Sunday 27 November at 12:17 :
Off-season testing after the 2004 season caused massive speculation before the start of the first F1 GP of 2005. Numerous statements were made before the lights went out at 14:00 local time Melboure on 6 March: Renault’s testing pace is mere posturing – it cannot be real. McLaren seems to have good pace but they won’t be on top. Red Bull will slump even further down the grid than the unspectacular Jaguar team that they took over. David Coulthard should retire now while he has a chance to leave the grid with his head held high. Michael Schumacher will dominate once again – as stated by none other than The Voice of F1 – Murray Walker. And it wasn’t like he was a lone voice speaking against the crowd. Despite the hugely varying opinions most of the paddock would have put their money on MS and his red machine if they were forced to make the bet – a consequence of the Ferrari dominance of the past few years.
But let’s face it, the law of averages catches up to everyone in the end. The opening race saw Renault stamp their authority firmly on the podium, Fisichella leading from start to finish and Alonso driving like a man possessed to go from thirteenth to third. Team Ferrari managed a second with Barrichello, Schumacher crashing out in an incident with Heidfeld. Significantly though, Kimi Raikkonen overtook the German fairly early on in the race. The McLarens showed strong race pace after what would for them have been a disappointing qualifying result. Probably the biggest surprise of the day was David Coulthard, his attention-grabbing drive seeing him narrowly missing out on a podium for Red Bull in their very first race. While Toyota looked strong despite their poor result, both BAR and Williams showed little promise.
Melbourne, however, was not enough to convince the establishment that any real change was afoot. Too many unknowns. Too many influences. Ferrari will be back...
Renault, and as it turned out McLaren, would have none of it. Come Sepang, Renault once again led the way – leaving no room for doubt as to the front-runner pace for 2005. Only this time it was Alonso on the top step, not Fisichella. McLaren yet again did not show good qualifying pace but even at this point it was clear that the raw pace was there. Raikkonen charged from sixth to second before a puncture ruined his race while Montoya finished fourth. Trulli ended a strong second and Heidfeld grabbed the last spot on the podium. Ferrari struggled all weekend, qualifying and racing poorly.
Bahrain saw the predicted improvement for Ferrari with Michael Schumacher completing the front row of the grid alongside pole man Alonso. A good result was not forthcoming for the Scuderia team, however, as Schumacher’s gearbox failed early on in the race. After this it was plain sailing for Alonso and he took a second dominant win. Raikkonen drove strongly to third place and set the fastest lap of the race, while Fisichella’s year of bad luck started with an engine failure. Montoya, due to a “tennis injury”, was unable to drive and Pedro de la Rosa put in a fine display of driving to take fifth, putting some fine overtaking maneuvres on display.
The race that would really set the tone for the season, however, was Monza. The only anomaly of the Italian GP was Ferrari’s pace – it was to be their last impressive race. McLaren seemed to have resolved their tyre problems and qualified strongly with Raikkonen taking pole. From the moment the lights went out it was clear that the Finn had the early pace. He pulled away from corner one and seemed impossible to catch. Impossible to catch that is, if he could finish the race. Lap eight saw Kimi’s engine give up the ghost, handing the championship leader, Fernando Alonso, the lead. The Tiffosi, however, had much to cheer about as Michael started catching up to Alonso and seemed virtually certain of overtaking him. Alonso showed his grit, his calm and his maturity, however, by keeping the reigning world champion behind him despite Herculean efforts by the German. The Italians were happy though. Ferrari was obviously on the comeback trail. McLaren fans were left with a bitter taste in their mouths but with some hope for the rest of the season.
Spain was the place for that hope to be fulfilled as McLaren crushed the hopes of the thousands of Spaniards fans who inevitably came to see Alonso take another win. Montoya was back in action but it was the Ice Man who dominated the race, having built a 13 second lead as early as lap 16. Fisichella’s run of bad luck continued with a bumbled pit stop while Michael Schumacher again showed promising pace – at the expense of his tyres though, resulting in two tyre failures in two laps.
As one of the most anticipated races of the season, Monaco did not disappoint. Raikkonen drove like a man possessed to qualify a car heavy with fuel on pole position, with Alonso a close second. Alonso chased the Ice Man closely in early stages but this was the only real action early on as the first third of the race was the procession that Monaco has become known for. All this changed when Albers bought a piece of wall at Miarbeau. While Coulthard, his closest follower, managed to avoid him, Michael Schumacher was taken by surprise and slammed into the back of the Scott. The ensuing safety car period saw a flurry of pit stops, jumbling the field somewhat. Raikkonen ran away with the race but excitement was nonetheless boundless as the Renaults started chewing their rear tyres faster than anticipated. This gave a storming Heidfeld the opportunity he was looking for and with seven laps remaining made a great passing move stick. The very next lap saw Webber doing the same, while down the grid Fisichella steadily lost places – going from 5th to 10th place before the end of the race.
After a second dominant win it was clear that McLaren and their Ice Man were not going to let Alonso run away with the championship. For the first time in years Formula 1 fans could look forward to a season-long battle between two great drivers and two great teams. The scene was set for an epic showdown.
The Nurburgring race yielded a surprising grid, with Heidfeld taking pole. Despite this it ended up being a Raikkonen-McLaren display of dominance again with Kimi leading most of the race strongly. The Finn flat-spotted his tyre during his efforts though, ultimately resulting in vibration-induced suspension failure – gifting the top step of the podium to Alonso. Quick Nick followed up his qualifying with a strong race drive to take second for Williams and Barrichello took third.
Canada was up next and yielded great excitement as the Renaults took first and second away from pole sitter Jenson Button by the first corner. Fisichella led until lap 32 when he suffered hydraulic failure, hading Alonso the lead. The McLarens were looking ominous though as Montoya and Raikkonen chipped away at the Spaniards lead at a rate that did not leave much doubt that they would catch up by the second round of pit stops. The Silver Arrows men did not have to wait that long though, as Alonso made a rare mistake and clipped the barrier in sector one. The resulting suspension damage was beyond repair and both Renault drivers had to play the role of spectator for the rest of the race. The incident handed Montoya the lead, having to defend his position from the charging Kimi Raikkonen who was gaining on the Columbian every lap. The Ice Man did not have long to wait for an opportunity to gain the lead as Button ran wide in the final chicane and hit the wall, bringing out the safety car. Raikkonen reacted quickly and dived into the pits, Montoya missing the opportunity. Disaster ensued for Juan Pablo when he did pit one lap later and subsequently left the pit lane under a red light. A new rule had been brought in stating that a driver is not allowed to leave the pit lane while the worm of cars following the safety car was passing the pit lane exit – a situation that would be indicated by the pit lane red light. Neither Montoya nor the team spotted the red light and the man was punished harshly with a black flag almost immediately, his dismay and anger much in evidence as he got out of the car back in the pits. Raikkonen went on to win the race from a late charging Ferrari duo, with Schumacher and Barrichello claiming the lower steps of the podium to give Ferrari one of their best results for the season. Sauber also rejoiced as Massa came in fourth.
Indianapolis was a farce as Michelin discovered that their tyres were unsafe for the track and basically forbade all the teams they supply to race. Numerous suggestions were put forward to try and go ahead with an actual race but none of these were accepted by all the relevant parties. The result was a six car “race” that left a bad taste in every Formula 1 fan’s mouth. Michelin messed up but, to their credit, was quick to admit the fact and to this day it is a reflection on what the sport has become that the group of individuals concerned could not come to a workable solution for the sake of those who ultimately keep the sport going – the loyal spectators.
France saw a continuation of the bad luck and incredible form of the Ice Man continue. An engine change during Friday practice saw him serve a 10 place starting grid penalty. Raikkonen charged from thirteenth to second in an incredible display of raw pace and driving skill, perfectly showcasing his McLaren’s pace. The weekend, however, was not only a perfect demonstration of the McLaren’s strengths, however, as hydraulic failure on Montoya’s car during the race followed Raikkonen’s Friday engine failure, leaving no doubt that McLaren desperately needed to look at the reliability of their package. At the end of the day Raikkonen could not catch the championship leader and Alonso clocked up yet another victory for his ecstatic team principle and long-standing manager Flavio Briattore. Montoya’s retirement handed Michael Schumacher the third step of the podium.
Silverstone resulted in some serious flashbacks for F1 fans as Alonso took another pole and Raikkonen’s engine expired before the race yet again. Alonso’s lead only lasted a hundred metres or so as Montoya snatched the lead from the fast-starting Renault at the start and dominated from the front all through the race. Raikkonen once again drive like a man possessed and by the time first round of pit stops was done he had charged from twelfth to fifth, passing the likes of Schumacher and Jarno Trulli. He found himself staring at Button’s wing and instead of attacking he opted to use the opportunity to save his tyres and fuel. The moment Button pitted his charge resumed, putting him in a perfect position to capitalise on Fisichella stalling his car during the second pit stop. Montoya, meanwhile, was being pushed by a determined Alonso but the Spaniard had to be content with second place, a sure indication that Juan Pablo was really getting to grips with the McLaren he described as “very hard to drive” earlier in the season. In a rare moment of emotion, Raikkonen set the fastest lap of the race on his final lap – reminding the competition and the paddock that the weekend would have been his but for the engine failure. Michael Schumacher failed to get a fourth consecutive podium as Ferrari slumped to sixth and seventh, more than a minute behind the winner. Button posted a strong fifth but it was clear by now that BAR was not on their way to regain their 2004 form.
Raikkonen was finally back on pole in Germany but support from his team mate was in short supply as Montoya crashed out in the last corner during his flying lap. Button started from second while the young championship leader had to make do with third. Once more the Ice Man swept all before him, pitting later than everyone (except for Montoya who had fuelled his car heavily after his quali crash) yet extending his lead over Alonso lap by lap despite his heavier fuel load. Yet again, however, he would be the victim of an engine failure, basically destroying his chances to challenge for the world championship. Montoya made up for his qualifying blunder by a classy drive from last place to second place, while Button overtook a struggling Michael Schumacher for third.
Shock followed at Hungary as Michael Schumacher took pole, helped in part by the fact that Raikkonen had to go out first on a very dirty track following his retirement from the previous race. The Finn could only manage fourth as Montoya took second and strong qualifier Trulli took third place on the grid. Alonso could manage only sixth, indicating a continuation of Renault’s less than spectacular form at the very similar Monaco track Raikkonen did not spend long in fourth place, however, as he charged past both Trulli and Montoya before the first corner and set about pressuring Schumacher for the lead. By the second round of pit stops Raikkonen had taken a comfortable lead and it was only another McLaren reliability problem that prevented the McLaren 1-2 as Montoya retired with a broken driveshaft. A first corner incident ruined Alonso’s race and he finished out of the points as Schumacher took second ahead of late-charging brother Ralf, Trulli and Button.
The very tricky Istanbul circuit caught out Michael Schumacher, Villeneuve and Button amongst many others during qualifying but Raikkonen, Fisichella and Alonso all kept their cool to take the top three positions on the grid. The great new circuit provided a perfect stage for what was to become one of the races of the season. After Raikkonen lost his lead to Fisichella at the start and managed to muscle his way back past shortly after, Alonso surprised by keeping pace with the Finn. It was short-lived, however, as Alonso pitted early and Raikkonen cruised off into the distance, setting fastest lap upon fastest lap. Despite some pit stop stutters Montoya rejoined ahead of Alonso as a scuttle with Heidfeld saw Michael Schumacher retire. All was set yet again for a McLaren one-two but yet again it was not to be as Montoya was hit from behind by Tiago Monteiro whom he had just lapped, sending him into a spin and cutting his lead over Alonso to just 1.5 seconds. A spin in turn eight shortly thereafter gave Alonso second and a furious Montoya had to make do with the lowest step on the podium. This was once again bad luck for driver-of-the-day Raikkonen as it meant that his points defecit to Alonso was cut by two points only as opposed to the hoped-for four.
And the bad luck for the Finn was not to end in Turkey either. A blinder of a qualifying lap brought him only eleventh on the grid as yet another engine failure saw him take yet another ten place penalty, giving Montoya pole and the other precious front-row spot to Alonso. Montoya drove a strong race to win from pole but his team mate’s even filled race saw him manage only fourth pace from eleventh. The Ice Man made a number of brilliant passes but a spin and a tyre failure nullified most of them, seeing Alonso and Fisichella complete the podium.
Spa is the most emotive circuit for drivers and fans alike and provided all the promised excitement as Montoya snatched pole from Raikkonen. A wet start set pulses racing as Trulli passed Raikkonen, the Ice Man quickly fighting back to take back his position around the outside of La Source in a gutsy move. The legend that is Eau Rouge claimed its customary victim, this time in the form of Fisichella who lost control on a drying track. After the safety car period Kimi Raikkonen put the hammer down to chase down his team mate, taking first place in a blistering lap during a pit stop by the Columbian. Yet again the McLaren one-two was not to be as Montoya was hit from behind by another back-marker. This gave Alonso another second place while Button took third, followed home by Webber, Barrichello and Villeneuve.
By now Alonso needed only third place in Brazil to become the youngest champion in the history of the sport. He set himself up perfectly with strong drive to pole, edging out Montoya. His last remaining challenger could manage only sixth. McLaren dominated the race as they finally got their one-two. The day belonged to Alonso, however, who attained his third place and hence the championship. Focus at both Renault and McLaren now would be for the constructor’s, as McLaren leads for the first time.
Suzuka was drenched with rain halfway through the qualifying session, resulting in an unexpected grid on the former Honda test circuit. Ralf took pole and it was always going to be an exciting race with Alonso on sixteenth and Raikkonen on seventeenth. The young aces both showed why they are considered the future of the sport, perfectly executing a series of brilliant overtaking maneuvres and rapidly catching up to the race leaders. Alonso fell victim to a bizarre incident in which the stewards ordered him to give back the place he gained from Klien while cutting a chicane. Nothing unusual of course, if you fail to consider the fact that by the time he was ordered to do so he had already given Klien back the place back, re-passed him and pulled out a significant lead! Despite Renault’s objections Alonso had to fall back, give Klien the position again and re-pass him again, only to be apologised to a few laps later by the stewards who had then realized their blunder. To crown it all, Alonso had to overtake Michael Schumacher twice as well due to poor pit stop timing. The day once more belonged to the Ice Man, however, the Finn blasting past race-leader Fisichella on the final lap to snatch a well-deserved victory. McLaren’s day was marred, however, by Montoya’s retirement due to yet another on-track incident, this time in the form of Villeneuve pushing him wide and ultimately off the track. Renault took more championship points, occupying the second and third podium places.
Shanghai failed to follow on from the excitement of Suzuka, aside from an inexplicable collision between Michael Schumacher and Christijan Albers while on their way to the grid. McLaren failed to replicate their season-long pace and could manage only third and fifth on the grid while the Renaults took charge of the front row. Neither McLaren really seemed like they were pushing Fisichella early on in the race while Alonso built a 17 second lead before being reigned in by the safety car. It would seem that McLaren’s bad luck continued as a loose drain cover hit Montoya’s car, forcing his eventual retirement. Despite more time behind the safety car Raikkonen could not challenge Alonso on the day – the Renault proving the strongest car on the Shanghai circuit. And thus Renault claimed both championships.
Driver of the season? A toss-up between Raikkonen and Alonso really. There is a case to be made for the Ice Man being the moral victor and no doubt most would agree that he was probably the faster of the two in terms of raw pace. McLaren, however, did not get the balance between speed and reliability quite right and this ruined his chances. Alonso was given a good package with a good turn of speed and excellent reliability. He had a job to do and he did it in consummate fashion, not letting his Latin blood fire him to many emotion-driven mistakes. The best thing for him is that he beat Michael Schumacher before the German retired. Victory after that would have been hollow. At the end of the day it was a great season no matter who you support. No single team dominated the season and while there was little actual wheel-to-wheel racing there was no lack of entertainment.
Sadly, we say goodbye to a number of F1 “establishments”. Firstly Minardi, the team with the spirit and the chutzpa who has managed to keep going for many years despite their financial constraints. They new belong to Red Bull and there is even the possibility that none other than Adrian Newey will soon be spending some time on their car. We also bid farewell to Jordan who will officially be named Midland as of next season and, considering the ex Minardi team’s new management, is not unlikely to slump to the back of the grid. Sauber gets the next fond goodbye having been purchased by BMW. They have become a solid team and sadly we will lose an excellent talent spotter in the form of Peter Sauber. The youngest team that is effectively disappearing is BAR as Honda now wholly owns them. They went from a new team to second in the constructor’s in five years and provided much entertainment along the way (remember Villeneuve literally flying into the wall at 200 km/h at Melbourne?).
Last, but very certainly not least, we imagine ourselves trackside at Shanghai and shed more than just one tear as the last of the V10’s are silenced in parc fermé. The roar at the heart of every car that has become the characteristic sound of F1 will be no more. Alonso takes pity on the grieving masses and gifts us one more glorious earful as he revs his engine until it catches fire. Very few of us have heard the V8’s in action and we wait anxiously as ’06 approaches. Anxious to hear the new sound of F1. Anxious to see how bad the blow to the speed of the Pinnacle of Motorsport…
Edu de Jager
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