Renault's Giancarlo Fisichella capitalised on good fortune in qualifying to record only his second victory in 143 starts in Sunday's Australian Grand Prix, the first of the new season, writes James Allen in Melbourne. The 32-year-old was the only driver to enjoy a dry lap in Saturday's rain-affected qualifying session, which put him on pole and, with most of his close rivals down the grid, it was an open goal for the Italian. He duly kept his head and won the race comfortably.
Team-mate Fernando Alonso climbed from 13th on the grid to finish third, behind Ferrari's Rubens Barrichello, who started 11th. World champion Michael Schumacher, though, had another weekend to forget. He started 19th after he was caught in a deluge during qualifying, and in the race had to retire after crashing into Nick Heidfeld of BMW Williams.
This was the first grand prix held under new rules which oblige drivers to use only one set of tyres for the whole race and one engine for two race weekends. It was a resounding success with only one retirement on technical grounds and no problems with the tyres.
Pre-race favourites McLaren failed to convert their pace into points, with both Juan Pablo Montoya and Kimi Raikkonen caught out by the weather in qualifying, managing ninth and 10th on the grid. Raikkonen then stalled on the parade lap, which meant he had to start from the pit lane. In contrast, it was a memorable debut for the Red Bull team. David Coulthard was fifth on the grid and he converted that into a fourth-place finish with team-mate Christian Klien seventh.
Fisichella has been waiting for years for his chance and now it appears that he could be a title contender. "The car was consistent and easy to drive," he said. "It's the best start of my career and I feel very confident for the rest of the season. We have fantastic potential."
Although it is difficult to draw many conclusions from the weekend because the wet qualifying masked the natural order, it is clear that the new rules have put the emphasis back on the driver. Instead of a full-out sprint, the driver must now manage the car and one set of tyres over the course of the 200-mile race, knowing when to conserve and when to push hard. The next event in Malaysia will provide an even sterner test of man and machine.
James Allen is ITV Sport's lead F1 commentator
Five points from safety and with a goal difference so inferior to Crystal Palace that it may as well be six, but hope still flickers at West Bromwich Albion, writes Jonathan Wilson at The Hawthorns. Sunday's 2-0 victory over Birmingham City lifted them off the bottom of the table, and the concern now is less the quality of the football they are playing than whether their upturn has come too late.
This may have been their first win in six, but there is a feeling that West Brom have been playing well without reward in recent weeks, and certainly on Sunday they were much better than a supine Birmingham. Kieran Richardson, an engaging and energetic presence in midfield, had already struck a post with a deflected drive when the home side took the lead 10 minutes after half-time. The persistence of Zoltan Gera in chasing an apparently lost cause earned a corner - although there was a suggestion he may have kept the ball in play with his hand - and Neil Clement met Richardson's cross with a powerful header.
That was a goal born of persistence, and the second, similarly, was a victory for doggedness. Geoff Horsfield, determined if agricultural, muscled the ball off Kenny Cunningham and laid it wide for the overlapping Jonathan Greening. He chipped a cross to the back post, and, although Maik Taylor scooped away Kevin Campbell's sidefoot volley, the ball had clearly crossed the line.
Emile Heskey headed against a post between the two goals, but that aside Birmingham hardly threatened in losing their first derby since Steve Bruce took over as manager.
"Getting off the bottom is a nice boost," the Albion manager Bryan Robson said. "We know we've a hard fight ahead, but this has given us encouragement." Next up, though, is a trip to Stamford Bridge to face Chelsea.
Blackburn eased their relegation worries with a 1-0 away win at Everton, with substitute striker Jonathan Stead's goal taking them seven points clear of the bottom three.
Celtic closed the gap on leaders Rangers to four points thanks to a 3-1 away win at Hibernian.
* Great Britain's new-look Davis Cup team sealed a commendable victory over Israel in Tel Aviv when Greg Rusedski enjoyed a straightforward 6-3 6-4 6-2 victory over Noam Okun. This gave Britain an unassailable 3-1 lead before David Sherwood lost the final dead rubber - best of three sets - 6-7 6-4 6-3 to Harel Levy.
Rusedski, who gave commanding performances in winning both his singles matches, had to share the plaudits with the new doubles team of Sherwood and Andrew Murray, 17. They had never played together before and both were also making their Davis Cup debuts, yet they displayed remarkable composure, grit and passion to defeat the world top-10 ranked pair of Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich in four sets.
Murray, the US Open junior champion, would have played the final singles on Sunday but for a shin injury, and he may well have won himself the second singles berth in September when Britain gain their reward of a play-off match for promotion to the World Group. Alex Bogdanovic did his prospects of retaining his place few favours with Friday's tame performance in losing to Okun.
* Ernie Els won an unprecedented third Dubai Desert Classic in dramatic style, holing an 18-foot eagle putt at the last for a one-shot victory. The South African, who went into the final round a stroke behind leader Miguel Angel Jimenez, fired a 68 to finish with a 19-under-par 269. Spaniard Jimenez tied for second with Britain's Stephen Dodd.
* The Powergen Cup final will be contested by Bath and Leeds Tykes. Bath defeated Gloucester 24-19 after extra time, with wing Andy Williams scoring the winning try with just seconds remaining of the extra 20 minutes. Leeds earlier defeated London Irish 15-6.
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