It was a case of the new champion against the old in the 2006 season opener at Bahrain, with Renault's Fernando Alonso triumphing over Ferrari's Michael Schumacher. Alonso gained the advantage on then-leader Schumacher in a super-quick pit stop by...
It was a case of the new champion against the old in the 2006 season opener at Bahrain, with Renault's Fernando Alonso triumphing over Ferrari's Michael Schumacher. Alonso gained the advantage on then-leader Schumacher in a super-quick pit stop by his Renault crew and took the chequered flag ahead of the German to begin the defence of his world champion status in fine style.
Ferrari put up a good fight but Schumacher couldn't get close enough to go on the attack once Alonso gained the lead and had to settle for second place. McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen had a superb drive from the very back of the grid to come home on the podium in third.
Renault's Giancarlo Fisichella was complaining about a drop in power as he went to the grid and MF1's Tiago Monteiro had a transmission problem. Fisichella stuck it out but Monteiro had to run back to start from the pit lane in the spare car.
On the formation lap Super Aguri's Yuji Ide was under investigation and later had to serve a drive-through penalty for his mechanics spending too long on the grid after the last warning. It was a fairly clean start, with Michael pulling away in the lead and teammate Felipe Massa managed to defend his second place from Alonso.
However, Alonso was not giving up and attacked Massa again through the next few corners and gained the second position. Juan Pablo Montoya's McLaren gained one place to fourth and the Honda of Rubens Barrichello moved up to fifth.
Losers in the first lap were BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld and the Williams of Nico Rosberg, which apparently had contact. Heidfeld dropped to near the back and Rosberg had to pit for a new front wing. MF1's Christijan Albers also went in the pits and retired with a driveshaft failure.
Jenson Button, who started from third, dropped back to sixth to battle with Honda teammate Barrichello. Raikkonen, meanwhile, was up to 13th and the initial front positions were Michael leading Alonso, followed by Massa and Montoya. Fisichella and Red Bull's Christian Klien were up to seventh and eighth respectively, Klien doing a determined job of harassing the Italian.
Button got past Barrichello for fifth up the inside of turn one and Toro Rosso's Tonio Liuzzi dispatched the Red Bull of David Coulthard at the same corner. There may be a scratchy-beard meeting at Red Bull headquarters now the "junior" team outdid the senior.
Raikkonen had made his way up to 11th and Fisichella's suspected gremlin developed into an electronic problem. The Italian soldiered on but the Williams of Mark Webber was closing in. At the front Massa was keeping Alonso in touch and Michael had extended his lead to three seconds.
Button was homing in on Montoya then all Massa's brave qualifying performance was wasted, partly his fault and partly Ferrari's. The Brazilian spun -- Alonso did well to leap on the brakes and avoid the scarlet car -- and messed up his tyres.
He ducked into the pits for a tyre change but the Ferrari crew faffed and fumbled with the rear right and wasted Massa a full 45 seconds, which demoted him to 20th when he rejoined the track. That elevated Alonso to second and the battle with Michael was on.
Toyota's Ralf Schumacher passed the Toro Rosso of Scott Speed for 15th and Button charged past Montoya for third. Raikkonen was up to 10th but was stuck behind the BMW of Villeneuve and Heidfeld came close to contact with Coulthard as he went by for 12th.
Michael was six seconds ahead of Alonso when he went in for his first stop and rejoined fourth. Raikkonen finally got past Villeneuve at turn one then Barrichello, Fisichella and Button dived into the pits. Alonso was in on the next lap.
The Super Aguris had a fuel rig problem on their stops; Ide didn't get any gas on his stop and had to come back in the next lap, but Sato was in the box. Ide retired and Sato also didn't get any fuel and had to go back in on the next lap. He managed to continue.
Raikkonen was up to sixth and evidently on a one-stopper then Fisichella's gremlins finally developed and he had to retire to the pits with a hydraulic failure. "I'm very disappointed," he said. "We had a problem in qualifying and we had all night to fix it but we didn't.
"Just after the start I lost power again then I had a problem with the hydraulics. Starting the season like that is obviously not good."
While the pit stops reeled through Montoya was in the lead until he went in, followed by Webber and Villeneuve. Rosberg was performing well in his first race, dispatching the BMW of Heidfeld for 11th and shortly afterwards setting the fastest lap at the time.
Alonso was closing on Michael and Button on Montoya but further down the field Massa was yet to recover from his bungled pit stop and was stuck in 16th. Button finally overtook Montoya at turn one but his teammate Barrichello was having gearbox problems.
Raikkonen took his one pit stop and rejoined in sixth then Villeneuve exploded. Well, okay, not the Canadian himself -- his BMW spouted a vast amount of flames from the rear end and Villeneuve sensibly pulled off and ran like hell.
The two Toyotas were battling and Ralf passed Trulli for 15th, while Liuzzi continued the charge of Toro Rosso and was up to a point position in eighth. Coulthard and Heidfeld were fighting for ninth then Heidfeld ducked into the pits, followed by Michael.
Alonso was getting very stroppy about the backmarkers, waving his hands and gesticulating wildly. Perhaps if he kept his hands on the wheel instead of acting like a frustrated lobster he might have cleared them quicker.
Michael had been putting the hammer down when he came out the pits and Alonso needed a very good stop to get the jump on the Ferrari. Renault responded magnificently and Alonso came out side by side with Michael, fighting all the way through a few corners and eventually gaining the lead.
The running order was then Alonso, Michael, Montoya, Raikkonen, Button, Webber, Rosberg and Klien. Massa was working his way tirelessly through the field and overtook Liuzzi for 10th, while Rosberg was closing on Coulthard and disposed of him at turn one.
The Scot wasn't giving up so easy and fought back and the Red Bull and the Williams went side by side for a few corners. Rosberg was equally determined though, and eventually made it stick to go back into the last points position in eighth.
At the front Alonso was a second ahead of Michael but the Ferrari was closing -- Michael was better in the braking zones than the Renault but just couldn't get quite close enough to make a challenge. Massa got past Coulthard for ninth in the closing stages but time was running out.
Rosberg, who really was quite a star in this first race of the season, whipped past the Red Bull of Klien at turn one on the penultimate lap for seventh but it was game over. Alonso took the chequered flag ahead of Michael and a revived Raikkonen in third.
Renault and Alonso lived up to the expectations of winter testing; the team was on the ball where Alonso's car was concerned and the Spaniard himself didn't disappoint. It was a fine battle between him and Michael but Renault's strength won out.
"In the first stint, Michael was too quick, nothing to do," admitted the Spaniard. "We thought that we had more fuel than the others, especially yesterday in qualifying, up until lap 20 and then from there the car was performing well."
"We were on a similar pace to Michael and in the second stop, thanks to luck, thanks to the mechanics who did a perfect stop again, I was very close but in front of Michael and from there, I think we had a similar pace again but with me just in front."
Michael was pleased enough with second: "If you think where we were last year, if you see what has happened over the winter time, if somebody would have told us we would finish second in this race we would have been absolutely happy about it and we are honestly happy," he said.
"(A) good result, good work from the team, reliable car, fast car, very promising for the rest of the season and good fighting and good racing."
Raikkonnen was stunning from is rear-end position to take third. Kudos to McLaren as well for getting the strategy right but they shouldn't have let him down in the first place.
"At least we got six points, so we didn't drop too many points behind the two guys in front of me." said the Finn. "There are many races to go and we seem to have good speed and the car is working, so maybe we can see what we can do."
Of course, Fisichella's retirement was a blow for the French squad but Alonso's win compensated. Michael was as serenely talented as ever but he couldn't match the young pretender -- not this time anyway. Massa got a bit carried away but Ferrari has to shoulder the blame just as much.
Raikkonen showed great consistency: how many times he battled through the grid last year I've forgotten count and he did it yet again in Bahrain. McLaren deserves a good kicking for letting him down for the umpteenth time with the suspension failure but the Finn, as usual, came through.
Montoya, technically, should have bettered his icy counterpart when he started fifth on the grid to Raikkonen's 22nd. But Montoya's fire didn't really burn in Bahrain and he finished where he started, in fifth. Is it McLaren or is it the drivers?
Button was a factor in the race but not as much in the results as he should have been, while Williams was solid if not exciting. However, baby-faced rookie Nico Rosberg shone brightly. To score points on one's debut - without extenuating circumstances -- is a significant achievement and Rosberg was impressive.
Klien also made an impact over his more experienced teamamte Coulthard, much as he did in qualifying. There were only two places between them in the race but Klien's eighth scored that all important point that Coulthard failed to do.
The rest were few and far between but it was an entertaining race and there's much promise to come for the next event in Malaysia and rest of the season. Final top eight classification: Alonso, M.Schumacher, Raikkonen, Button, Montoya, Webber, Rosberg, Klien.