Alonso stays cool in cruise to victory while fire denies Button on final corner

Juan Pablo Montoya gave a preview of what was to come in an extraordinary demolition derby Australian Grand Prix yesterday when he spun his McLaren-Mercedes before he got to the grid. As Fernando Alonso's Renault subsequently swept to a superbly judged victory in a race marred by no fewer than four safety car periods and several heavy accidents, the pole-sitter Jenson Button saw his hopes finally go up in smoke (and flame) as engine failure in his Honda lost him fifth place in the final yards.

The original start had to be abandoned, following Montoya's antics, when the front-row starter Giancarlo Fisichella's Renault stalled. The Italian was pushed into the pits as the Colombian resumed his rightful place for the fresh start. Button attacked immediately, repelling Alonso's challenge, but the Englishman's effort was negated when the safety car was deployed for the first time following a crash between Christian Klien, Felipe Massa and Nico Rosberg in the first corner, and a spin by Jarno Trulli in the sixth.

At the restart on lap four Button was simply unable to defend against Alonso, as his Honda's Michelin tyres had, crucially, lost their temperature. "I tried to push hard in the final corner before the restart," he said glumly, "but it was like driving a car without wings. I had massive understeer and then massive oversteer, and Alonso was gone."

There was momentary respite when the safety car came out again from laps seven to nine after Klien crashed heavily, but on the latest restart it was Raikkonen who pushed ahead of Button. Once again his dreams of glory had faded.

It was soon clear that Alonso had the legs of Raikkonen, whose front wing had a damaged endplate. They headed the field after the first round of pit stops, which came in between safety car periods. The next of these came when Michael Schumacher drove his Ferrari heavily into the wall exiting the last corner on lap 33, while pushing Button for sixth place.

"I tucked in behind Jenson and unexpectedly picked up some heavy understeer and finished on the grass," the multiple champion said dolefully.

That prompted a rash of final pit stops on the 34th lap, and then some frantic racing when the track was clear again on lap 38. But soon the safety car was out again, as Tonio Liuzzi crashed very heavily after, he alleged, Jacques Villeneuve had squeezed his Toro Rosso on to the grass. Earlier in the race the young Italian had yet again demonstrated his talent with a surgically precise pass on Michael Schumacher as they fought over eighth place. He is beginning to make a habit of that.

Despite the interruptions, Alonso kept his cool and drew out a fresh lead as Raikkonen, who had a new front wing fitted in his second stop, struggled to make up lost ground. The Finn reduced the gap over the closing laps, but Alonso was always in control.

Behind them, Ralf Schumacher moved up to third for Toyota, with Nick Heidfeld fourth for Sauber-BMW after Montoya nearly emulated Schumacher Snr's last-corner shunt before stopping with electrical failure.

The final drama befell Button. Under pressure from the recovering Fisichella, his Honda engine exploded in the final corner, and such are the arcane rules of the sport that it was better for him to stop before the finish line and thus surrender points for either fifth or sixth place, rather than incur a 10-grid place penalty at Imola in three weeks' time.

As Alonso celebrated, a disillusioned Button faced the true scale of his task this season. "The car is strong when we have tyre temperature," he said, "but when we don't we have massive grip problems that will not be easy to resolve." In other words, don't hold your breath for his maiden GP success. Despite all the work Honda have done over the winter, it is still going to be a long, hard slog for the man who is so anxious to deliver.

It was also a frustrating day for the local hero, Mark Webber. He would have been one of the last to pit in the first stint and was leading on lap 22. But that little present to the watching triple champion, Sir Jack Brabham, celebrating his 80th birthday, was snatched away by transmission failure a lap later.

For the winner, it was a day of no worries. "This was a very different race to the other two so far this season," Alonso said. "In Bahrain I was fighting with Michael all the way; in Malaysia, it was Jenson I was battling for second place. But today, it was quite comfortable. There were no fights, and I was very relaxed for a lot of the race." There's nothing like rubbing it in.

* The American racer Scott Speed was handed a post-race penalty of 25 seconds for paying insufficient attention to yellow flags. That dropped him behind David Coulthard and lost him, and the Scuderia Toro Rosso team, their first world championship point. The race stewards also fined Speed $5,000 (£2,900) for use of abusive language to another competitor - believed to be Coulthard - during the hearing.

Australian Grand Prix results

1 F Alonso (Sp) Renault

hr 34min 27.870sec

2 K Raikkonen (Fin) McLaren-Merc

1:34:29.699

3 R Schumacher (Ger) Toyota

1:34:52.694

4 N Heidfeld (Ger) BMW Sauber

1:34:58.902

5 G Fisichella (It) Renault

1:35:06.291

6 J Villeneuve (Can) Sauber-BMW

1:35:17.170

7 R Barrichello (Bra) Honda

1:35:19.770

8 D Coulthard (GB) Red Bull Ferrari

1:35:21.770

9 J Button (GB) Honda at 1 lap; 10 C Albers (Neth) Midland-Toyota at 1 lap; 11 S Speed (US) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:35:21.670*; 12 T Sato (Japan) Super Aguri at 2 laps; 13 Y Ide (Japan) Super Aguri at 3 laps. Not Classified: 14 J-P Montoya (Col) McLaren-Mercedes 46 laps; 15 T Monteiro (Por) Midland 39 laps; 16 V Liuzzi (It) Scuderia Toro Rosso 37 laps; 17 M Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari 32 laps; 18 M Webber (Aus) Williams-Cosworth 22 laps; 19 C Klien (Aut) Red Bull 4 laps; 20 N Rosberg (Ger) Williams 0 laps; 21 J Trulli (It) Toyota 0 laps; 22 F Massa (Bra) Ferrari 0 laps

Fastest Lap: Raikkonen (Fin) McLaren 1min 26.045secs (lap 57)

Drivers' Championship: 1 Alonso 28 pts; 2 Fisichella 14; 3 Raikkonen 14; 4 M Schumacher 11; 5 Button 11; 6 Montoya 9; 7 R Schumacher 7; 8 Heidfeld 5; 9 Villeneuve 5; 10 Massa 4; 11 Webber 3; 12 Rosberg 2; 13 Barrichello 2; 14 Speed 1; 15 Klien 1.

Manufacturers' Championship: 1 Renault 42pts; 2 McLaren-Mercedes 23; 3 Ferrari 15; 4 Honda 13; 5 BMW Sauber 10; 6 Toyota 7; 7 Williams-Cosworth 5; 8 Scuderia Toro Rosso-Cosworth 1; 9 Red Bull Racing-Ferrari 1

*Speed finished in eighth position but was handed a 25-second penalty after the race for overtaking while under a yellow caution flag.

Sport
Australia vs New Zealand live
cricket Follow over-by-over coverage as rivals New Zealand and Australia face off
News
Zayn has become the first member to leave One Direction. 'I have to do what feels right in my heart,' he said
peopleWe wince at anguish of fans, but his 1D departure shows the perils of fame in the social media age
Life and Style
Researchers found that just 10 one-minute swill-and-spit sessions are enough to soften tooth enamel and make teeth vulnerable to erosion
health
News
i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Regent Street Cinema’s projection room in the 1920s
film
News
Leah Devine is only the ninth female to have made the Young Magician of the Year final since the contest began more than 50 years
peopleMeet the 16-year-old who has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year
News
Jonathan Anderson was born in Northern Ireland but now based between London, where he presents a line named JW Anderson
peopleBritish designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing