job until his retirement and Jaguar rookie Christian Klien finished 11th. Sauber was further down the gird than it had expected to be, Fisichella tenth. Toyota was nearly invisible the whole race, Olivier Panis and Cristiano da Matta 12th and 13th. The remaining Jordan of Giorgio Pantano was last, 14th.

After a winter of waiting, the Australian GP fell a little short on interest. Within a couple of laps it had settled into a static rhythm that lasted until the chequered flag. There had been some complaints from teams about the new back-to-back qualifying system, and with drivers nursing the engines to make them last, it was a conservative weekend.

"It was tough because in the first half of the race before Rubens faced some problems it was a close fight," said Schumacher. "I couldn't do any mistakes. It was very exciting." Barrichello experienced brake problems that forced him to back off.

Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn does not expect to go through the season in the same fashion: "Even in 2002 when we had such a dominant season we kept expecting things to go wrong. I guess that is what drives us on," he said. "But there will be lots of twists and turns this season I think we would be very lucky if we carried on like this."

Of course, there are still 17 races to go and it's far too early to predict another Ferrari walkover. However, many were shocked by the Scuderia's pace at Melbourne. Fisichella in 10th was the next best Bridgestone runner but Michelin obviously had difficulties. There's a lot of work to do for most of the teams before Malaysia.

Final top eight classification: M. Schumacher, Barrichello, Alonso, R. Schumacher, Montoya, Button, Trulli, Coulthard.

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