Down under and off…

news: Down under and off...

The 2005 Grand Prix season took the chequered flag in Melbourne, Australia last Sunday. The race was the first of a mammoth programme this year that takes in 19 events from Bahrain to Istanbul and Shanghai. Again, the rules have been amended to reduce costs and make racing more competitive, although many say that the changes represent yet another attempt to break Ferrari’s stronghold on the championship. Engines must now last two races or a maximum of 1500km, rather than one weekend – failure in this department will cost teams ten places at the next event. Furthermore, only one set of tyres will be allowed for each race and qualifying session, ending constant pitstops. Lastly, aerodynamic downforce reduction apart, qualifying now takes place on a Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning, pole positions being decided on aggregate times.

Of the 10 teams competing this season, Ferrari, Bar-Honda, Williams and McLaren can be described as major players with the remainder nowhere. Any points Sauber, Red Bull, Toyota, Jordan or Minardi do manage to accumulate will be a bonus, but none should be able to seriously challenge for the podium places come October.

Saturday’s first qualifying session rapidly turned into a farce as freak storms inundated parts of the Albert Park track while leaving other stretches bone dry. Mark Webber benefited from a brief dry spell taking second on the grid, while Michael Schumacher had to nurse his car through a downpour, coming in 15th. Sunday’s reverse starting order proved of little benefit to those left behind as conditions were dry and unsuitable for making up lost time.

Renault’s Giancarlo Fisichella started in pole position and took the opening race of the season, with team mate Fernando Alonso finishing in third. Rubens Barrichello showed that the modified 2004 Ferrari still in use ahead of the introduction of the 2005 model is still competitive by driving into second place. Defending champion Michael Schumacher, perhaps upset by the time trial lottery, struggled, and exited together with Nick Heidfeld after attempting to block his compatriot’s overtaking manoeuvre.

Red Bull had a good start to their F1 adventure, David Coulthard finishing fourth, and Christian Klien in seventh. McLaren should have done better – Raikkonen stalled at the start, and Montoya spun off when challenging. The new Jaguar (Midland) team finished in the ruck.