Raikkonen sparkles as F1 finds its way


As ever, it's mayhem on the grid ahead of this afternoon's race, as the rich, the powerful, the desperate for publicity, the disinterested and the outright vulgar bid to outdo one another as they attempt to outshine the real stars, the drivers.

We have the prospect of a thrilling battle here today, providing everyone gets through Ste Devote clearly. Monaco is famous for its generous tax laws and its casino, but few would be willing to stake more than a few chips on the outcome of today's race.

The smart money has to be on either Raikkonen or Alonso, however it would be foolish to discount Fisichella, Trulli or even one of the WilliamsF1 drivers.

Then again, when we think of gambling we also think of lotteries, and we know that Monaco has thrown up more than its fair share of shocks over the years, and who knows, we could witness another today, but it is unlikely.

Ten minutes before the race is due to begin there is a minute's silence for Prince Rainier, who died last month. It is poignant to witness the total silence in the Principality, which in a few minutes will burst into the life with the raucous screams of V10s. A fine tribute to the man who did so much for Monaco, and indeed F1.

Rubens Barrichello has predicted that the Ferraris could be lapped today, and looking at the lack of pace in qualifying, he could be right.

With three minutes remaining before the cars head off on the warm-up lap, the air temperature is 24 degrees C, while the track temperature is 44 degrees.

At the back of the grid, Montoya starts from sixteenth, ahead of Karthikeyan and Ralf Schumacher.

As they leave the grid for the warm-up lap, Raikkonen leaves a whole load of rubber on his starting slot, a trick/tactic that goes all the way back to Gilles Villeneuve.

They get away cleanly, although Webber loses places to Fisichella and Trulli. Alonso makes a move on Raikkonen, who locks up, but resists the challenge.

At the end of the first lap it's Raikkonen, Alonso, Fisichella, Trulli, Webber, Heidfeld, Coulthard and Michael. Montoya is up to twelfth, behind Barrichello, while Ralf is seventeenth.

At the end of the second lap, Raikkonen leads by 1.7s, as Trulli, Webber and Heidfeld are running nose to tail. Michael is all over Coulthard, but the German is under pressure from Massa.

As we've seen in other races this year, Trulli has become the leader of a traffic jam, with a while train of cars stuck behind him.

Raikkonen is setting a remorseless pace, setting a new fastest lap (17.108) as he stretches his lead to 2.1s. Montoya is twelfth but unable to get past Barrichello. Meanwhile, Ralf is up to fifteenth, but 5.2s behind Friesacher.

Another fastest lap for the Finn (17.052) as the first eight cars are covered by 13.6s.

On lap 6, Alonso hits back with a fastest lap (16.865) as he closes to within 2.1s of the McLaren.

Fisichella is 1.4s behind his teammate, and a healthy 4.5s ahead of Trulli, who continues to hold Webber, Heidfeld, Coulthard, Michael and Massa behind him.

Raikkonen hits back with a 1:16.811, as he pulls out another 0.3s on Alonso.

Next time around the Finn posts another fastest lap (16.562), as he takes another 0.6s off Alonso, who is now 3.2s down on the McLaren.

With ten laps completed, there is little change to the order, though Ralf has got past Friesacher and is now closing in on Liuzzi. Elsewhere, Karthikeyan visits the pits, which would suggest that he might have a problem. He returns to the track, but for how long.

Sure enough, at the end of the next lap the Indian return to his garage, but once again heads back out after the briefest of stops. It appears that he had a slight difference of opinion with the barriers.

Having built a lead of 3.7s, Raikkonen posts another fastest lap (16.495), but Alonso goes quickest in the first sector as he struggles to keep in touch.

Ralf is all over Liuzzi, who is all that remains between the German and his former WilliamsF1 teammate, Juan Pablo Montoya, who is currently stuck behind Barrichello.

The two Saubers are running together, with Massa ninth ahead of Villeneuve, as the Canadian posts a personal best (17.482). Meanwhile, Raikkonen posts another fastest lap, crossing the line at 1:16.414. He now leads Alonso by 4.8s.

Webber is under intense pressure from his teammate, who is clearly refusing to just "sit there".

Raikkonen and Alonso are both posting best times in various sectors, while Fisichella also up his pace. The Finn posts another fastest lap (16.265), as Karthikeyan makes his third stop of the afternoon. As he prepares to rejoin the action, he stalls.

Nobody is willing to take a risk, Michael shadows Coulthard, as Montoya and Ralf shadow Barrichello and Liuzzi, respectively.

Guess what, Karthikeyan's back in the pits. Previously he's given Raikkonen a major scare in the tunnel, the Finn suddenly finding himself confronted with a very, very slow Jordan. The Indian climbs out of his car, game over.

Lap 23, and there's a major problem, which brings out the safety car. Albers has spun at Mirabeau and is blocking the track. The causes a traffic jam, which sees Coulthard clobbered by Michael. Several other cars are held up including Massa, Villeneuve and Barrichello.

Michael and Massa both use the safety car period to pit, the German needing a new nose following his clash with Coulthard. Both Renaults pit, as do the WilliamsF1s and Friesacher.

Sadly, Coulthard, through no fault of his own, is out, a disappointing result for the Scot, but at least we won't be subjected to his bare bottom.

As the field continues behind the safety car, it's Raikkonen ahead of Trulli, Alonso, Webber, Heidfeld, Massa, Villeneuve, Fisichella, Barrichello and Montoya.

The field continues behind the safety car, with Trulli now 4.5s behind Raikkonen, the Friesacher incident benefiting him greatly.

At the end of lap 28 the safety car pulls off track, the race is back on. Raikkonen leads Trulli by 2.8s with Alonso just 0.4sd behind, ahead of Webber, Heidfeld and Massa.

As Raikkonen laps Michael Schumacher - who has pitted - Alonso is under pressure from Webber.

Trulli is unable to hold on to Raikkonen, who is now 7.4s down, and 1.9s ahead of Alonso, who still has Webber on his heels.

It's all over for Friesacher as the Austrian hits the barriers at the Nouvelle Chicane, will this result in the safety car being brought out again?

The answer is no, which means that Raikkonen can extend his lead over Trulli to 11.9s, with Alonso a further 2.1s behind.

One of the biggest 'victims' of the coming together, other than Coulthard, is Michael Schumacher, who is now running in thirteenth, almost a minute behind his brother.

Just to prove appoint, on lap 34, Kimi posts another fastest lap, crossing the line at 1:16.222, Trulli in now over 15s down the road, as Alonso is still under pressure from Webber.

Another fastest lap (16.046) from Kimi, who seems destined to take his second successive win of the season today. Elsewhere, the second fastest man on track is Michael, who is only just off Raikkonen's pace, and just took 5s out of his brother's 'lead'.

As Trulli ups his pace, Alonso falls 7.4s behind his former teammate.

At the end of lap 37, Villeneuve pits, he rejoins in between the Schumacher siblings, 19s behind Ralf and 25s ahead of Michael. Monteiro pits next time around.

At the end of lap 39, Trulli pits, re-emerging in eleventh, behind his Toyota teammate.

A 1:15.995 sees Michael Schumacher go quickest, a stunning lap, as he closes to within 17.2s of Villeneuve.

Out front. Raikkonen now leads Alonso by 32.3s, as the Finn posts a new fastest lap (15.921), which is instantly eclipsed by Michael (15.842).

At the end of lap 42, Kimi pits, as do Ralf and Albers.

The Finn rejoins still leading from Alonso, Webber and Heidfeld. Massa is fifth, ahead of Fisichella, Barrichello and Montoya.

Fisichella, Barrichello, Montoya and Liuzzi are the only drivers that haven't pitted.
With 44 laps completed, Raikkonen leads Alonso by 13.3s, with Webber just 0.7s behind, and indeed Heidfeld another 0.7s behind the Australian.

At the end of lap 45, Barrichello and Liuzzi both pit, the Brazilian suffering the indignity of stalling his Ferrari. The nightmare continues.

Next time around, Montoya pits, the Colombian rejoining in tenth, behind Trulli, as Albers makes a mistake.

The stewards announce that Barrichello has been given a drive-through penalty for speeding in the pit lane. Can it get any worse for the Brazilian, and indeed Ferrari?

Webber continues to hound Alonso, who is now 15.3s behind Raikkonen.

The big question however, is who still has to make another stop? Certainly, both WilliamsF1s, which pitted during the safety car period, are sure to.

Massa pits at the end of lap 50, he too pitted during the safety car period. Therefore it would appear that Michael will also have to make another stop.

At the end of lap 51, it's Raikkonen, Alonso, Webber, Heidfeld, Fisichella, Trulli, Massa, Montoya, Villeneuve and Ralf, who has his brother climbing all over him.

As Webber continues to hound Alonso, the best battle features Villeneuve, Ralf and Michael, who are fighting for ninth. Meanwhile, Trulli is putting Fisichella under pressure.

Alonso makes a mistake at the entry to the Swimming Pool, but somehow he keeps it together. That said, it plays into the hands of the two WilliamsF1 drivers who are right up his exhaust pipes.

Elsewhere, Michael makes a move on Ralf at the Nouvelle Chicane, but gets it all wrong and overshoots the corner, losing vital time. At least we should respect the guy for trying.

The tyres on the back of Alonso's Renault are almost worn down to slicks, with only two grooves slightly visible.

At the end of lap 57, Heidfeld pits, the German was within 0.5s of his teammate. A good pitstop could see the former Sauber star ahead of the Australian.

Sure enough, next time around Webber pits. He leaves the pits rejoining behind Heidfeld, it's all gone wrong for the Australian.

Michael Schumacher also pits, the German rejoining right behind Liuzzi.

Raikkonen leads Alonso by 28.4s with Heidfeld a further 12.7s behind. Webber is fourth, 3.3s behind his teammate, and ahead of Fisichella, Trulli, Massa and Montoya.

Meanwhile, Liuzzi, who was having a great scrap with Michael, has a puncture, and is heading slowly back to the pits. Sadly, he's damaged the rear suspension, it's the second retirement for Red Bull, the force is not with them.

Fisichella is under intense pressure from both Trulli and Montoya, with Massa, Villeneuve and Barrichello also in the hunt.

There's a major mix up involving Massa and Villeneuve at Ste Devote, the Canadian makes a wild move that ends up with him locking up, and clouting the barriers, whilst forcing his teammate wide. A disaster for the Swiss team, as the 1997 champion returns to the pits.

Meanwhile, Trulli makes a mistake at the hairpin which costs him five positions, a disaster for the 2004 winner. He tried a move on Fisichella that didn't work, and now it appears he's damaged his suspension. He subsequently pits but is able to rejoin the race, albeit in eleventh.

Raikkonen looks to have the race sewn up, while Alonso in second, is under tremendous pressure from Heidfeld and Webber. Montoya, fifth, is also having to fight off stiff opposition from Ralf, Barrichello and Michael.

This is great stuff, even though Raikkonen appears to be cruising to victory, fore behind him there are some titanic battle, with fuel strategy also a major ingredient to the excitement.

Heidfeld closes right up on Alonso, and almost collect his Australian teammate in the process. This is edge of the seat racing, great stuff!

On lap 71, Heidfeld makes a stunning move on Alonso at the Nouvelle Chicane, a great move from way, way back. Brilliant stuff, that the Spaniard had no answer for.

Now Webber lines up the Spaniard, but can he match his teammate's bravery and guile?

As the WilliamsF1 star shadows Alonso, Heidfeld is already 3.5s up the road.

Webber makes an almost carbon copy of Heidfeld's move but it all goes a little wrong as the Spaniard cuts the chicane and retains position, however there is sure to be a demand for the Renault driver to give way as he gained an advantage (position) by cutting the chicane. A lap later, Webber puts it beyond doubt as he passes the frustrated Spaniard. Now the WilliamsF1s are running second and third.

Almost unseen, Raikkonen continues on his merry way, having extended his lead over Heidfeld to 23.4s.

Now, Alonso has Montoya on his tail, with Ralf, Barrichello and Michael all in hot pursuit.

This is incredible stuff, five cars running nose to tail in the battle for fourth. Up front, Webber sets a new personal best time (16.971).

Alonso holds on to fourth, despite the best efforts of Montoya, while Michael somehow has got past Barrichello and makes a finish line lunge at Ralf, that has the Toyota driver moving sharply to the left.

A superb, well-deserved win for Raikkonen and McLaren, which really brings the championship alive and sets us up nicely for next weekend's European Grand Prix.

A brilliant performance from Nick Heidfeld and indeed Mark Webber, which we are sure flatters the WilliamsF1 FW27. Alonso's tyre problems clearly played into the hands of the WilliamsF1 duo, and Raikkonen, while a poor start from the Australian, and an earlier pit stop for the German, ended up with Nick taking the best result of his F21 career. As for his move on Alonso, that alone should be worth another championship point.

Montoya will be delighted with fourth, however he and McLaren must think long and hard about what might have been. But for that stupid nonsense in Saturday's second free practice session he could have been starting from the right end of the grid, and who knows what he might have achieved.

Ralf did the best he could, under the circumstances, and will be sure to have words with his brother over that highly suspect move as they crossed the finish line.

It's hard to believe that we're writing this about the team that has won six successive Constructors' Championships, but seventh and eighth was the best that Ferrari could have hoped for. That said, had Michael not clouted DC, the German could have been right up there, chasing Alonso and the Renaults. Fastest race lap is small consolation.

On a day of diamonds and movies, it's worth thinking about the survey that the FIA is running. Using a wide range of ambiguous questions, the sport's governing body asks race fans how F1 might be improved.

The answer is simple guys, watch a tape of today's race - ignoring the grid walk, the hyperbole and the fawning over nonentities, and give us more of the same.

Nothing beats racing!

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

Published: 22/05/2005
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