Tuesday, 9 May 2017

2005 San Marino Grand Prix - Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari

April 24, 2005

The beginning of the 2005 Formula One season was quite a surprise. For five seasons Michael Schumacher and Ferrari had utterly dominated the landscape scoring victories and championships seemingly unopposed, but in 2005 the landscape changed.  From early on in preseason testing Renault had shown themselves to be the giant-killer, the team that would take on the might of Maranello.  The only question was did they have the drivers to take on the German ace who had become the most prolific champion in F1 history during his time at the Scuderia.  This task would fall to Giancarlo Fisichella and Fernando Alonso, two very strong and competent drivers. 

Triumphant Duo: Alonso and Fisichella won the first three races of the season.
The Italian was vastly experienced, having driven in F1 since 1997, and had always been looked upon as a driver with the potential to be a world champion if given the proper package.  Now with Renault in 2005, he certainly had that. The young Spaniard had already proven himself a natural talent and himself along with Kimi Raikkonen (McLaren) were viewed as the young generation which could supplant Schumacher as the next champion.  The season certainly started according to plan for the pair with Fisichella winning handily in Australia, and Alonso taking victory in Malaysia and Bahrain.  In fact the talking point during the build-up to the fourth round at San Marino wasn’t whether Renault could beat Ferrari to the championship, rather it was could Ferrari offer any opposition to Renault in the championship.

The start of Ferrari’s 2005 campaign had been less than stellar.  Rubens Barrichello had been able to score a second place podium finish in Melbourne, but apart from that the results were not what one had come to expect from the team.  Schumacher in particular had a woeful start to the season, retiring in both Australia and Bahrain, with only a ninth place finish in Malaysia to his credit. 

2005 San Marino GP: Raikkonen seemingly had things well in hand at the start.
Qualifying for the fourth round at Imola gave the tifosi little hope that the fortunes of their beloved Scuderia had changed, as Rubens Barrichello had only managing to qualify tenth and Schumacher was even further back in an abysmal fourteenth after a mistake at the entrance to Rivazza during the second qualifying session.  With Raikkonen on pole position and Alonso beside him on the front row few could have imagined that Schumacher or Ferrari would play any role in the fight for victory during the Grand Prix.

Raikkonen made good use of his pole position in the race itself, rocketing away at the start and building a two second lead over Alonso after just the opening lap. The Finn was comfortably pulling away, steadily extending his advantage, when his McLaren suffered a driveshaft failure on the ninth lap ending his race. Alonso assumed the lead 7.9 seconds ahead of Jensen Button (BAR) and Jarno Trulli (Toyota). However the Italian did not have the pace to stay with the leaders and soon began bottling up the cars behind him. The Toyota had Mark Webber (Williams) and Takuma Sato (BAR) immediately behind, both looking for a way past. Following them closely was Alexander Wurz (McLaren) substituting for the injured Juan Pablo Montoya, Jacques Villeneuve (Sauber) and Barrichello. However, the Brazilian soon encountered electrical issues and was forced to retire on lap 11. So too was the fate of Fisichella whom on lap 5 suffered a mechanical failure, as he came through Tamburello, pitching him across the sand trap and into the barrier. All the while Schumacher was running twelfth, in the midfield, seemingly unable to move forward. However, Trulli's slower pace and the other's inability to get past him was critical to the German.

The pit stops began on lap 21 with Trulli and Webber, coming in together and exiting in the same order. As the leaders bustled in and out of the pits and generally making very little progress in terms of passing each other, both Wurz and Schumacher were continuing to run on without a stop and getting faster and faster as their cars decreased in weight. Button had briefly made inroads into Alonso’s lead with a couple of fastest laps but it proved only a temporary turn of speed in the run-up to his first stop. Schumacher had the real pace and finally unleashed the dormant potential of the F2005 with a series of ultra-fast laps. Wurz finally stopped on lap 25 and by the time Schumacher pitted two laps later he had stealthily emerged an amazing third – from running twelfth.

Twelfth to Third: Schumacher unleashed astonishing pace to maximise Ferrari's strategy.
The tactic had worked better than Ferrari could have hoped. Schumacher, now 30 seconds behind the leader but with a clear track to attack, set about closing the gap between himself and Button and completely decimated the Briton’s advantage. Schumacher was able to take off 21 seconds in 14 laps, an average of 1.5 seconds per lap, closing right up to the back of Button with a few laps to go before the final round of pit stops. With the Ferrari latched on to the gearbox of the BAR-Honda, the battle became a fight for the lead after Alonso’s stop on lap 42. Schumacher applied plenty of pressure on the Briton, holding station at around half a second behind for four laps before Button finally made a small error, on lap 47, at Acqua Minerali and inexplicably failed to defend at the Variante Alta chicane – Schumacher simply breezed past into the lead for the first time. Button pitted anyway at the end of that lap but with the Briton out the way a little earlier Schumacher was able to set himself up for the fastest lap of the race, setting a time of 1:21.858 on lap 48 that was 0.746 faster than the second best lap of the race set by Button.

On lap 49 Schumacher made a very quick stop, in which he was stationary for little more than six seconds and set an in-out time of 22.170 seconds compared to Alonso's 24.165 seconds total. That advantage, coupled with faster times over the seven laps between the two stops, the German emerged just 1.3s behind the Renault. Again, Schumacher had vastly more speed than Alonso, whose unenviable task was to absorb the pressure of his rival. 

Struggling with an engine that the Renault team later admitted was virtually broken and massively downtuned, Alonso played it clever, slowing and taking unusual lines into the corners he deemed dangerous to his lead protection then accelerating early to keep Schumacher at bay.

Relentless Pressure: Alonso withstands everything Schumacher could bring at him.
For twelve gripping laps Schumacher hounded Alonso without mercy. At one point he was able to draw alongside as they dropped from Piratella to Acque Minerali, but had no space to pass. Relentless though Schumacher’s challenge was, Alonso, to his credit, was able to hold the Ferrari back with an admirable resilience.

That 1.327 seconds came down to 0.376 seconds on the very next lap and fell no further than to 0.465 seconds all the way to the end as Schumacher tried all he could to force the youngster into a mistake.

But Alonso refused to yield and withstood everything Schumacher applied, to the end.

When they took the chequered flag, they were separated by a mere 0.215 of a second – a thrilling display that even the tifosi were satisfied with despite the fact that their hero was denied what would have been and incredible victory on Italian soil.

What made Alonso’s victory even more impressive was the fact that the engine he used for the race was the same power unit used three weeks earlier to win in Bahrain. The searing heat of the desert venue asked more of the engine than usual and, although Fernando’s V10 finished the race, it did not come out of the weekend 100 per cent unscathed and the newly-introduced regulations for 2005 meant it still had to cover the Grand Prix at Imola without the team being able to work on it between the two races. As a precautionary measure, however, Renault restricted the maximum revs.

The final stint of the 2005 San Marino Grand Prix will remain etched in the memories of everyone who witnessed it for a long time to come. That day, Michael met his match in Fernando. The young Spaniard succeeded in warding off the Ferrari driver's pressure to claim a victory he would savour in two ways: first the pure satisfaction of coming out on top in such difficult circumstances that Sunday afternoon at Imola and then later in the year, in Shanghai, where Renault clinched the Constructors' title, beating McLaren-Mercedes by nine points. A title achieved in no small part to those ten points scored in San Marino.

Parc Ferme: Alonso and Schumacher congratulate each other after a titanic battle.

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