Renault's winning streak and Ferrari's long spell away from the top step of the podium came to an end when Michael Schumacher scored his 85th career victory at the San Marino Grand Prix. In a reversal of last year's race, Schumacher had to defend...
Renault's winning streak and Ferrari's long spell away from the top step of the podium came to an end when Michael Schumacher scored his 85th career victory at the San Marino Grand Prix. In a reversal of last year's race, Schumacher had to defend under strong pressure from Fernando Alonso in the closing stages, while behind them McLaren's Juan Pablo Montoya had a fairly uneventful afternoon to finish third.
It was clear and sunny on race day, with a track temperature in the mid forties at the start. Pole sitter Schumacher got away in the lead, followed by the Honda of Jenson Button. Rubens Barrichello's Honda lost out two places to Felipe Massa's Ferrari and Alonso's Renault and at the back of the field there was a big crash for Christijan Albers.
The MF1 got tagged from behind by Yuji Ide's Super Aguri and barrel rolled into the gravel at the Villeneuve chicane, coming to rest upside down. It was a bit of a shocker but Albers emerged unscathed, actually looking more annoyed than anything else. The safety car was deployed while the MF1 was retrieved and Ide went into the pits for a while.
Albers feels that the Super Aguris are being unnecessarily aggressive in trying to get ahead at of MF1 at the start. "They are taking too many risks and we saw today how dangerous this can be. I don't understand this tactic because I would have conceded the position to (Ide) had he been in a position to take it," he commented.
Barrichello was down to fifth behind Alonso, then came the Toyota of Ralf Schumacher, Montoya, Jarno Trulli's Toyota and the Williams of Mark Webber in eighth. Meanwhile, Kimi Raikkonen's McLaren had a poor start and lost two places to 10th. The safety car period was only a couple of laps and off they went again.
Tonio Liuzzi's Toro Rosso spun but recovered and Trulli was another early retiree, into the pits with a steering gremlin. "Everything was all right at first," said the Italian. "But after a couple of laps something failed on the steering column and I had no steering." So far this season Trulli has ended up on the wrong side of most of Toyota's misfortune.
Outside the top 10 the order was Jacques Villeneuve's BMW Sauber 11th, Renault's Giancarlo Fisichella 12th, Nico Rosberg's Williams 13th and the Red Bull of David Coulthard 14th. The tail enders were Nick Heidfeld's BMW, Scott Speed's Toro Rosso, Christian Klien's Red Bull, Liuzzi, the MF1 of Tiago Monteiro and Takuma Sato's Super Aguri.
Ide had managed to return to the track, for data collection if nothing else as he was a few laps down. The order was fairly static and after a dozen laps or so Raikkonen in ninth was already some 20 seconds behind Michael and Button. Barrichello was the first to pit around lap 15 and Button was in shortly afterwards, apparently on a three-stopper.
Ralf went in a lap later and on track Massa was holding Alonso behind him while Michael was belting out fastest laps at the front. A little tactical play by Ferrari there perhaps -- by the time Massa went in for his stop Alonso was over 12 seconds behind Michael. The German took his first trip into the pits shortly afterwards, leaving Alonso in the lead.
Montoya and Raikkonen were then up to third and fifth respectively but McLaren was not really making much of an impression on the race. They pitted in quick succession around lap 23 and Alonso followed suit a couple of laps later. He got out in front of Button and then it was Michael, Alonso, Button, Massa, Montoya and Webber making up the top six.
Montoya was closing on Massa and the Ferraris seemed to struggle with the tyres in the middle stint of the race. Michael was lapping in the 1:27 area and Alonso in the 1:25, rapidly catching the leader. Button's chance at fighting for the podium was scuppered by a messy pit stop when the fuel rig got stuck on the car.
The lollipop man lifted and Button accelerated out but the fuel hose was still attached. A couple of the pit crew got knocked over then the nozzle broke off and was stuck in the car. Button stopped in the pit lane and waited for a mechanic to come and remove it before he could get going. None of the crew suffered serious injury.
Meanwhile, Alonso was now very close behind Michael -- would he try and get past or wait for the Ferrari to take its second stop? Ide eventually retired for good when he went off track with a mechanical problem, which bought out the yellow flags. Alonso was biding his time, having the odd look at Michael but it was a bit of a cat and mouse game.
Michael was really quite slow by then -- backmarkers Klien and Liuzzi, who they had recently passed, were actually catching them up again and in turn a concertina effect was rippling down the field. Massa and Montoya, who had been some 20 seconds behind the leaders in third and fourth, had closed the gap to 14 seconds.
Alonso was really harassing Michael and Renault tried a tactical switch on the Spaniard's second pit stop -- Alonso went in early rather than run to the end of his fuel load. Massa dived in as well, followed by Michael shortly afterwards. It was a snap decision by Renault that didn't work as Michael rejoined in front of Alonso again.
Somewhere along the line Klien retired with a hydraulic failure and it was a bad day for Red Bull as Coulthard was out with a driveshaft problem not long afterwards. "I had a problem getting away in the pits, I don't know if that was something to do with it," Coulthard said. "We're simply not quick enough at the moment."
Raikkonen was running third but had another stop to make and Montoya had cleared Massa in his second stop. Once Raikkonen had been in again the points order was then Michael, Alonso, Montoya, Massa, Raikkonen, Webber, Button and Fisichella. Montoya was 14 seconds behind the battle that was going on for the lead.
Alonso was still on Michael's rear wing but not finding a way past -- naturally the Spaniard wanted to get ahead but second was only ceding two points to Michael in the championship, which was not worth taking any big risks over. He perhaps might have had a chance in the closing laps but it never panned out.
Alonso clipped the kerb quite hard through the Villeneuve chicane and went wide, which lost him time, then on the next lap he made another little mistake and dropped back further. With only a couple of laps to go he was not close enough to the Ferrari to take chance even if he fancied it. The order held to the chequered flag, to the delight of the tifosi.
Michael's 85th win was deserved and Ferrari looked much more competitive at Imola, although there are evidently some issues still to resolve. Really Alonso should have been able to get past Michael, if not in the middle stint then in the second pits stops, but this time around it was Ferrari that got the upper hand.
"I am very happy!" Michael declared. "The result shows that work pays off and that the effort put in by everyone - the team and our partners - has delivered its reward. The key moment was staying ahead after the second pit stop. As we saw last year, overtaking at this track it's almost impossible, unless the guy in front makes a mistake."
Alonso had a fairly feisty drive but knew it was not worth taking too many chances. Renault is clearly still very competitive but are the rest starting to close in? Fisichella picked up to come home eighth after starting 11th but to be honest he really shouldn't have been that far back on the grid to begin with.
Alonso admitted the early second pit stop didn't work out as hoped. "Maybe I should have waited until my normal pit stop, maybe that would have worked better,"he mused. "But who knows? I think this eight points is better for me. Second in the championship were Kimi and Fisichella and I took another four or five points off them, so championship-wise it was a perfect result."
Ron Dennis sure likes to talk about Raikkonen, blaming traffic and all sorts after the race for the Finn's less than noticeable afternoon, yet he hardly mentioned Montoya, who outperformed Raikkonen in both qualifying and the race. It was a decent enough drive by Montoya and Raikkonen, fifth, wasn't bad either but McLaren lacked its usual flair.
Montoya was happy enough, though. "I think it was good," he said. "I had a really quick start. I went onto the inside of Fernando, I think he went to try to pass a BAR (Honda) so I had to lift and I lost a couple of places there when I backed off but on and off it was a really good race. I think we did a lot of work over the last couple of weeks and I think we're going in the right direction."
Massa didn't do anything mad for once and finished where he started, fourth. He suffered in the middle stint, which probably lost him his first podium, but it was a clean and confident drive from the Brazilian. Webber perhaps wrestled the most out of his car, bringing the Williams home in sixth. Teammate Rosberg was a vague 11th.
Button recovered slightly from his pit stop problems to cross the line seventh but it was another disappointing day for Honda. Barrichello, who had performed well in qualifying to start third, went backwards and ended up outside the points in 10th. Button had the pace early in the race but something always seems to go wrong.
Toyota was also disappointing again, with Trulli's retirement and Ralf finishing ninth. The BMWs came home nose to tail with Villeneuve 12th and Heidfeld 13th, a rather poor performance after the promise of Melbourne. Both Toro Rossos finished, Liuzzi 14th and Speed 15th and Monteiro was last across the line in 16th. Sato retired with an unspecified problem.
After the excitement of Melbourne, Imola was fairly sedate by comparison. There were periods of tension when Michael and Alonso were scrapping but really it was more about strategy than track action. However, it's not a bad thing to see a different team take the win -- Renault needs some competition before it gets too far ahead.
The question remains of whether this is the start of Ferrari's resurgence or if it's just something about Imola that gives the team that extra edge. The red revival didn't happen last year but it's not wise to count Ferrari out too easily. Final top eight classification: M. Schumacher, Alonso, Montoya, Massa, Raikkonen, Webber, Button, Fisichella.