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Fisichella makes an early claim for championship.

Byline: ALASTAIR MOFFITT in Melbourne

GIANCARLO FISICHELLA is gearing up for a world championship challenge after a dominant victory in the Australian Grand Prix.

The Renault driver believes he finally has the chance to prove his talent at the very top after winning from lights to flag at Albert Park in the first race of 2005.

Fisichella has long been rated as one of Formula One's great lost talents after disappointing spells with struggling teams such as Jordan and Sauber, but in Melbourne he finally fulfilled his potential.

Now he is looking to build on his second career victory by fighting for the world title.

He said: 'It's the first time in my life that I am driving a car with a lot of potential, a good car which has been quick and consistent from the beginning to the end.

'This is great for me after 10 years in Formula One. I never showed my talent because I never drove the right car. Yes, I won in Brazil in wet conditions a couple of years ago but the rest of the season was very frustrating, so this year I've a great car and I don't want to lose the opportunity to show my talent and to win races.

'We already showed our pace in testing in the winter. We showed today how quick we are. We still have good potential to go forward and I think we are the team with McLaren and Ferrari who will fight for the championship.'

Renault were always among the front-runners in winter testing and translated those performances into results with Fisichella taking the win and team-mate Fernando Alonso climbing from 13th on the grid to third at the end.

Fisichella confessed he knew from his first taste of the 2005 car that Renault were sitting on something special.

He added: 'I am really confident for the rest of the season. I know we are just at the first race, but already we have fantastic potential and I felt that from the first time I drove the car in January.

'It was quick from the first few laps and it was easy to drive. So now we only need to work on it and to carry on with the development and try to win again.

'I think the whole package is really good - engine, chassis and tyres and the good thing for us, for the drivers, is to have a very consistent car from the beginning to the end.'

Rubens Barrichello was easily the top Ferrari driver at Albert Park after fighting his way from 11th to second on a day when world champion Michael Schumacher crashed out in an incident with Williams's Nick Heidfeld.

Barrichello believes his pace with a modified 2004 car bodes well for the rest of the season, with a new machine scheduled for introduction in Spain, the fifth race.

'It proves Ferrari has no crisis,' he said. 'We are here, we are going to fight. The new car is going to come and give us even more pleasure.'

David Coulthard enjoyed a dream debut for Red Bull, putting in a stunning race for the new team to take fourth after running second for much of the race.

Williams driver Mark Webber was also denied a podium despite a long run in third, although the home hero equalled his best ever result by taking fifth ahead of McLaren's Juan Pablo Montoya in sixth.

Australian Grand Prix Standings

Leading final positions after Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix (57 laps): 1 Giancarlo Fisichella (Ita) Renault 1hr 24mins 17.336secs, 2 Rubens Barrichello (Bra) Ferrari at 5.5secs, 3 Fernando Alonso (Spa) Renault at 6.7, 4 David Coulthard (Gbr) Red Bull at 16.1, 5 Mark Webber (Aus) Williams at 16.9, 6 Juan Pablo Montoya (Col) McLaren at 35.0, 7 Christian Klien Williams driver Mark Webber was also denied a podium despite a long run in third, although the home hero equalled his best ever result by taking fifth ahead of McLaren's Juan Pablo Montoya in sixth.

Australian Grand Prix Standings

(Aut) Red Bull at 38.9, 8 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) McLaren at 39.6, 9 Jarno Trulli (Ita) Toyota at 1min 03.1secs, 10 Felipe Massa (Bra) Sauber at 1:04.3, 11 Jenson Button (Gbr) BAR at one lap, 12 Ralf Schumacher (Ger) Toyota at one lap, 13 Jacques Villeneuve (Can) Sauber at one lap, 14 Takuma Sato (Jpn) BAR at two laps, 15 Narain Karthikeyan (Ind Jordan at two laps, 16 Tiago Monteiro (Por) Jordan at two laps, 17 Patrick Freisacher (Aut) Minardi at four laps. Not classified: Michael Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari 42 Laps, Nick Heidfeld (Ger) Williams 42 Laps, Christijan Albers (Hol) Minardi 16 Laps.

Leading positions in the drivers' championship after 1st rd: Giancarlo Fisichella (Ita) 10 pts, Rubens Barrichello (Bra) 8, Fernando Alonso (Spa) 6, David Coulthard (Gbr) 5, Mark Webber (Aus) 4, Juan Pablo Montoya (Col) 3, Christian Klien (Aut) 2, Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) 1 Leading positions in the constructors' championship after 1st rd: Renault 16pts, Ferrari 8, Red Bull 7, Williams 4, McLaren 4


Champion Michael Schumacher crashes out after a collision with Williams's Nick Heidfeld in Melbourne
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Mar 7, 2005
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