Kimi Raikkonen won an exciting Canadian Grand Prix that saw crashes, car failures, a black flag and the safety car. The McLaren man kept his cool to take the chequered flag ahead of the Ferraris of Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello, a...
Kimi Raikkonen won an exciting Canadian Grand Prix that saw crashes, car failures, a black flag and the safety car. The McLaren man kept his cool to take the chequered flag ahead of the Ferraris of Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello, a great finish for the scarlet team. Renault's championship chances took a blow with a double retirement, each incident happening when the driver was leading the race.
The conditions at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve were hot and humid for the start of the race. Barrichello, who had not set a qualifying time, started from the pit lane and when the lights went out it was the Renaults that got the best getaway. Giancarlo Fisichella shot up from fourth to take the lead and teammate Fernando Alonso slotted in behind for second.
BAR's Jenson Button, the pole-sitter, had to settle for third while Michael Schumacher, who was alongside Button on the front row, had a poor start and dropped to sixth. The McLarens were gainers, Juan Pablo Montoya and Kimi Raikkonen up to fourth and fifth and Toyota's Jarno Trulli climbed to seventh after a brief squabble with the BAR of Takuma Sato. Sato went over the grass and went down to eighth.
Sauber's Felipe Massa moved up a couple of places to ninth, as did the Williams of Nick Heidfeld to 10th. Jacques Villeneuve, who had done well in qualifying to start eight, dropped to 12th and was in the pits for a front wing change after contact with Sato. Ralf Schumacher's Toyota got past David Coulthard's Red Bull for 11th and Mark Webber also had a go at Coulthard at the hairpin but the Williams went wide and remained 13th.
Christian Klien's Red Bull gained a couple of places to 14th, Minardi's Christijan Albers remained 15th and Barrichello was up to 17th. So, after all the scrambling about in the opening laps, the Renaults were pulling away from Button a little as things settled down. Narain Karthikeyan spun his Jordan but continued, only to retire later on when he hit the wall and damaged the rear suspension.
Ralf was closing on Heidfeld and Barrichello moved up to 15th, while at the front Alonso was on the radio telling the team he was faster than Fisichella but Renault told him to stay put. Fair enough -- if you're that much faster, overtake him yourself! No team orders, remember, but there's ways round that. However, as it turned out it didn't matter anyway.
Michael was the first to pit, he and Button apparently on three-stop strategies as Button was in a couple of laps later, followed by Ralf. McLaren was starting to up the pace and close on the Renaults, Raikkonen setting the fastest lap at the time. The Red Bulls were next to pit and Klien held Alonso up when he came out of his stop, losing the Spaniard a couple of seconds to Fisichella.
Sato retired to the pits with a gearbox problem and BAR took the novel decision to swap the gearbox in his car and send him out again. This was in order to try and at least finish the race and therefore not have to run so early in qualifying for Indianapolis next weekend. Sato duly rejoined the race some time later -- 24 laps down! It just shows how much of a disadvantage it is to be out early in qualifying.
Montoya and Raikkonen were trading fastest laps and Renault and McLaren proved they were on identical strategies. Alonso and Raikkonen took their first stop together, Alonso staying in front, and Fisichella and Montoya pitted the next lap. Fisichella retained the lead and Montoya so nearly jumped Alonso for second. Exiting the pits as the Renault came up behind, Montoya went wide over the grass and Alonso got ahead.
The points paying positions after the first round of stops were Fisichella, Alonso, Montoya, Raikkonen, Button, Michael, Trulli and Barrichello eighth but he was yet to pit. Alonso was again complaining about Fisichella holding him up, to which Renault gave the succinct reply: "Well overtake him then!" As it happened, Alonso didn't have to try too hard.
He whipped past as Fisichella's Renault began to ail and Montoya quickly followed suit, and Raikkonen, and Fisichella had to retire to the pits with a hydraulic problem. Giancarlo's luck just isn't getting any better. "It's a really bad period for me," the dejected Italian commented afterwards. "It's really sad to have another problem when I was leading."
"The car was fantastic, handling well, and a possible one-two was there. But there was a problem with the hydraulics and that was it. Fernando was faster as he had less fuel than me and I struggled a little bit at first to get the tyres cleaned up, but I would have been okay for the win."
So, Alonso led with Montoya and Raikkonen closing ominously behind him. Button and Michael took their second stops and Heidfeld and Ralf were homing in on Massa who had got himself up to a fairly respectable seventh. However, Alonso was the second leader to retire when he clipped the wall and damaged the rear suspension. He made it back to the pits but it was game over, seemingly due simply to driver error.
"We were doing a fantastic job but one bad day -- it happens to someone else, it happens to us," said a surprisingly chipper Renault boss Flavio Briatore. "Both drivers were very competitive and we can recover from this setback. However, it is good for Formula One."
Now Montoya led by six seconds from Raikkonen, with Button up to third. Minardi's Patrick Friesacher was the next retiree, cruising into the pits with a currently unknown problem, and Heidfeld went out shortly afterwards with an engine failure. Raikkonen was closing the gap to Montoya, down to three seconds, then Button was another to depart the race via a wall.
The BAR jumped over the kerb at the last chicane and hit the wall of champions into the pit straight, bringing out the safety car. Button admitted a bit sheepishly it was his own fault. "That was completely my mistake," he said. "I went wide onto the marbles at the chicane. Michael was quite close but I felt pretty comfortable, so that's a real bummer."
Several drivers dived into the pits to take advantage of the safety car period but it seemed there was a bit of confusion at McLaren. Montoya, as leader, should have pitted first but it was Raikkonen who ducked in before the Colombian. Montoya came in next and rejoined behind his teammate, after a close call with Coulthard's Red Bull.
Montoya came out alongside Coulthard, possibly slightly behind, but squeezed ahead and Coulthard yielded. Shortly afterwards the safety car went in but Montoya was under investigation by the stewards. It was thought it was due to the Coulthard incident but Juan Pablo was subsequently black-flagged for exiting the pit lane through the red light.
The rules say that a car may not rejoin the race when the safety car is leading the pack past the pit exit. Whether Montoya did not see the red light or what, exactly, the situation was is not clear but the stewards took a dim view of it and the Colombian was forced to retire from the race. Bad luck or bad judgement, either way Montoya is not having an easy season.
Whatever next in this race of random incidents? The track order was a little confusing compared to the actual running order after the safety car period, with Ralf at the head of the field but not actually leading. Once Montoya was disqualified and the order sorted itself out, it was Raikkonen leading from Michael, Trulli, Barrichello -- who had done a great job to get up there from the pit lane start -- Massa, Webber, Ralf and Coulthard.
Michael was closing on Raikkonen and Webber on Massa and there was a spot or two of rain, but the track temperature was still over 40 degrees so it was burning off almost immediately. Villeneuve, who had a difficult time after his early pit for a new front wing, was gaining ground on Klien in ninth, while Coulthard was eighth.
Trulli was next to come to grief; the Toyota suffered a brake failure, which could have been nasty, but Trulli successfully controlled it to pull safely off track. "It's very frustrating," he said. "It's the third time in a row that I've lost out on a podium position."
Sato, who had been diligently putting in his laps, also retired (again) with what looked like a rear brake problem, a vast amount of black smoke and a few flames sprouting from the rear of the BAR as he spun off. However, the idea of sending him out again wasn't a complete failure as he was classified 16th, so at least he won't be out first for Indy qualifying.
In the final laps Michael was closing in on Raikkonen but there was not enough time left. Webber was doing likewise to Massa but the order remained static to the line. Raikkonen's victory and Alonso's retirement has done Kimi's championship hopes a world of good. There's still 22 points between them but the Canadian result means the battle is nowhere near over.
"I have gained what I lost at the last race and my championship battle is back on," said Raikkonen. "Towards the end Michael was catching up but it was not too much of a problem. I can't wait for the race in Indianapolis next week where I think, once again, we should be in with a good chance of winning."
Michael was not exactly a remarkable performer, benefiting mainly from the retirement of others, as did everyone else in the points, but the end result is what counts and second place is much better than Ferrari has come to expect this season.
"At the start, me and Jenson went backwards!" Michael exclaimed. "I just had no grip. In the closing stages, I was able to close on Kimi, my pace was as good or a little bit better than his, but it was not enough to pass."
Barrichello put in a strong drive to third from the back and it was heartening for the Maranello squad to get both drivers on the podium. "In over 200 grands prix, this is the first time I have ever started a race from the pit lane," said the Brazilian. "It's nice to do something new after so many races."
"We changed our strategy by putting some extra fuel in at the start, as it would not have been any use to make my stops at the same time as everyone else. It took me a while to pass a Minardi, but after that I pushed all the time."
Massa had a surprisingly quiet time on his way to fourth, equalling his best finish at Spa last year. A good effort from the Brazilian to keep himself out of trouble and bring Sauber some much needed points. Villeneuve lost out due to his unscheduled early pit stop and finished ninth. A shame for the Canadian at his home race.
Webber at least salvaged some points for Williams with fifth and Ralf did likewise for Toyota in sixth. Red Bull made the most of the ups and downs of the race and Coulthard and Klien came home seventh and eighth. It was certainly an entertaining race as with all the incidents you never really knew what was going to happen next.
While Alonso remains fairly comfortably at the front of the drivers' standings, the main impact Canada had was in the constructors' as McLaren has closed the gap to Renault to 13 points. Ferrari's haul of 14 points moved the team up to within easy striking distance of Toyota and Williams, although the gap to Renault from the three of them is still around 30 points. But it's by no means an insurmountable task.
Raikkonen really needed to win this race to keep himself in contention and that's precisely what he did. There are still chances for others to take up the challenge but the rivalry between Alonso and Raikkonen looks set to be the battle of the season. Bring it on! Final top eight classification: Raikkonen, M. Schumacher, Barrichello, Massa, Webber, R. Schumacher, Coulthard, Klien.