2005: Highs and lows

It was a topsy-turvy season, when political unrest spilled out onto the race tracks, teams were bought and sold like stocks and shares, and the form book was turned on its head. We recall the moments that made 2005 – for the right and wrong reasons.

Lows

The United States Grand Prix

Reams and reams have already been written on the Indianapolis farce when seven of the ten teams refused to participate on safety grounds, yet the race still went ahead with only six entrants. The FIA, Michelin, the manufacturer’s assocation and Bernie Ecclestone all have a portion of the blame to shoulder, and it could yet prove the death knell for Formula One in America.

Aggregate Qualifying

Before the season, everyone said it wouldn’t work – low fuel qualifying on a Saturday aggregated with race-fuel qualifying on a Sunday to produce the grid. There were myriad flaws: too great a chance for rain to interfere with the result, too complicated for the viewers, no-one would know what the grid was until a few hours before the race. It was swiftly dropped for the only-slightly-less unsatisfactory race-fuel one-lap qualifying system.

Imola – ITV

The second best race of the season, and ITV showed all the British viewers adverts instead of the last few laps. The viewers and press were up in arms but ITV, repentant in word only, continue to cram adverts into the race footage. This compounded a poor year for the broadcaster – the studio setting is long gone and the presenters now lurk around the paddock like a couple of vagrants. At least Jim Rosenthal has finally left to present his beloved football instead.

BAR fuel tank ban

After the San Marino Grand Prix BAR drivers Jenson Button and Takuma Sato were disqualified and stripped of their points following an investigation into their fuel tanks. They were found to be retaining extra fuel ostensibly to maintain fuel pressure but allowing the teams a means of running their cars beneath the minimum weight limit. The FIA could have given them far greater punishment for this crude manipulation of the rules than a two-race ban.

Pizzonia at Williams

When Nick Heidfeld mysteriously picked up a shoulder injury that coincided with the announcement of his move the BMW for 2006, Williams once again drafted in Antonio Pizzonia to fill the second berth. Pizzonia took a straightforward 7th in Italy, but in Belgium he took Juan Pablo Montoya out of second place and spun out in Suzuka during qualifying and the race. Three of his five starts ended in incident, making you wonder that perhaps Jaguar got it entirely right when they dumped him halfway through 2003.

The End of Independents

Minardi, Jordan, Sauber. F1’s final three independent teams have finally been bought by major companies – Red Bull (soft drinks), Midland Group (steel) and BMW (cars, astonishingly). The time of the privateer has finally passed.

The Chinese Grand Prix

F1’s best race of the year was followed by one of its worst. A loose drain cover (at a ???200m track!) and two safety car periods decided the constructor’s championship. Dismal.

Buttongate II

There was not a single soul in Formula One who wasn’t sick of the interminable will-he-won’t-he Button saga of 2004 that was repeated in 2005. Once again matters were decided in favour of BAR, but it was an awful lot of fuss over someone who hasn’t even won a race yet.

Paul Stoddart at Melbourne

Stoddart began the season all guns blazing, demanding he be granted dispensation to run his Minardis in 2004 trim, ?????ǣbecause he hadn’t had time to make them compliant with the ’05 regulations.?????? He would have had more respect if he hadn’t later revealed that he had ’05 body kits stashed away, and the cars duly ran in that configuration.

2003 Points system

The ’03 points system, which over-rewards second and third place finishes relative to first place, allowed Alonso to wrap his title up one race earlier than he would have done had the previous system been in place. Another manifest failing of a half-baked Max Mosley policy.

Massa to Ferrari

When there’s so few top F1 drives available and the Ferraris are likely to be back at-or-near the front of the pack in ’06, it’s a shame to see the second driver seat squandered on a talent as questionable as Felipe Massa. European F3000 champion? Three half-decent seasons with Sauber? Who cares?

Highs

The Japanese Grand Prix

The best race of the year – perhaps the most exciting since Spa in 2000. After setbacks in qualifying Raikkonen and Alonso tore up the field – Alonso twice passed ex-champion Schumacher, and Raikkonen thrillingly hauled in Fisichella to pass him on the last lap. Scintillating stuff.

Imola – Fernando Alonso

As incredible as his passes on Schumacher in Suzuka were, Alonso’s defence of the lead in Imola was even more impressive. Schumacher bore down on him with a Ferrari unusually two seconds per lap quicker, but could not find a way by. Alonso’s defence was steely but thoroughly fair – something you could not always have said of Schumacher’s through the years. Days like this made Alonso a champion.

GP2

The FIA haven’t got much right first time recently, but the rebranded F3000 was a revelation. The cars proved challenging to drive and exciting to watch. the race format worked and there were some outstanding races and individual performances. Champion Nico Rosberg quickly secured a drive for Williams in 2006, and Heikki Kovalainen can’t be far off. Exactly what F1 needs to push fresh talent into the limelight.

Trulli at Toyota

If anyone deserved a break this year it was Renault refugee Jarno Trulli. Remember it was he, not Alonso, who scored Renault’s sole victory last season – in Monaco, of all places. His last-lap blunder in France last year was hardly as serious as Fisichella’s collapse in Suzuka while leading Raikkonen this year. Throughout most of 2005 he dominated Ralf Schumacher and is still the more likely candidate to score Toyota’s first win in 2006.

Raikkonen vs Alonso

2004 was a championship non-event – this year we saw two worthy championship adversaries battling each other to the final rounds. It was only a shame the Schumacher’s Ferrari was just too far off the pace to regularly throw him into the mix (and, indeed, that Montoya and Fisichella didn’t make enough of what was available to them.) But at least we had a battle this year.

Nick Heidfeld’s pass on Alonso at Monaco

?????ǣThe thing about Heidfeld,?????? Mark Webber said of his team-mate, ?????ǣis that he’s too happy to just sit there.?????? These words were spoken before the Monaco Grand Prix, in which Heidfeld sneaked ahead of Webber during the pit stops, then pounced on a floundering Alonso with a perfectly-judged move on his first attempt to take second place – Williams’ best result of the season. Webber got past too, but he took a few tries first.

Istanbul

Hermann Tilke has a record of building amazing facilities around third-rate circuits: Shanghai, Bahrain, A1-Ring, the new Hockenheimring. Finally in 2005 he produced a reason to justify why he is apparently the only person allowed to buiild F1 circuits these days. Istanbul’s turn eight more than lived up to its’ hype (needs a name, though) and much of the rest of track provided challenging corners and – yes – gradient. It even created a pretty good race.

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