Renault’s Fernando Alonso completed a hat trick of F1 victories on Sunday after resisting a dogged challenge from Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher in the closing stages of the San Marino Grand Prix.

Renault’s Fernando Alonso completed a hat trick of F1 victories on Sunday after resisting a dogged challenge from Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher in the closing stages of the San Marino Grand Prix.


The Spaniard’s victory margin over the seven-time world champion, who had scythed through the field after starting in 13th position on the grid, was a mere 0,2 seconds.


Meanwhile, BAR Honda driver Jenson Button scored his first points of the season in third after early race leader Kimi Raikkonen, who had started in pole position, retired due to a technical failure.


Raikkonen’s McLaren-Mercedes made an explosive start to lead Alonso, Button and Toyota’s Jarno Trulli into the first corner. Takuma Sato (BAR) and Mark Webber (Williams-BMW) tussled for fifth and McLaren substitute driver Alex Wurz held seventh ahead of Sauber’s Jacques Villeneuve, who had made a superb start.


Australian Grand Prix winner Giancarlo Fisichella was the first retirement when his Renault drifted off track in the first sector and collided with the tyre barriers. On Lap Eight, Raikkonen’s car slowed dramatically and retired from the lead. As the Finn pulled into the McLaren garage a furious Raikkonen jumped out of his seat and threw his steering wheel across the garage in frustration.


Alonso continued to lead Button by around nine seconds for the next ten laps. Trulli was maintaining third, closely followed by Webber (fourth), Sato (fifth), Wurz (sixth), and Villeneuve (seventh).


As the first pit stops approached, Button upped his pace and closed the gap to Alonso from nine seconds to under six seconds.


As the front runners made their pit stops, Schumacher stretched out his first fuel stint to move from eleventh to third by the time the first round of pit stops were complete.


The German continued to lap between 1,5 and two seconds faster than Alonso and Button. When Alonso came in for his final pit stop on Lap 42, Schumacher was 1,5 seconds behind Button.


As Button and Schumacher prepared to lap the two Williams-BMWs, the German’s Ferrari passed the Briton’s BAR on the inside of the Variante Alta chicane. Briefly in the lead, Schumacher made his final pit stop and rejoined the race just over a second behind Alonso.


In the final ten laps, the gap between Alonso and Schumacher never exceeded 0,3 seconds. Although Alonso beat Schumacher, the latter was undoubtedly the fastest driver on the day - his performance signalled Ferrari’s return to championship-challenging form.


"It was probably one of the best fights I've ever had," Alonso said. "I knew that Michael was more than a second faster than me so my only chance was to hold him up in the middle of corners and hit the throttle just a bit earlier than him and it worked very well. We had a few corners where we were very close. The car and the tyres were struggling a bit and I was at the maximum."


"In the last few laps I had some cars in front of me to lap and I was hoping not to catch them as it might give Michael and extra chance to get past so in the really slow corners I was braking extra to slow Michael down and save my rear tyres a bit," Alonso added. "There was never a moment where I thought I'd be happy to settle with second. When Kimi retired and I was in the lead I wanted to win and nothing else. I was ready to fight for it all at the end."


Sato confirmed BAR Honda had resolved many of its reliability problems at the start of the season by finishing fifth. Wurz salvaged five points for McLaren with a fourth place finish, though he did not match the pace Raikkonen had shown before the Finn's retirement.


The embattled Villeneuve performed well to score his first three points of the season for Sauber Petronas. The Toyotas of Trulli and Ralf Schumacher followed the Canadian past the chequered flag.