Formula 1

 –  Words: Tim Colquhoun
Melbourne, 3rd April, 2006 – IT HAD all the thrills and spills a grand prix fan could hope for, but many enthusiasts at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne still left slightly disappointed after local hero Mark Webber was forced to retire from the lead with mechanical woes in his Williams.

With a number of spectacular crashes and overtaking manoeuvres, however, the race was one to savour with reigning world champion Fernando Alonso claiming the win in his Renault, ahead of Kimi Raikkonen’s McLaren and Ralf Schumacher’s Toyota. Spain’s Alonso has 28 points of a possible 30 after three races and looks the man to beat in 2006.

“The race was a little bit crazy, I didn’t understand some moments of the race – I was maybe 20 seconds ahead and that gap disappeared after three or four safety car periods in 10 laps,” he said.

“But the car was perfect, it was not a [difficult] race to the victory at any time so I was very confident. The important thing is to be constant in the championship … finish the races and score points.”

Earlier, Webber had taken the lead in his home grand prix on lap 21 as first Montoya, then Jenson Button and Alonso took their first pit stops. But the Australian’s glory was shortlived as he limped to the side of the track on lap 23 with a gearbox failure. Left to rue what could have been, Webber could not contain his disappointment.

“Kimi and Fernando were quick, I think it was going to be very hard to recover against them – they had a huge lead around the stops but a podium could have been reasonably straightforward,” he said. “Our strategy was very good, we were going very long and didn’t have to stop for quite a few more laps.”

Webber was not the only driver to be disappointed; a stunning engine explosion as he rounded the final two corners of the race ended pole-sitter Button’s run an agonising 20 metres short of the finish line and allowed Renault’s Giancarlo Fisichella – who almost came to grief on the oil spilling from the self-combusting Honda in front of him – to snare fifth.

The race was not kind to three former victors. Michael Schumacher, who won in 2000, 01, 02, 04, David Coulthard (1997, 2003) and Fisichella (2005). Schu- macher crashed out, having struggled on his Bridgestone tyres all weekend, while Coulthard finished tanta- lisingly short of


1 Fernando Alonso (Esp) Renault 1:34:27.870
2 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) McLaren +00:01.829
3 Ralf Schumacher (Ger) Toyota 00:24.824
4 Nick Heidfeld (Ger) BMW Sauber 00:31.032
5 Giancarlo Fisichella (Ita) Renault 00:38.421



Whacky races … Felipe Massa’s Ferrari collides with Nico Rosberg’s Williams during a dramatic day at Albert Park in Melbourne yesterday.
Photo: Getty Images


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