Kimi Raikkonen showed just what he had been denied at Imola a fortnight ago by blitzing the Spanish Grand Prix field from start to finish at the Circuit de Catalunya, and taking his first win of the season as a reward.

The Finn had eased himself onto pole position in morning qualifying and, with Mark Webber alongside in the Williams-BMW, must have hoped that he would have an early buffer between himself and the chasing Renaults and Toyotas. The start didn't quite work out as Raikkonen had planned but, in the event, it didn't really matter as, having got the drop on the rest of the field, the McLaren pulled away at almost a second a lap in the opening stages.

Webber's getaway was so poor that Ralf Schumacher also got past the BMW-powered Australian, a situation made all the more galling for Webber when the safety car appeared at the end of the lap. At the other end of the grid, both Minardis remained stranded just yards from where they had lined up on the eighth row of the grid, the victims of identical software programming errors

Having seen his pace controlled for two laps, Raikkonen was in no mood to hang about when the safety car returned to the pits, and darted away at the resumption, opening an immediate gap on his pursuers. By the end of the lap, the Finn enjoyed a 1.6secs advantage over Alonso, with Schumacher, Webber, Trulli and Giancarlo Fisichella in close attention. Seventh place was the first to change hands once racing began in earnest, Juan Montoya atoning for having been pushed onto the grass at the start by diving inside Michael Schumacher at turn one.

The Colombian almost undid his good work by spinning through 360 degrees on lap seven, but it was symptomatic of his pace compared to that of the world champion that Schumacher was in no position to re-pass. Indeed, the German has David Coulthard - buoyed by a new Red Bull chassis - sniffing at the gearbox of his Ferrari, with Felipe Massa again keeping tabs on his Imola sparring partner.

With the two Minardis having been fired up in pit-lane in order to rejoin the fray, Vitantonio Liuzzi became the race's first retirement, spinning deep into the gravel at turn eleven to cap an erratic second grand prix, The yellow flags had barely been withdrawn when Patrick Friesacher did likewise with his Minardi a couple of corners further on, and team-mate Christijan Albers completed a disappointing day for the Italian minnow by parking up on lap 22.

By that stage, the first of the pit-stops had begun, and it was no surprise to see Webber beating everyone in for fuel. The Australian's stunning Sunday qualifying performance smacked of a lighter fuel load, making his problems getting off the line all the more disappointing. The length of stop, however, suggested that what had started out as a potential three-stop race had been switched to a two-stopper in an attempt to snag some points for Grove following Nick Heidfeld's demotion to the rear of the grid.

Raikkonen by now enjoyed an 18-second advantage over Alonso, and the Spaniard appeared to be in some trouble as the two Toyotas homed in on the back of the Renault. Of all the races to begin to suffer reliability problems, this was not the one the points leader would have chosen, the stands awash with the blue-and-yellow flags of Asturias, coincidentally mirroring the colours of his car.

For four laps, Alonso kept Schumacher and Trulli at bay, before the German dived for the pits. Trulli followed the leader in a lap later, before Alonso followed suit on lap 27. If observers had caught their breath when blue smoke emerged from Raikkonen's exhaust, the Finn did not appear to concerned, rejoining ahead of the field and beginning to re-establish the gap that had served him so well first time around.

Alonso, too, was happier, the Renault running cleaner than it had in his first stint and now enjoying clear air back to the chasing Toyotas. The Cologne assault was now being led by Trulli, who had managed to vault ahead of his team-mate during his stop, the legacy of running a lap longer than Schumacher had managed.

Temporarily into second and third came Fisichella and Schumacher Sr, both running longer still. The pair eventually completed their first stops on laps 29 and 32 respectively, rejoining in positions either side of crowd favourite Alonso. Fisichella looked particularly racy, and held a comfortable cushion over his team-mate, while Schumacher, now fourth on the road, appeared set for definite points, if not another podium.

The German was now untroubled by Montoya, the unfortunate Colombian having had to make a second stop for fuel after the nozzle on his tank refused to open first time around. Having just enough fuel left in the car for another lap, JPM dropped to the tail of the top ten when he finally rejoined again.

Montoya was not the only driver to suffer ill-luck, however, for, just as Renault appeared to be able to up its pace in the middle part of the race, Fisichella also appeared back in the pits unexpectedly. There was no obvious damage to the R25, and no puncture to attend to, but the mechanics set about changing the front wing and checking the suspension, eventually costing the Italian around a minute. That dropped him back to 13th, seemingly out of the points.

Webber began the second round of 'real' stops on lap 43, only to be followed into the pits by the world champion. Again, Schumacher caught his team on the hop, Ferrari not having expected to see him quite so soon, but, with the left rear punctured, emergency surgery was required on the F2005.

Incredibly, at the end of his out lap, having narrowly avoided collecting both McLarens as he rejoined, Schumacher was in trouble again, this time the left front letting go as he braked for turn one. Again, the German managed to keep from making contact with Montoya but, by the time he had limped back to the pits, the suspension had cried enough and the car was parked for good.

The shake-up had allowed Toyota to resume its hunt for a podium, with Schumacher Jr sensing his first pot of the year as he closed in on team-mate Trulli. The Italian, however, has been hardened by his own success this season, and successfully defended his position to the flag, again helped by a marginally quicker final stop than Schumacher.

On a track used extensively for testing, perhaps it was no surprise to see teams running two-by-two, with Renault and Toyota having managed it at various stages in the race. Backmarkers Jordan and Minardi aside - and both minnows saw their share of inter-necine dicing - Williams also found its two FW27s running nose-to-tail at one point, despite Webber and Heidfeld starting from opposite ends of the grid. The German made his move stick this time, but the situation was skewed as he still had a final stop to make, allowing Webber to resume his pursuit of points alone.

The Australian was elevated to fifth when Coulthard and Montoya made their final stops, but now had the recovering Fisichella right on his rear wing. The Italian harried his Sepang assailant for several laps before making the speed differential between Renault and Williams tell into turn one on lap 64. Having given himself a clear road, Fisico then set about dismantling Raikkonen's new lap record, set repeatedly in the early stages, eventually stopping the clocks at 1min 15.641secs - 1.8secs quicker than the old record - on the very last lap.

His team-mate, however, was not going to get the prize he most wanted for Raikkonen was too far in front to be caught over the last few laps. Even though Felipe Massa showed that Michelin was potentially in as much trouble with wear as Bridgestone, the McLaren - notoriously easy on its tyres - continued to sail serenely on. Raikkonen had again rejoined in front after his second stop, and the gap was up to almost 30secs by the flag, despite Alonso claiming that his car was working the best it had all race.

After Imola, the MP4-20's performance was fitting reward for Raikkonen's frustration, allowing him to underline the fact that the world championship may yet be more than a one-horse race. Somehow, the victory was only the third of the Finn's career, but he must surely head to Monaco as favourite for number four...



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