San Marino F1 GP - Fantastic duel between Schumacher and Alonso

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April 24, 2005 Fernando Alonso made it three wins in a row when he won the 62 lap San Marino Grand Prix at Imola on Sunday, but the real excitement came from his fantastic duel with Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari over the last 11 laps of the race, the pair being just 0.2s apart at the end. BAR Honda’s Jenson Button completed the top three to open his score in the championship. Though the RS25 V10 fitted to Fernando Alonso’s car became the first engine in the modern era of Formula 1 to win two consecutive races, the real message from San Marino was that Ferrari is back and that Ferrari and Michael Schumacher now have the speed to fight to retain the title. McLaren Mercedes and BAR Honda have also caught up to the speed of the Renault and the season looks set to be a pearler!

From the beginning of the race, Kimi Raikkonen went straight into the lead from pole position and the McLaren driver then opened up a three second lead in four laps. Alonso slotted into second place while Button maintained his third place on the grid. Jarno Trulli jumped up to fourth place ahead of Mark Webber who almost also lost a place to Takuma Sato in the second BAR. Alexander Wurz was next. Jacques Villeneuve went from eleventh to eighth ahead of Rubens Barrichello and Nick Heidfeld, who lost places like his Williams teammate.

Raikkonen’s massive gains in the opening laps soon slowed and his lead stabilised at around 3.5s, but Alonso was steadily pulling away from Button. Similarly, the BAR driver was pulling away from Trulli who was suffering oversteer, and had Webber and Sato eager to pass. Close behind was Wurz who was being pushed by Villeneuve and Barrichello.

Raikkonen’s superb progress lasted for eight laps before he slowed and headed into the pits with broken transmission. This left Alonso with a 7.9s lead over Button which grew to over nine seconds until the BAR’s fuel load lightened and Button began to reduce it.

Trulli, however, was preventing anyone from closing on Button. Webber, Sato, Wurz and then Villeneuve and Barrichello were all close behind, until the Ferrari pulled out with an electrical problem.

On lap 21, the pit stops began with Heidfeld and Ralf Schumacher stopping first, then Trulli and Webber who had just been overtaken by Sato. Alonso and Sato came in on lap 23 as did Villeneuve, while Button pitted on lap 24. Wurz pitted on lap 25, but Michael Schumacher didn’t come in from third on the road until lap 27.

Alonso rejoined with virtually the 7.3s lead over Button he had when he pitted. Such was ‘the Trulli effect’ that when Schumacher emerged, he was still third. Wurz came out in fourth place thanks to his later stop, ahead of Sato, both of whom had overtaken Trulli, but the Toyota driver still had Webber and Villeneuve behind him, soon to be joined by Heidfeld and Ralf Schumacher.

At the front, Alonso pulled away from Button again, but the real revelation was the speed of Michael Schumacher. His 21s deficit behind Button was reduced to 11s in six laps, and within a further eight laps he was right on Button’s tail. When Button slid wide out of Acque Minerale on lap 47, Schumacher got him going into the Variante Alta, and there was nothing that Button could do about it.

Alonso had already stopped on lap 42, and Button stayed out for another six laps, and Michael for one more. When he rejoined, he was only 1.3s behind Alonso, but it took just two laps to catch the Renault. Alonso admitted to controlling the pace for the remaining laps, and Michael Schumacher tried all he could, but there was nothing that he could do and had to settle for a fine, fighting second place. Button was left behind in third.

Wurz made a fine return to racing by hanging onto fourth place while Sato claimed his first points with fifth. Villeneuve got past Webber to claim sixth place, while Trulli and Ralf Schumacher claimed seventh and eighth, until the latter was penalised for a dangerous pit stop release, giving eighth to Heidfeld.

Fernando Alonso, Renault, Winner: “I think this was my best win in Formula 1 so far, because it was different to all the others: I didn’t have a gap to allow me to be conservative, and I knew Michael was catching up from behind and that meant I had to push all the way through the race. In the end, it worked perfectly and things were very close in the final laps, but I was 99% sure he would not be able to overtake here in Imola. The car was good, but the race was the first time I had done more than three timed laps in a row this weekend because we were managing the engine very carefully: we had to make our best estimates with the set-up, and then each lap was a surprise as we discovered how the car changed. I lost some grip towards the end of the race but in the end, we did enough to get the win. Three in a row is a fantastic feeling, and I’m really looking forward to Spain: it will be a big party for everybody, and I think we can aim for the podium again.”

Flavio Briatore, Managing Director, Renault F1: “I am very happy for the team and Fernando. He did an incredible job today, and the way he held off Michael in the last ten laps was incredible. I think this was a great race for Formula 1 and congratulations to Ferrari for their performance today. For me, this was a great afternoon for Renault and Fernando, but also for our sport. I would also like to thank Louis Schweitzer: this is the last F1 victory before he leaves his position as President of Renault, and we are proud to offer it to him.”

Pat Symonds, Executive Director of Engineering Renault F1: “It was fantastic to see two drivers of the calibre of Fernando and Michael fighting for the victory until the last corner. Michael’s pace this afternoon was amazing, and Ferrari are certainly back. Fernando nevertheless coped with it, and dominated and controlled the race in difficult circumstances. As we have seen before from him this season, it was the drive of a future champion. We are all very sorry for Giancarlo. All we know at this stage is that his accident appears to have been a car problem, but we will not know what happened until we investigate further. Michelin also provided us with a strong balance of tyre performance between qualifying and the race. While obviously we now face very strong competition from our rivals, Michelin have done a very good job in responding to the challenge so far this season, and we look forward to an equally exciting race in Spain.”

Michael Schumacher , Ferrari, reigning champ, second place: “I am happy in one way and excited after such a race, but on the other hand, I am disappointed after making a mistake this morning, when I braked on a bump with a full fuel load and locked up a wheel. If not for that, this would have been a perfect day for us. But I have a second place and it is due to a stunning effort from everyone, the engineers, the test team, Luca Badoer, Marc Gene and everyone else who worked flat out since the last race. And big, big thanks to Bridgestone whose performance today is just a first step and there is more to come from them. There is more to come from us too and we are still in the fight. I was helped in getting past Jenson because the two Williams put some dust on the track and Jenson slipped on it a bit. I could see that Fernando was not that quick, but there was never a real opportunity to have a proper go at passing him. Basically, he had a good race today and made no mistakes. That’s why he won and I did not.”

Jean Todt, Ferrari F1 Team Principal: “It was a thrilling race. It is clear we cannot be completely happy, given that Rubens was unable to finish the race because of an electrical problem, the cause of which we still have to identify. Michael had an exceptional race, starting thirteenth and finishing within a hair’s breadth of the winner, who had a great race. I am happy for the team, for Michael, for Bridgestone and for Shell, with whom we have just renewed our agreement to the end of 2010. It was an important weekend on the contract front for the Scuderia, as we also signed an agreement to supply Red Bull Racing with our engines for the next two years. We like to respond with our actions and today’s performance is our answer to those who thought we would not be more competitive again. We know that championship titles are obtained by winning races and that is what we will be trying to do in the next round in Barcelona.”

Ross Brawn, Ferrari F1 Technical Director : “This was a magnificent race for Ferrari and a magnificent race for Formula 1. It was frustrating that Michael got held up for half the race, but once we had the space in front of us, you could see what the car could do and what Michael and the tyres can do. It was fantastic, even though a win would have been an even bigger boost for the team. But the luck will come our way and maybe in the next race we can get on with the job of winning. It was a great shame for Rubens as we did not get to see his potential as he looked in good shape too. We think it was an electrical problem, but we need to investigate.”

Luca di Montezemolo, CEO of Ferrari: “This morning I said that we still had the whole race ahead of us. I am pleased for Michael who had an incredible race; a race of a true champion. I am also pleased for the whole team who have worked extremely hard this week. I am happy for Bridgestone whose tyres proved to be very competitive and for the fans who were repaid for the passion and support they gave us. There is a little regret as if we had started where we should have, we would surely have collected a win. However, to finish second after being thirteenth on the grid is the proof that Ferrari is back as a main player in the championship, as we have been in recent years.Compliments to everybody and especially to Schumacher.”

Jenson Button, BAR Honda, third place: “It’s fantastic to be back on the podium again after such a great weekend for the team. It looks like we are very much back in the game. The past three races have been tough for all of us at B.A.R Honda and it’s fantastic to have put that behind us here today. Everyone has worked incredibly hard - night and day in fact - to turn things around and I have to say a huge ‘thank you’ to everyone for their efforts. It was an incredible race and a great feeling to be as strong as we were in the early stages. We lost out towards the end when I got a bad run up the hill from Acque Minerali and Michael was able to get beside me going into the Variante Alta. Fighting him in that position could have put me out of the race, so I decided to play safe and ensure we got home and dry with a podium and our first points to show for it. As we saw here today there is so much more potential though and we can be stronger still if we maintain the momentum and keep fighting for that win.”

Alexander Wurz, McLaren Mercedes, fourth: "I am really happy with my result today. I drove a tactical race, particularly right before the first pitstop, when I needed to close the gap between Mark Webber and Takuma Sato. I managed to gain an advantage once they pitted and as a result came out ahead of them. I could have been faster; however early on in the race I was stuck in traffic, so could not close the gap to Jenson Button. I am pleased that the team gave me this opportunity and I did my best to justify their commitment to me. A shame for Kimi, he would have deserved a top result this weekend."

Ron Dennis, CEO, McLaren Mercedes: "Of course we are very disappointed with the outcome of the race. Kimi was doing a fantastic job and had already pulled out a healthy lead over Fernando Alonso until a CV joint failed in the driveshaft. Alex's fourth place was well deserved and again reflected the professional approach he has taken to the weekend as a whole. Apologies again to Kimi."

Norbert Haug, Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport: "It's a pity that Kimi retired in the lead with a driveshaft failure, sorry Kimi. He did everything right starting from pole position and pulling away from the field after a perfect start. We had the right strategy, which would have given Kimi even more of an advantage. This is our first failure to lead to retirement this year, and the team will sort that out. Alex did a good job and was among the fastest of the Michelin runners. We will stay focused and work hard to further improve."

Takuma Sato, BAR Honda, fifth: “The team has done a fantastic job, both during the tests working on the new developments and over this race weekend. The car performed very well and I enjoyed the racing here today. We are back on form with a great result and the double-points finish we wanted. At the beginning of the race I was stuck in traffic, but I enjoyed racing side-by-side and making up on my position. The season has really started for us now here at Imola and so I am really looking forward to carrying our strong performance to our next race in Barcelona.”

Jacques Villeneuve, Sauber Petronas, sixth: "We didn’t know that we would have so much improvement in the car when we arrived here this weekend, and that has really helped. I thoroughly enjoyed my race. I had a good fight with Webber and when he ran wide he tried to come back on but I was able to get by. If I had been another 10 centimetres further forward I would have taken the risk with Wurz at the same time, but it was early in the race and would have been touch and go. "I made a great start and my pit stops couldn’t have been better, so thanks to the team for their efforts on my behalf this afternoon. Having the improvement also permitted me more freedom from the team in setting the car up the way I like, and that played its part too. This has been a good weekend and everything and everyone is more positive. I’ve had a hell of a time this year, so it’s sweet to score these points while making a point of my own."

Peter Sauber, Sauber Petronas, Team Principal: "After qualifying we realised that we had made a significant step, but it was bigger than we expected. During the race I was even more surprised what we were seeing. Jacques was able to keep a strong pace and I am particularly happy for him after three difficult races that he should be able to savour this success. It was clear that Felipe would have a difficult time starting a fuel-heavy car 18th as it is so hard to overtake here, and that must have been frustrating for him. But overall I am very happy that the car is at a competitive level now. Thanks again to our technical crew in Hinwil."

Jarno Trulli, Panasonic Toyota F1, seventh: "This was always going to be the hardest race of the year for Toyota, so the fact that we took home three points between us makes it a good day. I changed my set-up just before qualifying and I ended up suffering from oversteer late on, but we've limited the damage. I gave everything I had and kept fighting to the end and we took 7th place. When my new son Enzo arrived last week I felt determined to bring something home for him. It's not a trophy this time, but two points are enough for now!"

Tsutomu Tomita - Team Principal, Panasonic Toyota F1: "We always knew this would be one of the worst circuits of the year for us, so the team did an excellent job to finish with two cars in the points. Jarno had a very difficult race, struggling with oversteer and lack of traction, so he did well to hold his position as well as he did during the pitstops. Ralf had a poor start which compromised his race and meant he was always in traffic. But he also did a good job and excellent pitstop work from the team meant he was able to get past both Williams cars at the second stop. I'd also like to congratulate Luca Marmorini and his engine team for getting both engines to the finish again after a tough race in Bahrain. Overall, to come away with second place in the championship without losing too much ground to the teams behind us is a good result. Now we must work hard to build on this performance over the next few races."

Nick Heidfeld, BMW WilliamsF1, eighth: “I lost a couple of places off the line and we obviously have to improve our starts. After that, Jarno held up the pack where I was for most of the time. I think towards the end of the race my pace was good enough to collect some points, but of course we want to be more competitive than just scoring points, so we must find more speed. I could catch up with Jarno and Ralf very quickly, but overtaking on this circuit was another matter. At the last pit-stop Ralf Schumacher got in front of me by forcing me to brake hard and avoid a crash.”

Sam Michael, Technical Director WilliamsF1: “It is obviously both a disappointing result and day overall. We had a poor start and we spent the whole race in traffic. Clearly we have to improve this for the future. That said, the car's competitiveness was not as bad as it might have appeared due to the traffic but it's certainly not where we expected to be. We had no mechanical problems at all.”

Mario Theissen, BMW Motorsport Director: “Congratulations to Michael Schumacher for an extraordinary race, even though Fernando Alonso won in the end. For us, on the other hand, after a reasonable qualifying it was a disappointing race outcome. Both the drivers were held up in traffic for most of the race, but at no time were they in a position to get to the top. We had no technical problems and reliability was there, simply not the speed.”

Mark Webber, BMW WilliamsF1, ninth: “From the start, Trulli got past me straight away and so too did Sato, but I was able to recover this position at Tosa. After that I had to sit behind Jarno during the first stint, and it happened that we pitted on the same lap and I could not pass him. So I tried to pass Jarno on the track at the Variante Alta but while having a go, I had a big moment and let Villeneuve through. The last part of the race was difficult as I was struggling because the engine of my car was slowed down, having already run two GPs.”

Tonio Liuzzi, debut race for Red Bull F1, tenth: “I thought the race would be difficult for me because of fitness, but I feel pretty ok. The car was quite good really. The balance was good, but there just wasn’t enough speed, so we have to improve. It was quite difficult to keep the car on the track ‚ it felt as if I was sliding all over the place. I wanted to overtake Mark (Webber) so I tried to make something crazy but it didn’t work. Can I say that? It feels great to have done my first race and I can’t wait for testing to prepare for Barcelona.”

Christian Horner, Sporting Director, Red Bull F1: “Obviously 11th and 13th is pretty disappointing after three consecutive point-scoring races. Tonio drove an excellent race on his grand prix debut. He was consistent throughout and made a very solid start to his F1 career. David had a couple of knocks from Massa and I think this damaged his car slightly. From a reliability point of view we’re ok, but we need to take a step forward in performance. We hope to see that at the forthcoming test in Jerez.

Gunther Steiner, Technical Director, Red Bull F1: “I am not that happy with how we performed in the race today. But the car was reliable and didn’t have any problems. In comparison with qualifying I think this is the best we could have achieved.”

Ralf Schumacher, Panasonic Toyota F1. Finished eighth but penalised 25 seconds due to pit stop infringement to drop to eleventh. These comments made before knowledge of penalty: "To finish with both cars in the points here is a good result at this circuit which was always going to be a difficult one for us. I had no real problems other than the odd balance issue on one set of tyres and the guys did a great job for me – especially at the second pitstop. The eighth place arrived because we had such a perfect pitstop and we were able to catch the Williams in the pits. So a big thanks to all the guys and it's great that we can stay in second place in the constructors' championship."

Felipe Massa, Sauber Petronas, twelfth: "I was still in neutral trying to get a gear when the race began so I lost chances to overtake on the first lap. As you can see with Michael, it was almost impossible to overtake here, and many times I was behind Coulthard. When I got really close I got brake fade, which is why I touched his rear wheel one lap and lost my wing. I had to pit early as a result and as we had to refuel then the car was heavier than it should have been. But even so it was very good whenever I had clear laps. I knew that it would be after our performance in qualifying, and if I had been able to start from eighth on the grid I think it would have been possible to fight for a very good position not far from the podium."

David Coulthard, Red Bull F1, 12th place: “At the start I was a bit slow away from the grid. I was running around ok but then had a bit of a bump with Massa, which broke part of the floor. We went backwards from there and never really came back. The race was pretty lonely actually, just going around in circles. The car didn’t have great race pace - we knew that from yesterday - so I was expecting to struggle a bit. But I still thought I’d have a better balance than I did. There was a lot of oversteer.”

Narain Karthikeyan, Jordan F1, 13th: “This is the best race for me so far pace-wise. I have made a decent start and I was able to keep close to the cars in front. I had a good first pit stop but I made a small mistake in the second one, which unfortunately cost me some time, and then I was on my own for the rest of the race. However it was a positive race for us as we were able to keep up with the Red Bull cars which is quite encouraging for the team.”

Tiago Monteiro, Jordan F1, 14th: “Four races and four finishes for me so I am quite pleased. It was quite a difficult race as I suffered from a puncture near the end of the race. Finishing the race was positive for us but what is even better is that we were able to reduce the gap with the cars in front. Now when the cars are passing us they do not just disappear as they used to do it in the first three races but now we can follow them for a while. This is definitely an improvement for the team.”

Trevor Carlin, Sporting Director, Jordan F1: “We had quite a good race, where we showed a very good pace with Tiago and especially Narain hanging on to the Red Bull cars and Felipe Massa. Narain made a small mistake in the pit stop, which unfortunately did not allow us to take advantage of our speed. However, we are very pleased and encouraged the pace we had during the race.”

Kimi Raikkonen, McLaren Mercedes, Qualified on Pole, mechanical failure while leading comfortably: "Unfortunately my race was cut short as a result of a failure in the left driveshaft. Obviously I am disappointed as I had a great start and was really building on my lead. At least we know that the car has the pace in both qualifying as well as the race, and with some improvements due for Spain in two weeks I am looking forward to a good race there."

Rubens Barrichello , Ferrari driver, DNF: “My car had an electrical problem, but at the moment we don’t know the cause. It’s a great shame as I knew my car would be very quick, particularly on used tyres and we have made a huge improvement since the last race, but I never got to the point in the race when my tyres would have been at their best. We still have to look at our reliability as it has not been so good recently. On the positive side, the F2005 is very good and was really quick even with a lot of fuel on board.”

Giancarlo Fisichella, Renault, Retired, lap 5: “I really don’t know what happened this afternoon. I made a good start and was much quicker than Heidfeld, so was just sitting behind him and waiting for the pit-stop. Then going through turn 2, I lost the rear end of the car and spun into the wall. Obviously, it is extremely disappointing because we had the pace again today to score some points.”

Christijan Albers, Minardi Cosworth, DNF: “The first thing is that we did some race laps today and learned a lot about the new car. During the first stint, I had strong oversteer, which we were going to deal with at the pit stop, but unfortunately, there was quite a bad leak from the gearbox and I was not able to continue. I wish we could have delivered a better result to the guys for all the work they have put in, but it was not possible this weekend. We’ll see what we can do in Barcelona.”

Patrick Friesacher, Minardi Cosworth, DNF: “The start was not too bad, and I was quite happy with the opening laps, as I was ahead of Christijan and able to stay with Monteiro, but then suddenly, as I was accelerating out of the last corner, it seemed like something broke. Generally, the car felt good today, but we need to find some more downforce. We’ll be working on this area when we test at Mugello on Wednesday and Thursday of this week.”

Paul Stoddart, Team Principal, Minardi Cosworth: “Despite a valiant effort by the drivers and the whole team, it wasn’t really a surprise that reliability stopped both Minardis in today’s race, as one has to consider that this is the first serious outing for the PS05. Both failures were gearbox-related, and hopefully, this week’s Mugello test will give the team the opportunity to perfect certain aspects of the car. On a positive note, though, we believe the overall potential of the new package, especially of the Cosworth TJ2005 engine, bodes very well for the future.”

1. 5 ALONSO Renault M 1h27'41"921 209.086 Km/h 2. 1 M.SCHUMACHER Ferrari B + 0'00"215 209.077 Km/h 3. 3 BUTTON BAR Honda M + 0'10"481 208.670 Km/h 4. 10 WURZ McLaren Mercedes M + 0'27"554 207.997 Km/h 5. 4 SATO BAR Honda M + 0'34"783 207.713 Km/h 6. 11 VILLENEUVE Sauber Petronas M + 1'04"442 206.556 Km/h 7. 16 TRULLI Toyota M + 1'10"258 206.331 Km/h 8. 8 HEIDFELD Williams BMW M + 1'11"282 206.291 Km/h 9. 7 WEBBER Williams BMW M + 1'23"297 205.827 Km/h 10. 15 LIUZZI RedBull Cosworth M + 1'23"764 205.809 Km/h 11. 17 R.SCHUMACHER Toyota M + 1'35"841 205.346 Km/h 12. 12 MASSA Sauber Petronas M 1 lap(s) 13. 14 COULTHARD RedBull Cosworth M 1 lap(s) 14. 19 KARTHIKEYAN Jordan Toyota B 1 lap(s) 15. 18 MONTEIRO Jordan Toyota B 2 lap(s) 16. 21 ALBERS Minardi Cosworth B 42 lap(s) 17. 2 BARRICHELLO Ferrari B 44 lap(s) 18. 9 RAIKKONEN McLaren Mercedes M 53 lap(s) 19. 20 FRIESACHER Minardi Cosworth B 54 lap(s) 20. 6 FISICHELLA Renault M 57 lap(s)

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