April 3, 2006 Reigning World F1 champion Fernando Alonso may be beginning to rue his decision to move to McLaren next year as the Renault F1 team again displayed complete dominance in yesterday’s third round of the Formula One World Championship in Melbourne. Alonso took his tenth career victory after starting from third position on the grid in an action-packed race which featured no fewer than four safety car periods. The Spaniard took the lead on lap 4 at the end of the first safety car period, in a perfectly-judged manoeuvre on pole-sitter Jenson Button’s Honda, and only relinquished it briefly during the first round of pit-stops. It was not so much the win that was scarey about the Renault peroformance – it was the ease with which Alonso drove away from the best of the rest whenever the safety car pulled off the track – the advantage is so great that Renault’s world championship already looks safe. Giancarlo Fisichella was forced to start from the pit-lane after his R26 stalled on the grid, but a determined, forceful drive saw him claim fifth position right on the line, overtaking Button’s stricken Honda on the finishing straight. The result leaves the Renault F1 Team with a nineteen point championship lead over its nearest rival, and Alonso leads the individual title by 14 points from his teammate Giancarlo Fisichella and McLaren’s Kimi Raikkonen.
The biggest winner on the day other than Renault was BMW, which based on pre-season testing and early season form was not expected to do much better than the Sauber team it purchased had fared in previous years. BMW is clearly getting very serious behind the scenes though, and the speed of both Nick Heidfeld and Jacques Villeneuve was evident throughout the meeting, with the pair finishing fourth and sixth respectively, and indicating that BMW will be a major force in F1 again, and perhaps not very far down the track.
Toyota must have been delighted in finally scoring some decent points after a lean first few rounds of the title and despite health, circumstances and luck all conspiring against Jarno Trulli on the weekend, the Japanese giant will be buoyed by the speed of the machinery and the prospects for the remainder of the season.
Honda, Williams and Ferrari were the biggest losers on the weekend – all showed speed at some point in the proceedings, with Button’s Honda taking pole position and Mark Webber leading the race at one third distance but a reliability cloud hangs over both marques. Ferraris luck seems to have truned entirely from the beginning of last season. In previous years, every decision seemed to be one of calculated genius, and every piece of luck ran with the Maranello marque – now, the team seems to be continually wrong-footed for no apparent reason. Let’s hope the luck returns, as apart from the dominance of Renault, the teams from McLaren, Williams, Honda, BMW, Toyota and Red Bull all appear capable of claiming a podium. QUOTES:
Fernando Alonso, Renault F1, Winner: “This was a very different race to the other two so far this season. In Bahrain, I was fighting with Michael all the way; in Malaysia, it was Jenson I was battling for second place. But today, it was quite comfortable. There were no fights, and I was very relaxed for a lot of the race. I had a good lead after the first pit-stops, but I lost it during the second safety car. However, I managed to get a good gap on each re-start, and that made life quite easy for me. I was very happy with the balance all the way through the race, so I just needed to make sure I didn’t take any unnecessary risks and I am pleased we were able to save the engine performance for the next race. So far, we have shown we are strong in all conditions on all tracks. But Imola is a very different challenge, and we must have a calm approach, because we know it will be more difficult than ever. Flavio Briatore, Managing Director, Renault F1: “This was a fantastic win for Fernando. He had a great car this afternoon, and he controlled the race from start to finish. There were a lot of complicated situations to deal with, and he did it brilliantly. I am sorry for Fisi, because he suffered with more problems. We only solved it right towards the end of the race, and then it was too late for him to get close to the podium. But he showed he had the performance at the end, and we still scored a lot more points than our rivals today. We are in a strong position, but we will keep on pushing.”
Pat Symonds, Executive Director of Engineering, Renault F1: “This was a really hard weekend. We had rain, unusually cold temperatures, and a punctuated race. But the car showed great performance, so we are very, very pleased with our result. Fernando put in a faultless drive, and he was able to run at whatever pace was needed with ease. The safety car periods denied him the luxury of a big lead ,but he was able to maximise his performance in the laps immediately afterwards, as his early overtaking manoeuvre on Jenson showed. He then built good leads after every other safety car period, and controlled the race. Giancarlo was unfortunate at the start, when his anti-stall system triggered several times. He was unable to catch the last one, and this meant the safety systems shut the engine down. After starting from the pit-lane, he benefited from the first safety car to catch the field, and then drove very well. He had a lot of understeer during the middle part of the race, when we were encouraging him to push hard over the radio, and then the clutch failed after the final stop. That gave us some worries for a few laps, but once the problem had been solved, he started pushing Jenson very hard. This paid off handsomely to give Fisi a well-deserved fifth place after a fantastic race. The team is in a very strong position now after three races, but there are still fifteen to go. We have some important test sessions coming up in the next fortnight, and we are still working hard to improve the performance of the car.”
Kimi Räikkönen, second place, McLaren Mercedes F1: "Despite not winning I'm really pleased as we now have a package which is level with the Renaults which I think we demonstrated today. The race was rather hectic. I enjoyed a good battle with Juan Pablo at the start, but when I overtook Jenson I flatspotted my right front tyre which caused some vibration. However I was still able to go flat out and keep up with Fernando, but then all of a sudden the footplate on the right hand side of my front wing fractured probably due to the vibration. As a result I started to have severe understeer and lost a lot of time to Fernando. Fortunately with 21 laps to go the Safety Car came out which gave us enough time to go into the pits and change the front wing. I was really pushing, but in the final Safety Car period one of the Midland cars was between Fernando and I, which meant I was unable to get really close to have a go. An enjoyable race and I can't wait for Imola. The team has definitely made great progress with our entire package."
Ron Dennis, Team Principal McLaren Mercedes F1: “The early part of the race was exciting as once Kimi was past Button, he had the pace to catch Fernando. Juan Pablo's retirement was caused by the activation of the engine safety system following a severe impact on the kerb clearly costing him third place. Kimi's race was disrupted by a flatspotted tyre obtained whilst passing Button resulting in severe vibration that led to a failure of the right hand front wing endplate. Towards the end of the race we took advantage of one of the Safety Car deployments to change the nose which gave Kimi the ability to close the gap to Fernando. It was also disappointing that both Kimi and Juan Pablo were trapped behind slower cars in two of the re-starts but at the end of the day we have the pace to win and this time last year our points deficit was significantly greater. As a team we look forward to returning to Europe and continuing the battle."
Norbert Haug, Vice President Mercedes-Benz Motorsport: "Kimi gave it his all. Unfortunately he was hampered by a flatspotted tyre and a damaged part of the front wing. Once the nose was changed he demonstrated good speed. Juan Pablo hit a kerb too hard which caused his retirement. Our technical package is on a good level both with regards to speed and reliability, and now we have to improve our performance further during the next few races."
Ralf Schumacher, third place, Toyota Panasonic F1: "We are all very happy with what we achieved today. The drive through penalty was my fault because I accidentally hit the button twice but I was lucky and due to the safety car periods we achieved a lot more than we ever thought before this weekend. At the start we were sliding around and locking wheels. But while we've had problems with warming up our tyres in earlier races, others seemed to struggle with that today. Some of the safety car periods were a bit of a fight with all the backmarkers in there but after the third safety car period I gained a couple of places which was great. Grip was hard to come by so I really had to fight the whole race to keep the car there, but it worked out in the end and we achieved a great result. We are still a way from the top teams so we have to work, but I have no doubt that our crew is able to do that. We're strong people and pushing hard so I'm looking forward to the next few races."
John Howett , President, Toyota Motorsport: "That was an incredibly exciting and eventful race and it was a suberb job by Ralf and the whole team especially when you consider the difficult start to the year. It was unlucky for Jarno. He was passed by Coulthard at the first corner but then he made a clean pass back and Coulthard just turned in on him. So that was a shame, but with Ralf we could run reasonably competitively. The tyres were very good, too. Everyone struggled after the safety car periods here but Bridgestone have helped us to get on top of the problem of getting heat into the tyres and that paid off. When Ralf got the drive through penalty for speeding in the pit lane, we thought we'd thrown away a podium chance. We were a bit lucky with the number of incidents but for all the safety cars we managed to get the strategy right, and it was excellent team work from the boys as always. Ralf drove aggressively on the restarts and we were able to pick up places, which was fantastic. This is a well deserved shot of adrenaline to the whole team who have worked so hard over the winter."
Nick Heidfeld, BMW Sauber F1, fourth place: “I am really happy about this result. We were already competitive in practice but we were even stronger in the race. I think it’s fantastic for a new team having both cars in the points, especially considering where Jacques started. My only problem was that I couldn’t get heat into the tyres immediately after each safety car period; it was particularly bad after the last one when Kimi was all over me, and we touched lightly in Turn 4. I then braked too late for Turn 6 because the front tyres were still not up to temperature, and as I ran wide he was able to pass me. So was Ralf, within metres of yellow flags. My compliments to the pit crew, who did a fabulous job.”
Mario Theissen, BMW Motorsport Director: “It was a turbulent race with many exciting moments. We are proud that we were able to bring both cars home in the points for the first time. Nick ran amongst the front-runners throughout the race, while our decision proved correct to start Jacques with a full tank from his 19th place on the grid. Congratulations to the entire team, not only here at the track but back in Munich and Hinwil too.”
Willy Rampf, BMW Sauber F1, Technical Director Chassis: “The race was extremely thrilling. We opted for two different strategies, with Nick on two stops and Jacques on one because of his starting position. Both strategies paid off. In Nick’s case we brought the second stop forward because of the safety car period and as he thus had a relatively high amount of fuel still aboard we were able to rejoin the race quicker and gain positions. Overall we are happy with the performance of our cars, as well as today’s results and the championship points we scored.”
Giancarlo Fisichella, 5th position, Renault F1: “After a race like that, I have really mixed feelings. You know, it’s great to go from the pit-lane and to finish fifth, especially in such an exciting way. But also, we saw today that I had the car to fight for the win with Fernando, so I am disappointed I couldn’t make use of it. At the start, the engine stalled and I had to start from the pit-lane, then during most of the first stint I had no telemetry – so I was giving the engineers updates on my fuel load all the time, and telling them about the car while overtaking the people in front of me. That problem fixed itself, but the second stint was really hard because the car was understeering so much during that part of the race. The team were calling me to push harder, but I was on the limit all the way. Then after the final stop, the clutch failed, and we only managed to fix it a few laps from the end. As soon as we did, I set my fastest lap, showed what I could do and started to put pressure on Jenson. I could see his engine was failing in the final corners, then I was blinded by the oil and smoke during the final corner with big oversteer, and I got him as he moved over the track. It was an exciting afternoon, and it’s good to still score points after starting so far back. I am second in the championship going to Imola, and that’s a great feeling because I should have a new specification engine there as well.”
Jacques Villeneuve, BMW Sauber F1, sixth place: “Starting from 19th place with a full tank and finishing sixth is obviously a lot better than I expected, so it was a very good race for me. The only problem I had was warming up the tyres after the numerous safety car phases. We have to have a look at this to improve the situation, but otherwise our pace was good.”
Rubens Barrichello, Honda F1, seventh place: “It was very frustrating that Jenson was unable to finish the race. Although we didn’t have the pace to fight very hard, it was disappointing to see him go out like that. I struggled the whole race with the brakes and it was impossible for me to overtake, although I was able to get past Speed and gain position. I have a couple of points at least, so in that respect at least my season is underway now. I think we all realise what a lot of work there is to do in the next couple of weeks in testing if we are to start the European season in a more competitive position.”
Gil De Ferran, Honda F1 Sporting Director: “Jenson had a very difficult time to warm up the tyres at the start and every restart after that, which meant that he progressively lost places in those situations. The same issue troubled both drivers. Then we had an engine failure on the last turn. Rubens had a tough race through the field and did a good job to finish in the points. We were unlucky with him on the second outing for the safety car since we elected to keep him out to gain track position, but the plan didn't work when he encountered traffic. Overall we were certainly hoping for more but despite the disappointment we will continue to keep pushing. There are two tests prior to Imola where we will be able to look into some of the issues that afflicted us here.”
Shuhei Nakamoto,Management Board Member, Honda Racing F1 Team, Engineering Director, Honda Racing Development : “We’ll be studying the data to work out the cause of Jenson’s engine problem. We’re sorry his efforts did not bring him any points today. He drove a strong race but struggled for grip after the safety car periods. Rubens did well to score his first points of the season. We have lots to work on in testing to get where we need to be.”
David Coulthard, Red Bull F1, eighth: “Scott Speed overtook me under a yellow flag. The Stewards asked me to explain the incident, which occurred under the yellow flag for Tonio’s accident. The data shows that Scott overtook while the yellow flags were being waved. On the first lap, I passed Jarno Trulli on Turn two. Going into Turn three I looked into the mirror and saw him coming so I moved over, but he ran wide so I passed him again. In Turn six he did the same thing. However, this time I didn’t see him coming, he side-swiped me and hit the side of my car putting me in the gravel and himself out of the race. There was no way he was going to make the corner.” Christian Horner, Sporting Director Red Bull F1: “Unfortunately both cars were victims of other drivers exuberance on the first lap. David made a very good start overtaking both Schumacher and Trulli, but further round the lap Trulli made a very optimistic manoeuvre, which pushed David to the back of the field. Christian was involved with the incident between Massa and Rosberg and took a big knock on the rear of his car. A couple of laps later he had quite a large accident, which may have been a result of the earlier incident. Obviously, until we’ve seen all the data and examined all the components, we won’t have the answer on that.”
Jenson Button, Honda F1, ninth: “It’s disappointing to end the weekend as we did today after starting the race in pole position. The way the race panned out with the four safety cars left me struggling for grip after each restart and I lost so much time and so many places. I could feel that something was wrong with the engine in turn 13 and it was a difficult way to end the race after such a long hard battle. The car is strong when we have tyre temperature, but when we don’t we have massive grip problems. We have two weeks of testing before Imola and hopefully we can solve these problems.”
Christijan Albers, Midland F1, tenth place: "On the one hand, it's kind of frustrating to not be battling where I think we should be - in the middle of the pack. On the other hand, I think we're improving and at least now I'm finishing races, which is something I didn't always get to do last year. The first part of the race, I got caught in the group behind Sato, with Barrichello and Coulthard. We were stuck there for a long time, and that was really a shame. After the first pit stop, I was still behind Sato but then I overtook him on a straight, on the outside. That felt good. There were four safety car periods, so the race order got confusing at times, but in the end I felt that I could run with the other cars. It's just a shame that we couldn't score points today."
Colin Kolles, Managing Director, Midland F1: "This was a bittersweet result for us. I think Tiago drove well enough to potentially score a top ten finish had he not had a malfunction. Christijan also drove a strong race and made a very good move to get past Sato. We have to overcome some reliability issues, for sure, but we are improving all the time, so that's encouraging. We are still a young team, so we just have to keep working hard and building on what we've learned."
Adrian Burgess, Sporting Director, Midland F1: "Christijan finished 11th in a fairly action-packed afternoon. We had a mechanical problem with Tiago, which was unfortunate, as both drivers were having a good race. We made a couple of good calls and one not-so-good call with the safety car pit strategies, which kept us on our toes. Looking ahead, we need to work harder to improve the reliability so that we can come back fighting in Europe."
Scott Speed, STR Cosworth F1, 11th: (statement made when Speed thought he had scored a point for his across-the-line eighth place – he was later penalised and dropped to eleventh place): “To come from wherever we were on the grid – I can’t even remember where we were, but I know it was a big number – it is incredible to come away from here with a point. We always said our goal was to grab some points this year and to get the first one so early is incredible. It’s one step closer to my goal. It was really exciting and what a feeling to come round on the last lap and to see the whole team up on the wall. It was one of the greatest moments I’ve ever had in my life.” Gerhard Berger, STR Cosworth Team Owner: “Lucky and unlucky on the same day as with Tonio we were in a very good position today and could have finished higher. I am very happy with the result and the point. We had a race speed that was good enough to fight with Michael Schumacher at a certain stage and the others too. I think the whole team performed well and is steadily getting better. Now it is important that our speed of development matches that of the other teams.”
Jarno Trulli, Toyota Panasonic F1, DNF: "I'm happy that Ralf did so well and it shows that we have the pace to challenge again. But this has been a disastrous weekend for me and it was a shame to be punted out of the race so early. A couple of corners in I was following Coulthard who was going very slowly and zigzagging on the straight. I went to the inside to overtake him and I was ahead at the corner but he just closed the door on me, hitting me on the back. That broke my rear suspension and put me out of the race. I was just being careful and overtaking a slower car so I don't understand how it happened and I was surprised by what he did. I've had such bad luck this weekend, I just hope that I've had my share for a while. We showed good pace so I hope we can keep that up and my fortunes can improve back in Europe."
Nico Rosberg, Williams Cosworth F1, DNF: “The start of my race into the first corner all went fine but then Massa & Klien got in bit of a tangle and I could see Massa coming sideways in my mirrors on the inside of me. I thought to myself don’t, please don’t, because I had nowhere to go. In the end he just hit me from behind and that was it. My rear wing was off and my radiators were too damaged for me to continue. It’s unfortunate because I was in a good position with a lot of fuel and considering that so many people had gone off or dropped to the back of the field, I was starting to think that today it could have gone my way and I could have scored some good points. I’m going to look forward to Imola now, finally a track that I know well.”
Mark Webber, Williams Cosworth F1, DNF: “We’re not quite sure exactly what happened, we think it is something related to the gearbox. It’s a real shame because we had a great strategy and I was very, very heavy - I had plenty more laps to go and although it might have been tough to keep Kimi and Fernando away from my P1 position, I think we had lots of other people including Jenson and Ralf covered and a podium would have been reasonably straightforward. But saying all of that, you need to get to the chequered flag. The outcome is really disappointing for me, the team, everyone, but we’re all in the boat together – the team and Bridgestone has done a really good job on the car, we have the pace, but now we’ve got to work on our reliability.”
Sam Michael, Technical Director, WilliamsF1: “Obviously this was a disappointing result for the team. Nico’s race was over at the first corner when he was hit from behind. We were looking strong on Mark’s car, as he was running very long and had a lot more fuel on board, but something failed inside the transmission - we won’t know exactly what until we get the car back and have a look at it. Bridgestone brought a really good tyre to the race, it was a shame we could not make the most of it. The job for us now is obviously to work on our reliability.” Sean O’Mahony, Principal Engineer – F1 Race Engineering, Cosworth Ltd: “Obviously it wasn’t the best day for the team, but we live to fight another day. We were concerned about engine temperatures after the aborted start, but both drivers managed their engine usage sensibly. It was good to see a Cosworth-powered car leading the race and when our luck changes we can hopefully convert the obvious potential of the package into results. So far we have not seen any issues with the engines despite the on-track incidents, but we will need to give them a thorough inspection.”
Tiago Monteiro, Midland F1, DNF: "Overall, I saw it as being quite a positive weekend. We had a great Friday, some problems on Saturday, but then I was having a great race, with some very good lap times compared to the others. There may have even been the possibility of a top ten today, which would have been a high point for us. Unfortunately, problems happen in F1 - something many other teams also experienced - and we had a technical issue that prevented me from finishing. It is frustrating, but I understand that that's how racing goes sometimes. I'm just happy that at least the car was performing well in the race, and that's what motivates me for the next one. Now we need to understand what happened, why it happened, and how to prevent it from happening again."
Tonio Liuzzi, STR-Cosworth F1: “What happened was a real shame as we were competitive and had a really good pace. I am not very happy as I think Jacques (Villeneuve) might have put me in the wall. I am happy for Scott and the team that he picked up a point. Now I am looking forward to Imola where if the car is as competitive as here we can have a good race.”
Christian Klien, Red Bull F1, DNF: “There was a safety car period at the beginning of the race and it very difficult to warm up my tyres. I struggled a lot with that, it made it really tricky to drive the car and I was also on a very heavy fuel load. On lap five, I touched the brakes, the rear locked or something broke, I’m not sure, and I went off the track into the wall. There was nothing I could do. The crash looked worse than it was I think. It felt as if I got hit twice on the rear of my car on the first lap of the race and nearly went off on the first corner as a result, but I don’t think that was related to my going off the track later on. I’m really disappointed.”
Juan Pablo Montoya, DNF, McLaren Mercedes F1: "There was a lot going on in the race today. As we were lining up on the grid I made a mistake and spun the car. Fortunately the start was aborted, and I was able to take up my original start position in fifth spot. However during the first Safety Car period I had another spin which cost me two positions. Overall I found it rather challenging getting the grip into the tyres today and the four Safety Car periods didn’t make it easier. I think I could have finished on the podium, but as I was pushing to get past Ralf I hit the kerb at the start of the straight and went into a bit of a wobble but managed to save it. Unfortunately the impact activated a default system which switched off the engine and that was the end of my race. It’s a real shame as our package felt fantastic throughout the weekend. We can definitely go into the start of the European season with lots of confidence."
Michael Schumacher, Ferrari F1, DNF: "I was pushing to the maximum to try and close on Jenson and pass him. Probably he had some problems as he was not very quick. I tucked in behind him and unexpectedly I got some heavy understeer and finished on the grass. I had to push, because that's the part of the track where it's possible to pass. Today, our main problem was keeping the tyres up to temperature, especially in the first part of the race and also because there were a few safety car periods. We had chosen this compound specifically for the race, and once they reached the right operating temperature, they were going well, as was obvious after the pit stop. At first, it was difficult to drive, as after locking the wheels a few times the tyres were completely finished. It's clear we have a lot of work to do."
Felipe Massa, Ferrari F1, DNF: "Not much to sayAt the first turn, I had Klien on my left and Speed on my right. Christian touched me, which spun me around and to the right, then I hit Rosberg and ended up in the barrier. There was nothing I could do as I was basically a passenger in my car. I am very unhappy because I am sure I could have had a good race. It's been a weekend to forget. Now we must turn the page and work to be as well prepared as possible for Imola."
Jean Todt, Ferrari: "It was a weekend to forget. Going home without points is a very bitter feeling, given that we had all we needed to succeed. Felipe paid a high price for yesterday's qualifying, getting caught up in the sort of situation that typically happens towards the back of the pack at the start. After a first part to the race which was difficult as it was hard to get the tyres up to temperature, Michael went on the attack to try and move up the order. Unfortunately, he lost control of the car after clipping a kerb which unbalanced the car and ended up in the wall. This big disappointment does not alter our targets, but it does make them harder to reach. Now we want to show with results that we have what it takes to get back on top, starting when we race at home in Imola."
Ross Brawn: "It was a bad day. In the first stint of the race, Michael could not push the way he wanted as he struggled to get the tyres up to temperature, which was also partly down to the many safety car periods. Then, in the second part, it was clear that he could maintain a good pace. A shame about the accident which meant a good result was not possible. Now we have work to do, with significant developments to be tried on the car in the coming weeks."