Mon, 07 Mar 2005

From: AFP

Fisichella revs up F1 by racing to Aussie win

Agence France-Presse, Melbourne

Giancarlo Fisichella breathed life into the new Formula One season with an all-the-way victory in the Australian Grand Prix here on Sunday, handing Renault early ascendancy over world champions Ferrari.

The 32-year-old Italian journeyman cashed in on his good fortune in starting from pole -- after recording the fastest time before rain sabotaged Saturday's opening qualifying -- and held off Ferrari's No. 2 Rubens Barrichello for only his second triumph in 142 GPs.

Amid expectations that the Ferrari juggernaut would again prove unstoppable for its seventh straight constructors' crown this season, Fisichella gave pause for thought in leading Renault to first and third in the season-opening GP, with team-mate Fernando Alonso joining him on the podium.

Ferrari may still go on to take the major prizes, but Renault have signaled their intentions that they could challenge Formula One's thoroughbreds all the way through the 19-race marathon.

While Fisichella was savoring celebratory champagne, Ferrari king Michael Schumacher was reflecting on his retirement on the 43rd of the 57-lap GP after coming off worse in a dice with Williams driver Nick Heidfeld.

They made contact coming out of a turn, beaching Heidfeld in trackside gravel while Schumacher had to limp back to the pit lane.

It is rare that the seven-times world champion fails to complete a race -- he won 13 of last season's 18 races -- yet his misfortune after having to work his way through the field from 19th on the grid will inject some much-needed unpredictability into the 2005 Formula One season.

"I was really lucky on Saturday and we were able to manage a big gap on the other competitors, especially in this morning's second qualifying session," Fisichella said.

"But anyway, even that, I had the second-quickest this morning and considering the fuel load it was good, but the potential is there and we were quick and we were able to fight for the race.

It was a sweet victory for Fisichella, who was able to celebrate his success on the podium after getting his only other victory through a stewards' overturning of McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen's win in the 2003 Brazil GP over a timekeeping discrepancy.

"I was quite conservative until five or six laps just when Rubens was catching me," Fisichella said.

"My engineer told me to push a little bit more, I pushed without a problem and I did (a lap time) of 1:25.9 which was not bad."

Barrichello made a scorching start out of his 11th slot on the grid and was in sixth place by the 18th lap.

"I was pushing if I had a chance to catch to him, but obviously he saved his tires right at the beginning so he was in better shape than me," Barrichello said, also second here in 2000 and last year.