Spanish sigh following Raikkonen masterclass

08/05/2005
NEWS STORY

It's unlikely that today's race is going to match Imola, in terms of sheer excitement, but it should still be intriguing, after all, with fifteen minutes to go before the start, nobody can really predict who will be standing atop the podium in less than two hours.

Kimi Raikkonen starts from pole for the second (successive) time this year, but there remain the question of reliability. With three wins, and the entire crowd, behind him, Fernando Alonso will be fired up, while Mark Webber and the two Toyota drivers look good. Then again, lets not forget Fisichella, who must surely be due a lucky break.

We should never discount Michael, and certainly Ross Brawn is confident that the German will have good race pace, but can he really repeat that Imola magic here in Spain? That said, he starts alongside Juan Pablo Montoya, and we are well aware that there's no love lost there.

As the cars prepare to head off on the installation lap, the air temperature is 24 degrees C, while the track temperature is 44 degrees. Conditions are ideal.

With minutes to go, the atmosphere is electric, the Spaniards, like their Latin cousins in Italy, are now fully fledged, passionate, F1 fans, with someone to cheer for. If you didn't know better, you'd swear you were at Monza… brilliant stuff!

Tiago Monteiro starts from the very back of the grid, behind Barrichello and Heidfeld, having had an engine change following this morning's qualifying session.

The cars head off on the warm-up lap, the crowd goes wild, only Bikes ever seemed to capture the Spanish imagination before… and then came Alonso.

Great starts from Raikkonen and Alonso, as both of the Minardis stalls on the grid. The safety car is brought out.

Minardi boss Paul Stoddart is currently in Australia, where he is recovering from a viral infection. This will have him heading back for his sick bed.

The safety car leads the field around to complete the first lap, Raikkonen leads Alonso, Ralf, Webber, Trulli, Fisichella, Michael, Montoya, Coulthard and Massa. Heidfeld is up to twelfth and Barrichello fourteenth.

After just one lap, the safety car pulls off, Raikkonen blasts off into the lead, catching Alonso fully unawares. Also caught off guard is Michael, who is passed by Montoya.

At the end of the lap Raikkonen leads by 1.9s with Ralf another 1.9s behind.

As at Imola, a Toyota is holding up the opposition, in this case, Ralf is holding back Webber, Trulli and Fisichella. Further back, Coulthard and Massa are all over Michael. Villeneuve is under pressure from Heidfeld.

At the end of lap 5 Raikkonen leads by 3.1s, having posted a new fastest lap (1:17.377), Alonso (second) is 2.5s clear of Ralf.

Another fastest lap for the Finn (1:17.253), as Webber continues to pressurise Ralf. Raikkonen is lapping around 0.4s a lap quicker than Alonso.

Despite having Coulthard and Massa on his tail, Michael is putting pressure on Montoya, who has lost vital time following a spin at Turn 7.

Another fastest lap (1:16.962) for Kimi as Alonso finds it impossible to keep pace, he's now lapping 0.6s slower than the Finn, who is now 5.3s up the road.

Amazingly, both Minardis are back in the race, though several laps down already.

Tonio Liuzzi goes off at Turn 11, his race over as he becomes embedded in the 'kitty litter'.

Raikkonen's pace is remorseless, he now posts a 1:16.592, as he extends his lead to 7.7s. Webber continues to hassle Ralf for third, while Heidfeld is unable to make his mark on Villeneuve for eleventh.

Coulthard falls 1.3s behind Michael and into the clutches of Massa.

On lap 13, Raikkonen takes over 1.2s off Alonso, as he extends his lead to almost 10s.

As Kimi posts a new fastest lap (1:16.125), Friesacher spins off, now he's definitely out of the race.

With 16 laps completed, and the gap up to 13.5s, Alonso finally begins to up his pace, though Raikkonen soon responds with another fastest lap (1:16.104).

At the end of lap 18, Webber is the first driver to pit, meanwhile, Raikkonen's lead is up to 16.8s. Webber rejoins the race in tenth, behind Massa.

A 1:16.059 for Kimi as he now leads Alonso by 20s, this is an absolutely awesome performance.

Ralf has now closed right up on Alonso, who seems to be losing time, but there is no apparent reason.

Although Raikkonen's pace is electric, the rest of the field is really strung out, and little is happening. That said, Michael Schumacher has upped his pace.

With 23 laps completed, Alonso appears to be struggling, he really is having trouble withstanding Ralf's onslaught.

At the end of lap 24, Ralf pits, only the second driver to do so.

Next time around, race leader Raikkonen stops, as do Fisichella and Trulli. The Finn re-emerges still in the lead, albeit by 0.45s.

Really the Spaniard, who is running light, should be pitting, rather than wasting time behind the McLaren, which doesn't seem able to pass.

He must have heard that, for next time around he pits, taking the opportunity to change the rear tyre pressure. Coulthard and Massa also pit.

After 28 laps, Raikkonen leads Fisichella, Montoya, Michael, Alonso, Trulli, Ralf, Webber, Villeneuve and Heidfeld.

At the end of lap 29, Fisichella finally pits, as Albers goes missing from the timing screens, another rotten day for Minardi. Montoya, Heidfeld and Karthikeyan also pit.

Michael Schumacher, now running second, goes quickest in the first sector, going on to post a new fastest lap (1:16.019). Meanwhile Juan Pablo Montoya pits again, having encountered a problem with the fuel rig during his first stop.

At the end of lap 32, Michael finally pits, having closed to within 12s of Raikkonen.

With everyone, except Barrichello, having stopped, Raikkonen leads Fisichella by 25s, with Alonso a further 3s down the road. Michael is fourth, ahead of Trulli, Ralf, Webber, Barrichello, Coulthard and Massa.

Finally, at the end of lap 34, Barrichello pits, the last man to do so.

As Alonso maintains a 3.2s deficit to his teammate, Michael Schumacher (fourth) is 7.7 behind. The pit stop strategy has really favoured Schumacher but worked against the Toyotas and Mark Webber.

The only real 'battle' at this stage, is that for ninth, with Massa struggling to hold off Montoya.

On lap 38, Barrichello suffers the indignity of being lapped by Raikkonen, but he doesn't make it easy for the Finn.

Mark Webber has now closed to within 0.6s of Ralf, but this is where we were earlier in the race.

Both Renaults are lapping in the 16.7s, while Raikkonen and Michael are both over half-a-second slower.

Alonso closes up on his teammate, which sends the crowd wild. There's no battle however, Fisichella dives into the pits where his crew fits a new nose cone, this of course is further good news for Michael Schumacher. Another rotten dose of bad luck for the Roman, who leaves the pits in eleventh.

With 41 laps completed, Raikkonen leads Alonso by 28.9s, with Michael a further 10.6s down the road. Trulli is fourth, ahead of Ralf, Webber, Coulthard, Massa, Montoya and Heidfeld.

At the end of lap 43, Webber pits for the second time, WilliamsF1's strategy really not paying off today.

Meanwhile, Raikkonen up his pace, he's now lapping at 16.2s, compared to Alonso (16.8) and Michael (17.1).

Next time around it's Michael that pits, however the German has a tyre change, which means a puncture. This means that he'll still need to stop again for fuel. Back on track, Raikkonen laps Montoya.

Schumacher emerges from the pits between the two McLarens, but he clearly still has a tyre problem, he goes off but is able to continue. He drives back to the pits and heads straight into his garage, his suspension clearly damaged following a problem with a damaged front tyre.

At the end of lap 49, Raikkonen makes his second stop of the day, it's a leisurely stop, he has a massive lead. Alonso also pits, but his stop is a little more frantic.

Raikkonen still leads, as Ralf and Trulli battle for third, further back Montoya continues to hassle Massa.

At the end of lap 51, Ralf pits, knowing that this is best opportunity of passing his teammate. David Coulthard also stops, as does Villeneuve.

Next time around it's Jarno Trulli that pits, as Jacques Villeneuve retires.

Trulli rejoins ahead of Ralf, as Massa pits.

After the second round of stops, Raikkonen leads Alonso by 24.5s, with Trulli a further 24.4s down the road. Ralf is fourth, 1.2s behind Trulli, ahead of Montoya, Webber and Heidfeld, who still has to stop again.

A new fastest lap for Montoya, who crosses the line at 1:15.814.

On lap 56, Heidfeld makes his second stop, as Montoya posts another fastest lap (1:15.771).

Heidfeld's pit stop promotes Fisichella to seventh, where he's running 0.7s behind Webber. Meanwhile, Montoya makes his third pit stop - having encountered a problem during his first.

Out front, Raikkonen is cruising, he enjoys a 25s lead and consequently he's lapping in the mid 1:14s. Alonso is lapping at 16.3s but is unlikely to cause the Finn any problems.

With 7 laps remaining, Raikkonen leads Alonso by 23.5s, with Trulli third, ahead of Ralf, Webber, Fisichella, Montoya and Coulthard.

The only possible position change - other than a retirement - could involve Webber, who is under pressure from Fisichella. Though Ralf is all over Teammate Trulli.

Ralf clearly wants the podium spot, his teammate has enjoyed all the limelight this year, and rightly so. The German shadows the Italian, but is unable, or unwilling, to take a gamble.

Further back, Rubens Barrichello hasn't given up and is pressurising Coulthard for the last point.

Fisichella passes Webber, with almost frightening ease, the Italian taking fifth place form the hapless Australian. Elsewhere, Massa slows, the Brazilian having suffered a puncture.

Kimi begins his final lap to take a very, very well deserved win, nobody could begrudge him, or indeed McLaren, this, a stunning flag-to-flag win.

There's last minute consolation for Fisichella, who posts a new fastest lap, and will surely head home tonight wondering what might have been.

Despite the fact that 'Nano' didn't win, the crowd rises as one to salute its 'local hero', who adds another 8 precious points to his tally.

In the battle of the Toyotas, Trulli takes victory, though one has to wonder why teammate Ralf lost so much time during his pit-stops, especially the second one. Nonetheless, this is an entirely team to which we saw in 2004, and surely it is only a matter of time before the Japanese outfit makes it a little higher on the podium.

WilliamsF1 can only feel disappointed, the strategy today was clearly wrong, as far as Webber was concerned, while Heidfeld's weekend was wrecked by the two engine changes.

David Coulthard - or the Imola Strangler - as he is now known, will be delighted to add another point to his tally.

Another poor weekend for Ferrari, and it would appear Bridgestone, the Italian outfit never looked threatening this weekend, despite Michael's best efforts during the race. Rubens gave a good account of himself, but like Heidfeld, the new engine rules badly hampered him.

The good thing is, that we clearly have a real championship fight on out hands, both in terms of drivers and constructors. A Renault whitewash (blue-wash?) would be as bad as a Ferrari red-wash, however now we can see that McLaren can win, as, in time, can Toyota. We saw at Imola that Ferrari has the pace, and therefore can never be discounted, whilst surely WilliamsF1 will get its act together in the very near future.

Whilst this was nowhere near as exciting as Imola, it was a decent race, and we now have the prospect of a real battle in the months to come.

In recent days F1 has been grabbing the headlines for all the wrong reasons, and in all honesty some people - who should know better -have been making some outrageous claims. However, what really matters isn't the politics or the intrigue, it's the racing… and the signs are that we face a tremendous battle all the way to Shanghai.

As for Monaco, in two weeks time, who knows, its an anomaly… but who would bet against Jarno Trulli making a return to the top step of the podium… and what a place to do it.

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Published: 08/05/2005
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