Formula One season gets underway - Renault, Ferrari, McLaren and Honda on the pace

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March 13, 2006 The 2006 Formula 1 season erupted to life yesterday with strong indications that four teams will contest the win at each Grand Prix, and three, maybe four drivers will contest the title. 2006 champion Fernando Alonso won the race narrowly in his Renault but it was the renewed pace of Ferrari and Michael Schumacher that gave everyone heart, with an all red front row on the grid for the first time since the 2004 Hungarian Grand Prix as the Scuderia Ferrari driver equalled the record of 65 pole positions set by the late Ayrton Senna. The performance of the day though was that of Kimi Raikkonen who drove through the field from dead last in his McLaren Mercedes to take third. Honda’s 2006 challenge appears credible after a year from hell in 2005, with Jenson Button missing the podium by just six tenths of a second.

The race saw the debut of the new qualifying format: to recap, all 22 cars go out for 15 minutes at the end of which the slowest six cars are eliminated and occupy the last six places on the grid. After a five minute break, the remaining cars go out again for another 15 minutes and again the last six drop out. Finally, the remaining ten, this time running the fuel load with which they intend starting Sunday's race, go on track for a final 20 minute shoot-out.

Designed to bring some excitement to the qualifying procedure after the previous one car at a time format proved a bit dull, today's effort suggests the rule makers have succeeded. Kimi Raikkonen suffered a suspension failure in the first part of the session which brought out the red flags with a few minutes to go. So once the track was open again, all remaining 21 cars rushed out on track at the same time, causing the sort of traffic jam that had not been seen on a Saturday afternoon for a many a year.

On race morning, the cars that took part in the final section of qualifying took on an additional amount of fuel calculated by the FIA, to bring them back up to the level with which they began the final stint. Those outside the top ten could do what they wished in terms of fuel loads, which resulted in an interesting variety of race strategies.

Though hardly an indication of outright competitiveness, the first starting grid of the season did indicate that Ferrari was back in the game, that Honda’s pace was viable in 2006, that Williams might fare better than expected with the Cosworth motors and that Toyota could have slipped off the pace slightly with the change in motors.

Final Qualifying positions:

Michael Schumacher Ferrari 1:31.431 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:31.478 Jenson Button Honda 1:31.549 Fernando Alonso Renault 1:31.702 Juan Pablo Montoya McLaren-Mercedes 1:32.164 Rubens Barrichello Honda 1:32.579 Mark Webber Williams-Cosworth 1:33.006 Christian Klien RBR-Ferrari 1:33.112 Giancarlo Fisichella Renault 1:33.496 Nick Heidfeld Sauber-BMW 1:33.926 Jacques Villeneuve Sauber-BMW 1:32.456 Nico Rosberg Williams-Cosworth 1:32.620 David Coulthard RBR-Ferrari 1:32.850 Jarno Trulli Toyota 1:33.066 Vitantonio Liuzzi STR-Cosworth 1:33.416 Scott Speed STR-Cosworth 1:34.606 Ralf Schumacher Toyota 1:34.702 Christijan Albers MF1-Toyota 1:35.724 Tiago Monteiro MF1-Toyota 1:35.900 Takuma Sato Super Aguri-Honda 1:37.411 Yuji Ide Super Aguri-Honda 1:40.270 Kimi Räikkönen McLaren-Mercedes No time

The race In the race, it was reigning World Champion Fernando Alonso who led home Ferrari's Michael Schumaacher by a tiny 1.246s at the end of the exciting 57 lap series-opening Bahrain Grand Prix at Sakhir on Sunday.

The Ferrari driver had led for most of the first 36 laps, but when Alonso emerged from the pits on lap 40, he and Schumacher both reached the corner at the end of the straight at the same time, with Alonso just grabbing the lead – had it gone the other way, the result would most likely have also done so as both drivers are clever enough to ensure their car wasable to hold on to the chequered flag. The pair were 18 seconds ahead of nearest challenger Kimi Raikkonen, who had started at the back of the grid.

At the start, it was Michael Schumacher who jumped straight into the lead from teammate Felipe Massa, but Alonso got past the second Ferrari when the Brazilian went wide at turn four. Michael led lap one from Alonso, Massa, followed by Juan Pablo Montoya, then Rubens Barrichello (Honda) ahead of delayed teammate Jenson Button, Renault's Giancarlo Fisichella and Williams's Mark Webber. His teammate, Nico Rosberg, had to make a pit stop after clashing with Nick Heidfeld.

Schumacher gradually eased away during the opening stages so that he had a 3.4s lead over Alonso on lap seven, the Renault driver hounded all the way by Massa, but under braking for the first corner, Massa spun and his gyrating car only just missed the Renault. Massa came in for a pit stop, but problems with airguns cost him some 40 seconds, which relegated him to 21st place.

Michael Schumacher extended his lead to 6.2s by lap 14 from Alonso, when the Ferrari made its first pit stop. That allowed Alonso into the lead, now around eight seconds ahead of Button, who had fought back to overtake Montoya on lap 11. Teammate Barrichello, however, would drop back with gearbox trouble, eventually losing third gear, but for the moment, he was holding fourth place until he pitted on lap 16.

That put Schumacher into fourth place, ahead of Christian Klien, Webber and Raikkonen. Fisichella retired on lap 16 after initially suffering a loss of power and then a hydraulic failure.

Button pitted on lap 18 and Alonso on lap 19, which left Montoya in the lead, but he came in on lap 23. Michael now led again but only by 1.1s from Alonso in second place. Then came a six second gap to Raikonnen who had yet to make his single stop. Thirteen seconds further back was Montoya being pushed by Button, until the Honda driver overtook on lap 29, just after half distance. David Coulthard was next from Webber and then Klien.

On lap 30, Raikkonen and Coulthard made their single stops, so that Michael still led but still pushed by Alonso. Button was 21s behind in third place, then Montoya another three seconds down, followed by Webber and Raikkonen.

Michael made his second stop on lap 36, partially due to have lost a lap's fuel allowance during qualifying when one lap was under the 110 percent limit. It could have been crucial. When Alonso stopped three laps later, he just emerged from the pits in the lead, with Michael fighting to overtake him, but just failing to do so.

For the next 18 laps, Schumacher harried the reigning World Champion but just couldn't find a way past. On lap 52, Michael tried down the inside into the first corner but just couldn't quite make it and had to hold station to the chequered flag.

Button made his final stop on lap 40 and emerged just behind Raikkonen and would push him all the way to the chequered flag but would just fail to pass. The pair slipped ahead of Montoya when the Colombian made his final stop on lap 44. He finished fifth, The steady Webber finished sixth ahead of teammate Rosberg who came through magnificently not only to set fastest lap - twice - but to overtake several other cars, including both Red Bull Racing-Ferraris in the final stint. Klien salvaged eighth, just ahead of the recovered Massa.

The drive of the race

Kimi Räikkönen started from dead last with a one stop strategy and a heavy fuel load. By the eighth lap he had improved to tenth position after which he became boxed in behind Jacques Villeneuve's BMW Sauber. On the first corner of lap 16 Kimi outbraked the Canadian to take eighth place and one lap later he was up to seventh. After the pit stops of Michael Schumacher's Ferrari (lap 15), Jenson Button's Honda (lap 18) and Alonso (lap 19), Juan Pablo took the lead on lap 20 with Kimi now having climbed to fifth place. Juan Pablo came in for his first stop on lap 23 (8.8sec) and rejoined the race in fourth position behind his team-mate. Kimi made his sole stop on lap 30 and fell back to sixth place after being stationary for 11.0sec. Juan Pablo came in for his second stop on lap 44 (6.9sec) and regained the circuit in fifth position.

During the final phase of the race Räikkönen matched the pace and lap times of Alonso and Michael Schumacher to take the chequered flag 19.3sec behind the Renault in third position with Juan Pablo taking fifth.

Most promising debut

Without a shadow of doubt the performance of Nico Rosberg in the Williams Cosworth would have had his former F1 star father (Keke) brimming with pride. Not only did the young Nico score points in his first Grand prix, he did so in a car few expected to be competitive, and to cap it all off, he cut the fastest lap of the race.

The immediate future

All teams now have just one week in which to move their equipment to Malaysia for the second race of the season, then a fortnight later the Australian Grand Prix completes the initial fly-away portion of the F1 season. From there, we’ll see five consecutive European races prior to the Canadian (June 25) and United States Grand Prix (July 2). Then a further five European races precede the final three fly-aways fo the season in China, Japan and Brazil.

2006 Bahrain Grand Prix Pos No Driver Team Laps Time/Retired Grid Points 1 1 Fernando Alonso Renault 57 1:29:46.205 2 Michael Schumacher Ferrari 57 +1.2 secs 3 Kimi Räikkönen McLaren-Mercedes 57 +19.3 secs 4 Jenson Button Honda 57 +19.9 secs 5 Juan Pablo Montoya McLaren-Mercedes 57 +37.0 secs 6 Mark Webber Williams-Cosworth 57 +41.9 secs 7 Nico Rosberg Williams-Cosworth 57 +63.0 secs 8 Christian Klien RBR-Ferrari 57 +66.7 secs 9 Felipe Massa Ferrari 57 +69.9 secs 10 David Coulthard RBR-Ferrari 57 +75.5 secs 11 Vitantonio Liuzzi STR-Cosworth 57 +85.9 secs 12 Nick Heidfeld Sauber-BMW 56 +1 Lap 13 Scott Speed STR-Cosworth 56 +1 Lap 14 Ralf Schumacher Toyota 56 +1 Lap 15 Rubens Barrichello Honda 56 +1 Lap 16 Jarno Trulli Toyota 56 +1 Lap 17 Tiago Monteiro MF1-Toyota 55 +2 Laps 18 Takuma Sato Super Aguri-Honda 53 +4 Laps

Fastest Lap: Nico Rosberg 1:32.406

Fernando Alonso, reigning champ and winner of first GP of season: This was a good, fighting win and I want to dedicate it to the mechanics and the team, for some fantastic pitstops and the right strategy. There was a funny incident in the early stages, and I came very close to going out when Massa spun past me in turn 1. After that though, things went smoothly, and I knew that the key time would be around the second stop. I looked after the tyres at the start of the stints, so that I had something left at the crucial moment, and I was very confident that we would be able to do it. After that, I managed the performance, the car was running beautifully and I just concentrated on making no mistakes. The backmarkers were very fair today as well. I think the competition is a little bit closer than we thought overall, but this is the perfect start for the season.

Flavio Briatore, Managing Director, Renault F1: Thank you to the entire team and our partners for this fantastic victory. Fernando did an incredible job, and managed his race perfectly to win. We can only apologise to Fisico, who had an engine problem all the way through the race and then was forced to retire. The team did an awesome job: the pit-stops were exceptional, and helped Fernando get back out in front of Michael at the end. This was an emotional race, and a fantastic show. We are all very happy.

Pat Symonds, Executive Director of Engineering, Renault F1: “This was a great race for Renault. From the driver onwards, our team showed what it is made of today. It was obviously very, very close around the second stop between Fernando and Michael, and we had known from the start that the laps around the second stop would be crucial. Our best chance of victory this weekend came from running a bit longer on our stints, to exploit the performance we found on the Michelin tyres. It worked, but only just! Our apologies must go to Giancarlo. The engine problem he suffered in qualifying had not gone away as we hoped, and seriously compromised his performance. In the circumstances, he did an exceptional job. Ultimately, though, an hydraulic leak stopped the car and forced him to retire.

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari, second place: " All in all this is an excellent result and I'm certainly not complaining about finishing second. If someone would have told us during the winter months that this is the way we would have finished the first race of the season, I wouldn't have believed them. Today we must be really pleased with the result. On the other hand, I still have some mixed feelings because it's seems that we could have been ahead and could have won the race. Considering how it ended up, it's now clear that the qualifying lap that wasn't acknowledged in as far as refuelling this morning was concerned, was the decisive factor that played against us. It's a pity, because yesterday I had to back off because of the traffic. In any case it's a great day for us because we know that we have an good car and we have an excellent potential to develop during the course of the season and this is very important. This year the fight for the championship will be very close: there are several good teams, all of which are capable of battling for the title and it's great to be one of them."

Ross Brawn Ferrari: "Obviously very frustrating to have come so close to winning a race but after the season we had last year we can take a great deal of encouragement from today's performance. Now we have to work on all those bits and pieces to find that little bit extra to win the next race and the one after that. We are in a close fight at the front and it's down to us now to get everything else right and try and win this championship. Felipe was going very well until he spun and we need to find out what caused it. He had a very good race after that. When he came in for the pit stop we had a problem with the right rear gun. The back-up system didn't work either. We're going to have a careful look and see what caused this error."

Jean Todt, Ferrari: " Today we had everything we needed to win, perhaps we needed just that extra little bit of luck ! nevertheless we saw that this weekend our car-engine-Bridgestone tyre package was competitive from the first to the last lap. This is of fundamental importance for team morale and to show that we and our technical partners have worked in the right direction over the winter. This race confirms that there are four teams capable of winning and Ferrari is one of them. Michael made it to the second step of the podium. It's a pity about that qualifying lap that wasn't acknowledged this morning because of the 110% rule, because maybe that bit of extra fuel would have been enough to stay ahead. However we say this with hindsight and it's the sort of thing that is a typical part of racing and we have to accept it. Felipe drove a great race: his spin and the subsequent problem with the tyre change stopped him from doing as well as he could have done. His performance today is still a good sign for the rest of the season. We have a lot of work to do but we'll do our utmost to fight for the championships. Today's result gives an extra boost to the team, the drivers and Bridgestone."

Kimi Räikkönen, McLaren-Mercedes, third place: “This is a great result after the disappointment of yesterday, but we have known that the car was very strong all weekend. We thought that we had a chance to score some points today, even though we were starting from the back of the grid, but to get a podium is fantastic, The first few laps were crucial to this result, and luckily I managed to overtake a lot of cars at the first corner; I was up to 13th by lap two even though the cars in front were all lighter than me. We then gained some more places later on as a result of our strategy. The outcome is even more important to the whole team, who have been working so hard throughout the winter, as we didn't know where we were after testing and everyone had been saying that we were struggling. However we really have improved over the past few weeks. It proves that we are competitive and if not for yesterday we could have been even better.”

Ron Dennis, McLaren-Mercedes Team Principal: “A difficult weekend which stretched the whole team. The results are therefore just reward for their efforts. We are all looking forward to Malaysia where our justifiable expectation is to do better.”

Norbert Haug, Vice President Mercedes-Benz Motorsport: “Kimi's performance was excellent coming from last place on the grid to finish third on the podium. Kimi was fighting all the way through the race and our one-stop strategy was ideal and helped to make this result possible. With his third place and Juan Pablo's fifth we have gained 10 points and are together with Williams Cosworth the only team which has finished with two cars in the points. So we are heading in the right direction. I want to thank the team for all their efforts following yesterday's problem. We are looking forward to next week's Malaysian Grand Prix.”

Jenson Button, Honda F1, fourth place: “Had I not had such a bad start then this could have been a great race for us. The pace of the car was absolutely there but the strategy didn’t pan out because I lost places off the start and wasn’t where we had planned to be at the pitstops. We may not have a podium but we have a very competitive car and if you look at the lap times when we weren’t in traffic we were genuinely as quick as anyone out there. I think we go to Malaysia feeling extremely positive. If we can address the clutch issue which caused the problem with the start we will be able to fight even harder with the competition.”

Gil De Ferran, Sporting Director: “Jenson drove a brilliant race, pushing hard throughout and showing that we had very similar pace to the leaders. Unfortunately he had a clutch problem at the start which dropped him back and ended up compromising the whole race. Rubens was running well early on but he lost the use of a gear which wiped out his chances. We come away from Bahrain disappointed with our final result but at the same time very encouraged by the performance of our car and drivers and looking forward to Malaysia."

Shuhei Nakamoto, Engineering Director, Honda Racing Development: “A disappointing result. Looking at the positives, Jenson’s pace matched that of Fernando and Michael for most of the afternoon, and he drove his customary strong race throughout, but the start spoiled his chances of a better finish. It was a shame for Rubens that his debut race for us was affected by a gearbox problem. The V8 engine has been strong the whole weekend, and we remain positive for next week.”

Juan Pablo Montoya McLaren-Mercedes, fifth place: “I have not really been totally comfortable with the set up of my car all weekend, which was clear during all the practice sessions. Obviously I am a little disappointed finishing in fifth as I know that the car could do so much more, but it just wasn't working for me this weekend. However it was a steady race and for the team to get two cars finishing in the points could be very important later in the season. The four points I have scored are good considering the circumstances. I am now looking forward to the next race in Malaysia, where we can improve further on these results."

Mark Webber, WilliamsF1, sixth place: “Today’s race was superb, a really good job by the whole team, we really could not have asked for more. Having both cars finishing was very useful, we have collected a lot of data and this will help with our understanding of the tyres. Malaysia will be a different race altogether and our performance today will really help with our preparation for next weekend.”

Nico Rosberg, WilliamsF1, seventh place: “I really enjoyed myself today and the final result was a good outcome. Unfortunately I made a mistake at the first corner, expecting that Heidfeld might leave me more room and the incident put me right back. However, it was a super effort by the team and I really enjoyed fighting my way up, particularly battling with Coulthard. The final result - seventh place and the fastest lap of the race -is more than I could have hoped for in my first race. Today was a great start and I’m looking forward to the next race.

Sam Michael, Technical Director, WilliamsF1: “Our final positions today don’t reflect our real pace as the car was fast and we were perhaps a bit too conservative on our pit stop strategy by running too long at the start. However, looking at the FW28 over the race, it is clear that we have a strong car aerodynamically and mechanically. With all of the new partnerships that we have, today is a credit to all involved. The tyres worked fantastically, we couldn’t have asked for better, as our long runs on Friday with Alex indicated. Unfortunately on qualifying day, the track was a bit too cool for our compound compared to the other Bridgestone runners, but today the compound was perfect. Together with our other technical partner, Cosworth, it is clear we have a good combination. Mark drove a solid race, start to finish. Nico made mistake at turn one, which cost him 45s on his in lap and pitstop – without this, he would have been on the podium and he did record the fastest lap of the race. For his first race, it’s a fantastic result. Our target now is to turn up in Malaysia and deliver the goods.”

Simon Corbyn, Head of F1 Race Engineering, Cosworth: “Today was a great start to the season with Williams. Neither of the Cosworth CA 2006 engines missed a beat throughout the race and the performance of the series two engines was very competitive and everyone at Cosworth deserves thanks for all their efforts over the winter.”

Christian Klien Red Bull Racing, eighth: “After the problems we suffered during the winter, it’s great that both cars crossed the finish today. The first part of the race went well and I was able to make up a few positions, but later on I wasn’t able to keep the same pace. The cars grip seemed to give way a little and I lost some time. I also had a problem with the clutch. It’s a shame that Nico (Rosberg) overtook me in the final laps as it meant I dropped from seventh to eighth in the closing stages.”

Christian Horner, Sporting Director, Red Bull Racing: “Going into the race having not completed more than 20 consecutive laps, I think it was an excellent effort from the whole team. Both drivers drove well on different strategies and appeared to have reasonable pace, especially at the beginning. However the two Williams cars had incredible pace, especially after their pit stops, and we just weren’t quick enough to hold them off, particularly Rosberg. But, we have one Championship point and we’re off the mark. We now have to build from here.”

Felipe Massa, Ferrari, ninth: "I must say that it really was a pity. Right from the start of the weekend I had a very competitive car and it's a shame that I wasn't able to pick up some points. When I spun I was very close to Alonso and I just touched the brakes but then I lost the rear end and spun off. During the pit stop I lost a lot of time to change the right rear tyre and that's when I lost any chance of finishing in the points. For the rest of the race I was flat out all the time and I managed to climb back up to 9th. It's a pity that I've come away from this race with no points, but I'm looking forward to get my own back because I know that we have everything it takes to perform well."

David Coulthard, Red Bull Racing, tenth: “I flat spotted early on when I was wheel to wheel with Nick (Heidfeld), which afterwards caused huge vibrations in the car. There’s so much vibration when that occurs, you lose visibility, your eyes are shaking in your head and it feels like you’re sitting on top of a spin drier. You can’t read the pit board nor the displays in the car. The team wanted me to do an oil transfer, but I had to ask them what colour the button was that I needed to press, as you can’t read anything when it’s like that. It’s horrible and rounds off a pretty disappointing weekend.” Nick Heidfeld, 12th: Obviously things started badly as Nico Rosberg spun me in the first corner. I lost a lot of places and that ruined my race. I was able to fight back and had a particularly exciting battle with Coulthard. It’s difficult to assess our performance after only one race but naturally it’s disappointing when you start 10th and can’t score any points.

Jacques Villeneuve: DNF (engine failure) My start was not particularly great, but I managed to find my way through the first few corners and to stay out of trouble there. The race set-up was fine and I settled into a good rhythm. I overtook Coulthard and stayed in front of Raikkonen for quite a while. Then all of a sudden I started to lose power, and that was it.

Mario Theissen (BMW Motorsport Director): The start of the weekend was promising, but unfortunately we could not maintain our performance for the race. Jacques’ car suffered a serious engine failure, without any warning. The unit was removed immediately after we got the car back, and sent to Munich for analysis. Nick was the victim of a collision in the first corner with Nico Rosberg, and was relegated to the tail of the field. From there he recovered to 12th but the lap times were not as good as expected. That shows that we have started well but still have much to do.

Willy Rampf (BMW Technical Director Chassis): After qualifying we were optimistic for the race, but I have to admit that our pace this afternoon was not at the level we had expected after practice on Friday and Saturday. We have to analyse the reasons for this carefully, but for sure there is a lot of work to do.

Rubens Barrichello, Honda F1, 15th place: “It’s a disappointing way to finish my first race for the team but in the early stages we saw a taste of our potential. Jenson and I had a great race with each other early on which I’m sure got a few people excited! Soon after though I knew we had a gearbox problem and I had to try to race with one gear missing. I was unable to push and had no chance of a points finish, so it wasn’t a good way for me to spend the race. We know that the pace is there so we just have to resolve our problems for next weekend when I’m sure we will have a much better race.” Giancarlo Fisichella, Renault F1, Retired Lap 21 “I had the same problem as in qualifying, with a big loss of power on the engine. It was OK for the start of the race, but then I just lost power all the way through the rev range and the car was much slower on the straights. I was still able to fight with the cars around me, but I was a long way from the potential we could do with full power. Then I had an hydraulic problem which forced me to retire. The good thing is that we have another race in one week’s time, and the car is clearly very quick. I want to bounce back strongly in Malaysia.

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