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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
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

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor