Europe 2005 - a first for Heidfeld 02 May 2006
Last years Nurburgring qualifying developed into a three-way battle between McLaren, Williams and Renault. Williams dominated the new single Saturday session (the unpopular Sunday one having been dropped), with Nick Heidfeld scoring his first Formula One pole position and team mate Mark Webber backing him up in third.
Kimi Raikkonen was the meat in the Williams sandwich, while the Renaults of Fernando Alonso and Giancarlo Fisichella were left lurking back in sixth and ninth. Fisichellas ninth quickly became 20th when he stalled on the grid, prompting an additional formation lap and forcing the luckless Italian to start from the pit lane. Things were not looking rosy for Renault.
The order got rapidly jumbled at the first corner when Webber, who yet again had failed to get his FW27 off the line cleanly, left his braking a little too late. The Australian spun off into the gravel, and retirement, after colliding with the McLaren of Juan Pablo Montoya. The Colombian lost several places as a result, but miraculously he and everyone else continued, though Ralf Schumacher had to pit for a new nose after running his Toyota into the rear of Rubens Barrichellos Ferrari. The big winner in all this was David Coulthard, who vaulted his Red Bull from 12th to fourth and would almost certainly have gone on to take a podium had he not incurred a drive-through penalty for speeding in the pit lane. And, at the front, as expected, Raikkonen got the jump on poleman Heidfeld to lead at the end of lap one.
Once again the new tyre rules - one set for qualifying and race - were to play a decisive outcome in the race. As the afternoon progressed grip was notable by its absence, with Alonso and Raikkonen among the frontrunners to survive off-track excursions. It was to prove the Finns undoing. A flat spot on his right-front Michelin set up a vicious vibration - so vicious even TV viewers could see it. For lap after lap the Finn somehow drove through it as Alonso, sensing an unlikely victory, carved into his once healthy lead. Then, just as it seemed he would hold on, the McLarens suspension finally gave up the fight, sending Raikkonen spinning into the gravel on the very last lap.
Alonsos victory may have seemed fortuitous, but in truth it was a worthy win. Renaults race pace was arguably stronger than McLarens, as shown by Alonsos fastest lap and Fisichellas climb from the back of the field to sixth. Williams had no answer, despite Heidfelds faultless drive to second, while Ferrari, yet again handicapped by poor qualifying performance, enjoyed their best result of the year, with Barrichello third and Michael Schumacher fifth. Coulthard equalled Red Bulls Melbourne result in fourth, Montoya clawed his way back up to seventh and Jarno Trulli took the final point in another disappointing race for Toyota.
After their two-race ban for an underweight car at Imola, BAR returned at the Nurburgring, but it was far from the comeback they had hoped for. Handicapped by engines that had been sat on the shelf for five weeks and by their early running in qualifying, it was a low-key weekend for the Honda-powered team, with Jenson Button and Takuma Sato finishing 10th and 12th respectively.
Links: Results / Live Timing Archive, Photos, TV images.