Sunday 6th March 2005
Giancarlo Fisichella in a Renault R25 won the Australian Grand Prix at Melbourne.
The first attempt to start the race was yellow flagged, due to the stalled McLaren of Kimi Räikkönen, who would eventually start the abbreviated race (57 laps from 58) in pit lane. When the red lights did finally go out, front row starters Fisichella and Jarno Trulli protected their positions and led the rest of the field through the first lap. Starting third in his home grand prix, Mark Webber– in his Williams debut– was outsprinted to the first corner by David Coulthard’s Red Bull. Rubens Barrichello and Fernando Alonso each moved up three spots on the first lap, showing more of their cars’ true potential than what was seen in the rain-soaked qualifying. Sato made the best start, moving from last place to 14th. Jacques Villeneuve had the worst start– his first in the Sauber– as he dropped five positions on the opening lap after losing forward momentum in a first-corner position skirmish.
As Fisichella and Trulli raced away at the front, Coulthard began to gradually fall back, holding up Webber, Nick Heidfeld (also making his Williams debut), Christian Klien, Juan Pablo Montoya and Barrichello. Several seconds further back was Villeneuve, struggling to hold off a charging Alonso, who was himself just ahead of Jenson Button and Ralf Schumacher (in his first start for Toyota). Close behind were Felipe Massa, Sato, the elder Schumacher, and Räikkönen, who doggedly pursued the champion but could not find a way past. The four rookies were a little further back: the two Jordans of Tiago Monteiro and Narain Karthikeyan led the Minardi duo of Patrick Friesacher and Christijan Albers.
Alonso passed Villeneuve, only to have the Canadian retake the position moments later. But just before the first round of pit stops, Alonso would finally find a way around the former champion, saving any podium hopes for the young Spaniard. While passing backmarkers on lap 15, Coulthard and Webber nearly collided with one another; Webber briefly went onto the grass, but no serious damage was done. After lap 17, unable to pull out of the pits due to a gearbox problem, Albers retired his Minardi, which had lost second gear as early as the formation lap. This was the only mechanical retirement of the afternoon.
Fisichella remained firmly in command after his first pit stop, although he briefly relinquished the lead while refueling. Barrichello gained the most in the pits, as he moved up from eighth to fourth place; Alonso continued his hard charge, gaining four positions as well. However, Trulli’s Toyota slowly began dropping back, getting passed again and again; it would later turn out to be a blistered rear tyre, which would affect him for the remainder of the race. Teammate Ralf Schumacher had a problem of his own, and was forced to pit twice in quick succession to tighten a loose safety harness. Räikkönen was able to get by the elder Schumacher into tenth (his starting grid position) and pull away from the champion in pursuit of Heidfeld.
After Michael Schumacher’s second stop, he emerged from the pitlane just ahead of Heidfeld, who thought he saw an opening going into the third turn. Schumacher, who momentarily lost sight of Heidfeld’s Williams in his mirrors, closed the door on his fellow German, forcing him onto the grass. With no traction on the grass, Heidfeld braked in vain, sliding into the side of the F2004M, pushing both cars into the gravel. Heidfeld’s race was finished; although Schumacher was able to get his Ferrari back on track, nevertheless he retired in the pits soon thereafter, due to collision damage.
Montoya went onto the grass briefly at Turn Eight as he prepared to make his second call to pitlane; this, plus another off-track excursion while tangling with a backmarking rookie, cost him valuable time. When he later lost part of his rear deflector, Montoya eased up to finish the race and to preserve his Mercedes-Benz power plant for the next race. Teammate Räikkönen also lost a significant portion of his deflector, which became imbedded under his side barge board; mechanics were later seen removing it during a pit stop.
After the second round of stops, the final order of finish was nearly determined. While most of the field slowed to conserve engines, Alonso continued pushing hard on Barrichello’s heels. Barrichello, despite battling a brake balance problem, was able to answer the challenge, and held off Alonso for second. Fisichella, who flawlessly managed the gap to his nearest opponent all race long, easily took the chequered flag for his second career victory, with his only other victory coming for Jordan in 2003. He never put a foot wrong, and his R25 chassis, although not seriously challenged, performed flawlessly to claim the inaugural race of the season. Teammate Alonso clocked the fastest lap of the race, and was noticeably the fastest car on track for most of the event.
Interestingly, both BARs pulled into the pits on the final lap of the race; by not officially finishing the event, they effectively exempted themselves from the new two-race engine rule. By taking advantage of this loophole in 2005 regulations, they were entitled to replace the cars’ Honda engines in Malaysia without incurring any penalty. The loophole was immediately closed, as a car was in future required to have a genuine technical problem to be entitled to a new engine.