Mon, Mar 07, 2005 - Page 20 News List

Providence aids Italy's Fisichella

AUSTRALIAN GP After rain slowed his toughest competitors in qualifying runs, Giancarlo Fisichella secured the pole position and an unquestioned win

AP , MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA

Giancarlo Fisichella of Italy jubilates on the podium after driving his Renault to victory in the Australian Formula One Grand Prix in Melbourne, yesterday. Fisichella started in the pole position to win the first race of the season at the Albert Park road circuit.

PHOTO: AFP

Italian Giancarlo Fisichella won yesterday's Australian Grand Prix for Renault in a season-opening F1 weekend highlighted by rule changes and a sudden downpour in qualifying that ended Michael Schumacher's hopes of defending the title.

Fisichella finished 57 laps of the 5.303km Albert Park circuit in 1 hour, 24 minutes, 17.336 seconds, 5.55 seconds ahead of Ferrari's Rubens Barrichello and Fisichella's Renault teammate Fernando Alonso.

Barrichello and Alonso placed second and third here last season. Schumacher, the 2004 winner at Melbourne, crashed out with 15 laps remaining after starting on the back row of the grid.

Fisichella's only previous F1 win in 141 races was at the controversial 2003 Brazilian GP, when he wasn't awarded the title for five days until it was discovered he was ahead when the race was stopped.

There was no uncertainty this time.

This win "is completely different, yeah," said Fisichella. "It's my first time to celebrate the victory on the podium. It's been fantastic, a great experience -- I want to do it again.

The 32-year-old Italian punched the air from inside his cockpit as he crossed the finish line. He stood up in the car as his crew pushed his blue and yellow racer to the garage, pumping his helmet into the air repeatedly.

Fisichella stood on the podium and did a double thumbs-up as the Italian national anthem was played.

"It's a great day for me. It's been a fantastic race," said Fisichella. "I was quite conservative and never pushed the limit, until the end when Rubens was catching me I drove a little bit faster.

"The car was great ... we're really in very good shape. It's the best start of my career."

With new rules restricting drivers to one engine for two races and one tire set-up per race, it was Fisichella's smooth driving that was the difference.

Avoiding heavy rain that drenched the circuit just after he'd finished his first qualifying lap on Saturday afternoon also helped. He returned for the second qualifying session Sunday and easily maintained his lead, giving him pole position on an all-Italian front row with Jarno Trulli -- who got a Toyota onto the front of the grid for the first time.

Trulli finished in ninth place.

Barrichello, who started in 11th place, drove a smart, tactical race to make the podium and give Ferrari some championship points it might not have expected after the wet opening qualifying runs.

"I enjoyed every second. It proves Ferrari has no crisis," said Barrichello. Ferrari won its sixth consecutive constructors title last year and Schumacher his fifth straight drivers title, but the Italian-based team is using modified versions of the 2004 car for the first three races of the season while it refines the new model.

"We are here, we are going to fight," said Barrichello. "The new car is going to come and give us even more pleasure."

Alonso produced the fastest lap of 1 minute, 26.411 seconds and, despite some minor damage when he skipped off the circuit onto the grass, worked his way up from 13th on the grid.

Red Bull driver David Coulthard was fourth, getting as high as second during the race, while Williams' Mark Webber was fifth and Juan Pablo Montoya was sixth in his first drive for McLaren.

Seven-time world champion Schumacher moved as high as seventh after starting in 19th with a new engine. His Australian title defense ended when he and Nick Heidfield touched wheels and then collided at turn 3 of the 42nd lap.

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