The 2006 F1 season got off to a great start as world champion Alonso began as he had finished in 2005 with another victory over Michael Schumacher…
No one knew quite what to expect in the minutes leading up to the grand prix in this new season, with new regulations, new teams & new drivers. Winter testing suggested that the Ferrari's of Michael Schumacher and new team-mate Felippe Massa had made much progress and could be expected to challenge the dominance of the Renault&McLaren teams after a dismal 2005 campaign.
This theory proved correct after Schumacher claimed pole position in qualifying closely followed by Massa who put in an impressive display in his first competitive outing for the team.
At the green light both Ferraris were ahead but Fernando Alonso had made a great start from P4 on the grid and was right behind Felipe Massa going into turn one. A few corners later, he nailed Massa – an important pass which left him to chase down Schumacher in the lead.
Jenson Button had a disappointing start to the race after dropping from P3 on the grid to 6th at the end of the first lap, finding himself behind Juan Montoya's McLaren in 4th and new Honda team-mate Rubens Barichello in 5th.
Giancarlo Fisichella (7th) in the 2nd Renault and Mark Webber (8th) in a promising start for the Williams team, made up the top points scoring positions. Menawhile, Kimi Raikonnen in the second McLaren had made his way up to 13th after starting from the back of the grid due to a suspension failure in qualifying.
Button quickly passed Barichello and positions were then held until lap 8, when Massa had a big lockup going into turn 1 and almost slammed into Fernando Alonso whilst spinning off the track. He recovered to the pits but the Ferrari crew were not ready and his stop took 46.8 seconds, sadly putting him out of contention.
A few laps later Button passed Montoya for what was now 3rd position and Fisichella had dropped behind Christian Klien's Red Bull and Mark Webber as became obvious he didnt have full power in his Renault engine. Michael Schumacher who had built up a comfortable lead made his first pit stop on lap 15.
Alonso manged to go on for another four laps but exited the pits just behind Schumacher. In this second stint of the race, Alonso looked much more threateaning and quickly closed up behind Schumacher, while his unfortunate team mate Fisichella eventually retired on lap 21 when his hydraulics system failed.
Behind the leading pair, Kimi Raikonnen now found himself in 3rd after the others pitted, his 1 stop strategy being of advantage at this point. Button again found himself behind Montoyas McLaren and for the second time in the race passed him going into turn 1 with an excellent move.
Raikonnen made his one and only stop for fuel&tyres on lap 32 and exited in 6th position behind Webber. Behind him, Christian Klien and Liuzzi in the new Torro-Rosso team hoped to hang on to their points paying positions.
But try as he might, Alonso couldnt find a way past the wide Ferrari of Schumacher at the front until Schumacher made his second stop. This was Alonso's chance to put in some hot laps but he was frustrated by slow backmarkers in front of him and it looked like the race might be swinging in favour of Schumacher.
Two laps later Alonso made his second stop and exited the pits as Schumacher was speeding down the main straight. They were side-by-side going into turn one but crucially Alonso had the inside line and managed to pass Schumacher to take the leaad.
Although Schumacher was always close behind from this point onwards, Alonso never looked under too much pressure and romped home to win the first race of the 2006 season. Kimi Raikonnen managed to hold off a late Button challenge to come home in 3rd – a massive achievement after his starting position.
Juan Montoya finished a solid 5th after never really looking amazingly quick whilst Mark Webber finished an impressive 6th in his Williams. His rookie team mate Nico Roseberg completed a good day for the Williams team finishing in 7th after an impressive display in his first GP, and Christian Klien scored a point for the Red-bull racing team.
Jenson Button was left to rue his poor start to the race but will surely be a strong contender going forward to the next grand prix in Malaysia in a weeks time.
Fernando Alonso has thrown down the gauntlet to his two main rivals – Michael Schumacher and Kimi Raikonnen, although Button may feel he should be included in that list and Fisichella will be eager to make up for his retirement in Bahrain.
All this means the most exciting F1 championship for a while with Renault, Ferrari, McLaren and Honda all having very similar performance levels at the moment. The next few races will be very exciting as we see how this new season shapes out.