There was plenty of racing on the schedule this past weekend, with a little something for everybody. Formula 1 took to the streets of Melbourne’s Albert Park for the Australian Grand Prix while NASCAR’s Nextel Cup and Craftsman Truck series were bumpin’ and bangin’ on the historic half-mile paper clip at Martinsville, Va. The Indy Racing League bounced back from its tragic weekend at Homestead with a road race on the airport/street circuit in St. Petersburg, with the Speed World Challenge series on the undercard, and the NHRA shook the earth at Houston Raceway Park.
Formula 1: Alonso Dominates in Australia
Defending World Champion Fernando Alonso claimed his second victory of the season in the Grand Prix of Australia on Sunday in dominant fashion, while chaos reigned behind him.
In years past, the Australian GP has been the season opener. As a result of moving it up to the third race of the season (to accommodate the Commonwealth Games), temperatures at the Albert Park street circuit were lower than in years past. This, plus four safety-car periods, made it difficult for the teams to keep sufficient heat in their tires. Consequently there were a number of spins and crashes, resulting in 10 of the 22 starters failing to finish.
Jenson Button started from pole, Honda’s first as a manufacturer since 1968, but he was quickly dispatched by Alonso’s Renault and was never a factor in the race for the lead afterwards, struggling with tire temperatures on the restarts following the safety car periods. McLaren’s Kimi Raikkonen ran second most of the race, but was hampered mid-race by vibrations from a flat-spotted front tire and a damaged front wing. He set the race’s fastest lap on the final lap enroute to second place. The 1.829sec margin of victory was not representative of the race, as Alonso slowed in the closing laps after pulling out a 9sec lead.
Toyota’s Ralf Schumacher had perhaps the drive of the race to finish third. He started sixth and ran competitively all day. He was dropped back in the field midrace by a drive-through penalty for speeding in the pit lane, and was helped by the many safety-car periods and attrition to claim Toyota’s first podium appearance of the year.
Nick Heidfeld put in the best performance of the season to date for BMW-Sauber to take fourth, followed by Alonso’s teammate Giancarlo Fisichella, who had to start from the pit lane after stalling on the grid and causing the original start to be called off. Heidfeld’s teammate Jacques Villeneuve, Honda’s Rubens Barrichello and Red Bull Racing’s David Coulthard claimed the final points-paying positions. Scuderia Toro Rosso’s American driver, Scott Speed, was originally classified eighth but was penalized 25sec for passing under the yellow, promoting Coulthard and dropping Speed to 11th.
The day’s hard luck award went to Jenson Button, who started from the pole (the first for Honda as a manufacturer since 1968). He had trouble keeping his tires warm and was unable to fend off Alonso and Raikkonen at the start. The many safety car periods exacerbated his problem, relegating him to fifth in the closing laps, struggling to hold off Fisichella. Then his engine blew in spectacular fashion in the last corner of the last lap, and he pulled off before the finish line, mindful of the rule that will allow him to change engines without penalty for the next race since he did not take the checkered flag.
The teams head home to Europe now, and will be back in action in three weeks at Italy’s Imola circuit for the Grand Prix of San Marino.
Grand Prix of Malaysia Top Five:
1) Fernando Alonso, No. 1 Renault, 57 laps
2) Kimi Raikkonen, No. 3 McLaren/Mercedes-Benz, -1.829sec
3) Ralf Schumacher, No. 7 Toyota, -24.824sec
4) Nick Heidfeld, No. 16 BMW-Sauber, -31.032sec
5) Giancarlo Fisichella, No. 2 Renault, -38.421sec
Driver’s Championship: 1) Fernando Alonso, 28; 2) Giancarlo Fisichella, 14; 3) Kimi Raikkonen, 14; 4) Michael Schumacher, 11; 5) Jenson Button, 11.