Giancarlo Fisichella may have been fortunate to take pole position for the Australian Grand Prix, but he made no mistake in a flawless race performance to double his F1 victory tally with a lights-to-flag success in Melbourne.
Not needing Renault's legendary launch system to carry him into an early lead, the Italian eased away from compatriot Jarno Trulli
over the opening half-dozen laps, establishing a cushion that served him well over the rest of the afternoon. Trulli proved to be the only driver able to live with the R25 in the opening stages, after a first lap reshuffle saw David Coulthard
and Mark Webber
lose time as they continued to duel and various slower cars propelled up the order in a topsy-turvy qualifying gradually become rolling roadblocks for faster machinery behind.
A string of fastest laps - although not new records owing to the winter rule changes - saw Fisichella ease away from his pursuers, all of whom, Felipe Massa
excepted, opted for the same two-stop strategy as the pole man. Renault
had shown its pace in testing, but no-one quite expected Fisichella to control the race in quite the fashion he did.
The Italian's task was eased, of course, by the fact that much of the expected opposition was mired down the order after being caught out by the conditions in Saturday qualifying. Although the second session, held on race morning, would usually offer a chance for redress, the margins were so great that only a few managed to claw back vital positions. It was then left up to the first lap skirmishing to establish the running order, but the likes of Michael Schumacher, Kimi Raikkonen
and Juan Montoya never made up enough ground to be serious threats.
The world champion made his job harder by opting for a between sessions engine change that ensured he would start from the back row, while Raikkonen's fractious weekend got worse when he stalled on the grid and had to start from pit-lane. The Finn turned in a blinding opening lap to be sitting directly behind Schumacher at its end, but the pair were only 15th and 16th, and bottled up behind Takuma Sato and the one-stopping Felipe Massa.
Montoya made a better fist of it, bolting from ninth on the grid to seventh at the start, but then found himself on the tail of a train that stretched as far as third. The man driving the train was none other than that who JPM replaced at Woking, for David Coulthard
had made a good getaway to usurp Jacques Villeneuve - who moved the opposite way down the field - and dived inside local hero Mark Webber
at turn four to claim third. Webber gave valiant chase, while Williams
team-mate Nick Heidfeld
moved up to fifth after his own good start.
Villeneuve was among the biggest losers on lap one, dropping to ninth, while former BAR team-mate Jenson Button
also lost vital ground as he dropped back to eleventh. Benefiting from the Briton's misfortune was the second Renault
of Fernando Alonso
and Rubens Barrichello, who sensed a rare early season opportunity to be best Ferrari. Both would play a central role.
The Italian axis at the front of the field lasted until Trulli became the first to stop for fuel under the new rules that prevented tyre changes also taking place. That did not stop the Toyota
team - and others after them - still fielding as many men around the car as before and, frankly, it looked a little incongruous. Trulli's stop prompted a chain reaction down the field but, with Fisichella not requiring a top-up for a further five laps, did little to prevent his fellow Italian from extending his advantage.
The action, as has become the norm over the past twelve months, was taking place deeper in the field, with Alonso passing Villeneuve at Ascari, before being repassed at the next turn by the still feisty Canadian. The battle continued to rage for sometime, until the charging Spaniard repeated the move and made it stick ten laps later. Once free of the Sauber, Alonso began to make the second Renault
fly, trading fastest laps with the frontrunners and making a solid points finish look possible.