After a long winter of building new engines and new cars followed by thousands of miles of testing, the Formula 1 World Championship got its 2006 season underway this past weekend in Bahrain. Meanwhile, the NASCAR Nextel Cup and Busch Series were decamped in Sin City, enduring unseasonably cold weather at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Formula 1: Alonso Wins Season Opener
The 2006 Formula 1 World Championship opened up with the Grand Prix of Bahrain on Sunday with a new 2.4-liter V8 engine formula and a number of rules changes, but the results looked much the same as when we last left our heroes. Defending World Champion Fernando Alonso just squeezed past seven-time champ Michael Schumacher after his last of two pit stops and managed to hold on to score the victory with a 1.2sec margin of victory.
Schumacher started from pole for the 65th time in his storied career, tying him with the late Ayrton Senna, alongside new teammate Felipe Massa. Honda’s Jenson Button and Alonso filled the second row, ahead of McLaren’s Juan Pablo Montoya and Button’s new teammate Rubens Barrichello. Schumacher led from the outset, but Alonso was able to get past Button and Massa into second on the first lap. Massa spun out on Lap 7 across the bow of Alonso, who barely missed him, and was relegated to the back by an air-hose failure on his first pit stop which took him out of contention.
Schumacher led through the second round of pit stops, with Alonso in close pursuit. A good battle behind them between Button and Montoya was eclipsed by Montoya’s teammate Kimi Raikkonen, who put in the drive of the race. Raikkonen suffered a suspension failure in qualifying which relegated him to last on the 22-car grid. He blasted his way through the field and, using a one-stop strategy, was up to third by Lap 18.
Alonso’s second stop was on Lap 40, and he barely managed to emerge in front of Schumacher, but held on to the finish ahead of Raikkonen, Button and Montoya. The Williams/Cosworths of Mark Webber and rookie Nico Rosberg were sixth and seventh, with Rosberg recovering from an early-race spin to set the race’s fastest lap to acquit himself nicely. Christian Klien scored the final point for Red Bull, with Massa and Klien’s teammate David Coulthard filling out the top 10.
American Scott Speed finished 13th in his maiden F1 outing, behind teammate Vitantonio Liuzzi (last car on the lead lap) and BMW/Sauber’s Nick Heidfeld.
The Toyotas had a disappointing day,
with Ralf Schumacher 14th and teammate Jarno Trulli 16th,
sandwiching Barrichello. The Midland/Toyota of Tiago Monteiro (two laps down)
and the Super Aguri/Honda of Takuma Sato (four laps down) were the final cars
running. Failing to finish were Sato’s teammate Yuji Ide (mechanical),
BMW/Sauber’s Jacques Villeneuve (engine failure), Renault’s Giancarlo Fisichella
(hydraulics failure) and
The race was very competitive, with good battles throughout the field. It looks like pre-season predictions of a four-way fight between Renault, Ferrari, McLaren and Honda will bear out, and this could be an even more interesting season that last year. The teams will have only a week to turn the cars around in time for the second round, which is next weekend in Australia.
Grand Prix of Bahrain Top Five: