Fernando Alonso got his Formula One world title defence off to the perfect start with ten points from the opening round of 2006 in Bahrain, but the Spaniard had to overcome the threat of a rejuvenated Ferrari team to take top honours.
As had been predicted from the moment that tyre stops were reintroduced to Formula One, the 'pass' came in pit-lane, but that unfairly obscures the efforts of both Alonso and his Renault crew, as well as those in vain from Michael Schumacher and Ferrari, that made the race a nail-biter.
Aware that no polesitter had been beaten at the Sakhir circuit, Schumacher started strongly, making the perfect getaway to leave no-one in any doubt who would be leading through turn one. Behind him, new team-mate Felipe Massa dutifully moved to slot in to second spot, only to make a second distinctive move across the track to block the fast-starting Alonso, who had followed the Brazilian through from fourth place.
Starting alongside the reigning world champion, Jenson Button made a poor getaway, holding up those immediately behind him, and eventually finding himself passed not only by Alonso, but also by Juan Montoya and Honda team-mate Rubens Barrichello.
Schumacher pulled away immediately, opening up a 1.4secs gap on his nearest challenger by the end of the first lap, although the margin probably reflected the fact that Alonso had made short work of Massa and was now into second spot. Behind the sixth-placed Button, Giancarlo Fisichella headed Mark Webber, Christian Klien and David Coulthard, the Italian's qualifying problem seemingly cured by a wholesale change of electronics.
Further back, however, things were not quite so clear cut, with an incident at the tight first corner catching both Nick Heidfeld and rookie Nico Rosberg out. The BMW Sauber driver was another to make a poor getaway and, finding himself on the inside line, came to a virtual standstill as the 22-car field funnelled around turn one. Rosberg was also trapped on the same line, and could not his Williams slowed sufficiently to avoid contact with the BMW, losing his nose and spinning into the bargain. Tiago Monteiro, meanwhile, started from pit-lane after struggling with driveshaft problems on his way to the grid, and brought up the rear for the opening lap.
The Portuguese wasn't last for long, however, as both Rosberg and the second Midland entry of Christijan Albers headed for the pits at the end of lap one. While the German returned to the fray, however, Albers was not so fortunate, Midland's grand prix debut getting off to a disappointing start.
Although several drivers looked racy in the early going, few made up as much ground as McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen. Confined to the last row of the grid after breaking his suspension in the new-look qualifying session, the Finn made short work of the Super Aguri twins immediately ahead of him, and continued to pick off the midfield at random, to be lying in twelfth spot by lap four, a gain of ten places. He then got caught up behind a stubborn Jacques Villeneuve, which slowed his progress slightly, and allowed those already in the points positions to make gains of their own.
The two Honda drivers appeared intent on limiting their advantage, however, with Button and Barrichello passing and re-passing on successive laps in the early going, before the Briton eventually seized the initiative and set off in pursuit of Montoya. Barrichello, meanwhile, saw his Honda debut go from bad to worse, as third gear soon went AWOL and restricted the Brazilian to an ignominious slide down the order to an eventual 15th place finish.