24 April 2005
Imola 2005: Alonso denies magic Michael 'home' win
Fernando Alonso may have been denied pole position for the first European grand prix of the season, but he was not about to pass up the opportunity complete a hat-trick of victories - even with Michael Schumacher and will of the tifosi on his tail.
The pair ran nose-to-tail for the final dozen laps, with Schumacher's new Ferrari F2005 looking the class of the field. The German made several feints to pass his likely successor as world champion, but Alonso - and his nerve - held firm, using the superior torque of the Renault to repel each and every move, eventually crossing the line a scant couple of tenths in front.
The race had begun very differently, however, with Alonso a mere eleven places further up the grid than his would-be aggressor. And the Spaniard wasn't even on pole, as Kimi Raikkonen had managed to extend his 0.003secs overnight advantage closer to half a second.
The Finn duly led away at the start and, while the pack squabbled in Alonso's wake, made good his escape, pulling out a three-second gap in just a matter of laps. The disappearing McLaren confirmed the suspicion that Raikkonen may have been more lightly fuelled than Alonso during their qualifying showdown, but no-one got a definitive answer as, after only nine laps, the Renault swept through and into the lead as Raikkonen slowed exiting Tosa. There was no tell-tale smoke to suggest an engine problem, leaving the finger of blame to fall on the gearbox, and it was an extremely angry Raikkonen who crawled back to the pit garage.
The Finn's demise left Alonso with a healthy advantage over Jenson Button, the Briton nevertheless revelling in the reworked BAR, with the rest of the field scrapping over the minor points places. It was a frenetic battle mind you, with Jarno Trulli and Takuma Sato having jumped Mark Webber off the line. Webber then repaid the compliment, forcing his way past Sato on the run between Tosa and Piratella, while Jacques Villeneuve and Rubens Barrichello both made up ground at the expense of a tardy Nick Heidfeld.
Just before Alonso assumed the lead, his Renault team-mate had become the race's first victim, plunging off the road at Tamburello in an incident that looked more likely to be the result of a mechanical failure than driver error. Following the twitch that scuppered his first qualifying run, the Italian will have every right to banish the first of this season's 'home' races from his mind.
At the same time as Raikkonen slowed, so Patrick Friesacher did likewise at the other end of the field. Minardi team boss Paul Stoddart had predicted that neither of the new PS05s would make it to the end of the race, but one expects he had hoped for more than eight laps before the first retirement. Team-mate Christijan Albers showed no ill-effects from his qualifying crash, but could not coax his car beyond lap 20, when he retired in the pits.
Indeed, the entire casualty list was complete by the time the Dutchman pulled back into the Minardi garage, with Rubens Barrichello becoming the fourth retirement on lap 18. The Brazilian had not long made his first pit-stop, but was quickly back in the pits, pulling straight into the Ferrari bay and climbing out.
Barrichello had been one of the first to pit for fuel, although Felipe Massa brought forward his initial visit, having clipped then rear of David Coulthard's Red Bull RB1 in the midst of an over-confident passing attempt at Rivazza. The Sauber required little more than a front wing change, and Massa was soon back in the fray - book-ending his race with a slightly more forceful assault of DC at the same place shortly after half-distance. The pair finished twelfth and 13th respectively, a lap down.
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