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MOTOR RACING – Melbourne

AHEAD OF the Australian Grand Prix, news that the dispute between the five car manufacturer-backed teams and the sport’s governing body has moved a step closer to being resolved, cheered fans. Honda, Toyota, BMW, Mercedes and Renault have all backed away from the idea of forming a rival circuit and confirmed their intent to remain with Max Mosley’s FIA beyond 2007.

On the track, Jenson Button was fastest in qualifying, taking his third pole position in 102 races and Honda’s first since 1968, when John Surtees last managed the feat in Italy. Giancarlo Fisichella started alongside the Briton, with Alonso and Raikkonen on the second row. Ferrari were less prominent, Michael Schumacher occupying a lowly 10th position after failing to come through the first qualifying session, and team mate Massa starting at the rear in consequence of a spectacular crash. The Brazilian repeated that exit in the first bend of the race proper, while Schumacher followed him out on the 33rd lap.

Button dropped back after the start with mechanical problems, but looked to be set for fifth place when his engine blew up only yards from the finishing line, to deprive him of his share of the points. Instead, it was once more left to Fernando Alonso to claim his second, and Renault’s third race of the season, the young Spaniard extending his lead at the head of the driver’s championship to 14 points over team mate Fisichella. Kimi Raikkonen took second ahead of Ralph Schumacher and Nick Heidfeld in third and fourth.

David Coulthard was promoted into eighth by the stewards and was thus able to claim his 500th point in Formula One. The circuit continues at San Marino’s Imola track on April 23.