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United States race analysis - McLaren still on top 18 Jun 2007

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren Mercedes MP4/22 leads Fernando Alonso (ESP) McLaren Mercedes MP4/22.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 7, United States Grand Prix, Race, Indianapolis, USA, Sunday, 17 June 2007 Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari F2007 makes a pitstop.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 7, United States Grand Prix, Race, Indianapolis, USA, Sunday, 17 June 2007 Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) Renault on the grid.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 7, United States Grand Prix, Race, Indianapolis, USA, Sunday, 17 June 2007 Jarno Trulli (ITA) Toyota TF107.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 7, United States Grand Prix, Race, Indianapolis, USA, Sunday, 17 June 2007 Sebastian Vettel (GER) BMW Sauber F1.07 Test Driver is presented with a Babs bottle of milk and a bib by German TV.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 7, United States Grand Prix, Race, Indianapolis, USA, Sunday, 17 June 2007

Kimi Raikkonen set the fastest lap of the US Grand Prix, which was a source of encouragement for Ferrari. But it was the McLarens which finished first and second and the red cars that could not better third and fourth, some 13 seconds adrift.

Given their past record of six victories from the seven races held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Ferrari came here full of confidence that they would be closer to McLaren than they were in Montreal. And they were, but at the vital stages of the race the silver arrows had the edge and that proved crucial.

Raikkonen’s fastest lap, 1m 13.117s, was set on the 49th lap as he chased after team mate Felipe Massa while he was running on Bridgestone’s harder tyre. Massa’s best lap was 1m 13.380s, set on lap 50. By contrast the McLarens did their quick times - 1m 13.222s for race winner Lewis Hamilton on lap 20 and 1m 13.257s for Alonso on lap 21 - on soft tyres just before their respective first pit stops. Had it been necessary, it is likely that each could have gone faster later. It was not.

Ferrari proved that their reliability is back to what it used to be, but need to find a little more of everything, whereas McLaren have their car operating right in its sweetest spot. And it is beginning to tell in the chase for the constructors’ world championship. McLaren have 106 points, Ferrari 71.

Renault led a race for the first time in 2007, courtesy of Heikki Kovalainen’s stint between laps 22 and 26, and the fact that he did not refuel until lap 27 put his sixth-place qualifying performance into even better perspective. The Finn rued being stuck behind Nick Heidfeld after his stop and thought he should have been more aggressive, but on a day when team mate Giancarlo Fisichella marred his homework with his spin on lap two, and also when BMW Sauber netted only one point, the four that he brought home were important. “The result is the maximum we can achieve at the moment. We cannot beat McLaren and we cannot beat Ferrari, but I think we can fight with BMW,” he said, and that about summed it up.

BMW Sauber showed strong potential again and Nick Heidfeld was sure they could have competed for a podium finish after getting ahead of Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari at the start. But he lost ground on lap 21 just before his pit stop, when he ran wide and lost a place to Kovalainen, and later retired when a hydraulic problem progressively affected the power steering, gearshift and then throttle. Courtesy of rookie Sebastian Vettel the team maintained their record of scoring at each race, but he lost four places in the first corner that he was unable to recover fully, and inevitably the second car did not realise the potential it might have in Robert Kubica’s hands. Nevertheless, Vettel made a good impression and was generally four- to five-tenths of a second off Heidfeld in his first real Formula One run. BMW Sauber have 39 points, while Renault now have 25.

Having lost Ralf Schumacher on the opening lap Toyota had to rely totally on Jarno Trulli, and the Italian did them proud with a strong run to a sixth place that he had trouble believing. His scrap with Mark Webber’s Red Bull was a feature of the closing stages of the race, and three points helped to close the gap to Williams, who failed to score. That was a shame for the British team, as Nico Rosberg was a strong contender for points all afternoon after another aggressive performance in the FW29. With six laps to run disaster struck when an oil leak started a fire at the rear of the car, and the visibly disappointed German pulled off just beyond the pit lane. With Alex Wurz unable to find a way past Tonio Liuzzi’s low-downforce Toro Rosso for the first 36 laps, Rosberg was their only realistic hope for points. They still have 13 for fifth overall, but Toyota are now only four adrift in sixth.

Webber’s feisty run to seventh brought Red Bull two more welcome points on a day when David Coulthard was savaged from behind and forced into retirement after a lap. The Australian called for “more downforce, more reliability, more speed,” but at least they moved ahead of Super Aguri and into seventh overall.

This time there was no magic from Takuma Sato, who spun his Super Aguri into retirement in the Turn Four gravel after 13 laps, but after getting delayed in the first corner debacle Anthony Davidson had the satisfaction of catching and passing Jenson Button’s Honda, and overtaking several other cars, on his recovery to an eventual 11th place finish. Encouragingly, the Briton’s fastest lap - 1m 14.066s - put him firmly in Red Bull, Renault, Williams and Toyota territory.

Honda had a tough time, losing Rubens Barrichello in the first lap melee, and then having Button delayed by a fuel rig malfunction during his pit stop. In that incident too much fuel - between 15 and 20 kilos too much - was put into the tank, not only losing him pit stop time but subsequently hampering the RA107 further out on the track. The best the Englishman could do was 12th.

For a while, when Liuzzi was running ahead of Wurz in 11th place for the first 28 laps, Toro Rosso looked as if they might be up for points, even when Fisichella subsequently found a way past his fellow countryman on lap 29. But then Liuzzi had a disastrous stop on lap 37 when his refuelling rig malfunctioned, and dropped behind team mate Scott Speed. Whereas the American made it home, Liuzzi retired in the pits with five laps to go when the telemetry said his water temperature had reached the danger zone. Both drivers found that their low-downforce set-ups were a real handful on a slippery track, and the lap times were very slow.

Spyker finished both cars, and for a while Adrian Sutil ran as high as 13th after the first corner kerfuffle, but inevitably he slipped back as faster cars recovered. Nevertheless, the German described it as a “perfect race.” Team mate Christijan Albers, who was on a single-stop strategy compared with Sutil’s two-stop, blamed leader traffic for upsetting his chances of beating the German.

David Tremayne