F1 rediscovers the magic


With ten minutes to go before the first race of the European F1 season, the air temperature is a cool 19 degrees C, while the track temperature is 28 degrees. It's overcast, but there is little chance of rain.

Hopefully we are in for a great race, with Raikkonen, Alonso, Button, Webber and Trulli starting from the front of the grid, and World Champion, Michael Schumacher, starting behind brother Ralf, Villeneuve and Fisichella, and ahead of the two Red Bulls.

As ever, strategy will be the key, who is opting for two stops and who is going for three, then again, who will be stopping first? Then of course there's the question mark regarding tyre wear, with Michael punishing his during this morning's qualifying session.

The field leaves the grid and begins the warm-up lap, Fisichella particularly slow in getting away.

Raikkonen takes his place on the grid and slowly the rest of the field slots into place.

After what seems like an eternity the lights go out and the race is on. Everyone gets away cleanly with Trulli and Sato both making up a place, as Raikkonen heads off into the distance. Webber however, soon reclaims fifth from Sato.

At the end of lap one it's Raikkonen, Alonso, Button, Trulli, Webber, and Michael Schumacher thirteenth. The Finn is already 2s ahead of Alonso.

At the end of lap 2, Raikkonen leads by 2.6s, with his pursuers running nose to tail. Michael Schumacher is running 0.5s behind his brother.

A fastest lap from Kimi (1:23.847) as he extends his lead to 2.7s, while Button has fallen 3s behind Alonso. Webber is all over Trulli as he attempts to grab back the position he lost at the start.

Raikkonen is running 1.6s faster than Button, with Alonso just 0.3s off the Finn's pace - the two race leaders are setting a scorching pace.

Michael Schumacher - still running thirteenth - is 2.7s ahead of Liuzzi, who leads Coulthard, Massa and Karthikeyan.

Meanwhile Fisichella has gone off, his race over, it appears that something broke on his Renault, another disastrous weekend for the Melbourne winner.

With 6 laps completed, Raikkonen leads Alonso by 3.2s with Button a further 7.1s down the road. Trulli is fourth ahead of Webber, Sato, Wurz, Villeneuve, Barrichello and Heidfeld.

Another fastest lap (1:23.296) for Raikkonen, whose pace is remorseless.

However, it's all over for the Finn, the McLaren slows to a halt, allowing Alonso to slip by.

As the Spaniard disappears into the distance, the silver car crawls slowly around the Imola Autodrome. Elsewhere, Friesacher also appears to have a problem with the brand new Minardi.

As Alonso leads Button by 7.9s, Raikkonen drives into his garage and retirement.

At the end of lap 11, Alonso leads Button by 8.4s, with Trulli a further 8.4s behind. Meanwhile, Webber is all over the Italian, but he too is under pressure from Sato.

Jacques Villeneuve is running seventh, running around a second behind Wurz. However, the Canadian is under pressure from Barrichello who is 2.2s ahead of Heidfeld.

With 14 laps completed, Alonso leads Button by 9.4s, as Webber and Sato line up behind Trulli. The Italian is clearly struggling, but he continues to hold station.

Button ups his pace and is continually posts times just 0.2s shy of the Spaniard.

At the end of lap 16, Massa pits, the Brazilian having damaged his front wing.

A lap later, Barrichello is the first driver to make a scheduled pit stop. The Brazilian had been running eighth. Meanwhile, teammate Michael Schumacher continues to run behind his brother.

There are now eight cars running behind Trulli's Toyota.

At the end of lap 18, Barrichello returns to the pits, and retires. Another disaster for Ferrari.

Out front, Button posts a new fastest lap (1:23.163) as he closes to within 8.5s of Alonso.

Another fastest lap for the Englishman (1:22.892) as Heidfeld and Ralf both pit, promoting Michael to eighth.

There's a stunning scrap between Webber, Sato, Wurz and Villeneuve, as the pack behind Trulli begins to grow impatient.

At the end of lap 22, Trulli pits as does Webber, promoting Sato to third, behind his teammate. Elsewhere, Albers has retired, a rotten debut for the PS05.

At the end of lap 23, Alonso pits, as do Sato and Villeneuve. Therefore Button now leads Alonso, Wurz and Michael, who posts a new fastest lap (1:22.287).

Next time around, Button pits, ac Michael closes in on Wurz. The German doing one of his amazing runs, banging in fast lap after fast lap.

Wurz pits at the end of lap 25, releasing Schumacher, who is now running third behind Alonso and Button.

After 26 laps, Alonso leads Button by 8.3s, with Michael just 1.2s behind, though he still has to stop.

At the end of lap 27, the German pits, 9.5s later he's heading back down the pitlane. He rejoins the race in third, absolutely stunning.

After 28 laps, Alonso leads Button by 9.7s with Michael Schumacher 21.8s behind. Wurz is fourth ahead of Sato, Trulli, Webber, Villeneuve, Heidfeld and Ralf. Liuzzi is eleventh, ahead of Coulthard, Massa, Karthikeyan and Monteiro.

Once again, Trulli is leading a train of cars, though now the Italian is running in sixth, ahead of Webber, Villeneuve, Heidfeld and Ralf.

The Canadian make takes full advantage of a mistake by the Australian and grabs seventh.

Out front Schumacher is lapping almost 2s a lap faster than Alonso, as he closes to within 17s of Button, who is 10.3s behind the race leader.

The German continues to set a blistering pace, taking 1.8s out of Alonso and Button. Quite astounding.

Another lap, and another 1.9s.

Further behind, Villeneuve and Webber are homing in on Trulli, not for the first time.

Aware of the fact that Schumacher is 'hot', Alonso ups his pace, however the German is still quicker by 1.8s. Indeed on lap 36, the Ferrari star takes 2.2s off Alonso.

As Schumacher continues on his remorseless quest, Massa has his second coming together of the afternoon with DC, the Brazilian making his feelings quite clear.

Behind the leaders, Wurz is still running fourth, ahead of Sato, Trulli, Villeneuve, Webber, Heidfeld and Ralf.

With 38 laps completed, Alonso leads Button by 9.3s, with Schumacher a further 5.3s down the road. The German continuing to take heaps of time out of his rivals' lead. Trulli, running sixth, 21s behind Sato, has four cars in his wake.

On lap 40, Michael closes to within 2.8s of the BAR driver, the question is can the Englishman withstand the onslaught.

At the end of lap 41, Alonso pits, as Schumacher closes within 0.9s of Button, who now leads.

As the World Champion pursues his quarry the atmosphere is electric, the crowds in the grandstand and on the hills rise as one.

Running in the BAR's dirt air, there is little that Schumacher can do about Button's lead, which of course, is to Alonso advantage.

At the end of lap 46, Trulli pits, which is good news for Villeneuve. Next time around, Sato pits.

As the leading duo come up on backmarkers, Schumacher makes his move, he nails the Englishman at the Variante Alta. The game is most definitely on!

Almost immediately, the German posts a new fastest lap (1:21.858), Alonso can only manage 1:24.302. Meanwhile Button pits.

At the end of lap 48, the German pits, it's a lightning stop (6.1s), and he's soon heading back down the pitlane. He emerges right behind Alonso, there's just 1.3s between them.

We now face a repeat of the opening laps in Bahrain, the World Champion versus the young pretender.

With 51 laps completed, Alonso leads Michael by 0.3s, with Button a further 11.6s behind. Wurz is fourth ahead of Sato, Villeneuve, Trulli, Ralf, Heidfeld and Webber. Liuzzi is eleventh, ahead of Massa, Coulthard, Karthikeyan and Monteiro.

The two leaders continue to circulate as though joined by a length of rope, neither driver giving an inch.

This is brilliant stuff, the Ferrari is all over the Renault, the German pushing his young rival all the way.

Despite his clear speed advantage, Schumacher is unable make an impression on his rival, both are lapping in the high 1:24s.

All attention is on these two, As Button falls 11.9s behind, with Wurz a further 18.3s down the road.

As they begin the last lap, there's loads of brake dust coming out of the Renault, will it last?

All the way to the end they slug it out, the German locking up massively at the final chicane.

The Spaniard takes the chequered flag, his third successive win, to consolidate his championship lead, however today belonged to Michael Schumacher and Ferrari, which has served notice that we have a serious championship battle on our hands.

Commiserations to Jenson Button who soaked up the pressure for as long as he could, but in the end was beaten by the 'old master'.

Alexander Wurz will be delighted to have take fourth, though it will be little consolation for the Woking team following Kimi Raikkonen's stunning qualifying performances.

A good performance form Sato, who showed some of the dogged determination we've come to expect of him.

Three points is sure to ease some of the pressure on Jacques Villeneuve, who drove a strong steady race today.

As expected, and despite their qualifying form, Toyota simply didn't have the pace here, and Jarno Trulli did well to finish seventh, even though the drivers forced to run in his wake for much of the afternoon are sure to have their own views.

As for WilliamsF1, to quote Fred Willard's character in A Mighty Wind; "Wha Happened…" So much was expected this weekend and so little delivered.

All in all a great race - certainly out front - on a day that F1 well and truly delivered.

This is what the fans want, this is what man down the pub will watch, this will give F1 the prominence on the sports' pages that it deserves.

We look ahead to Spain, and a season, when any number of teams and drivers can win races, and indeed anyone could take the title.

Article from Pitpass (http://www.pitpass.com):

Published: 24/04/2005
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