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European race analysis - McLaren’s unexpected boost 23 Jul 2007

Fernando Alonso (ESP) McLaren Mercedes MP4/22 leads Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari F2007.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, European Grand Prix, Race, Nurburgring, Germany, Sunday, 22 July 2007 Markus Winkelhock (GER) Spyker F8 VII leads behind the Safety Car.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, European Grand Prix, Race, Nurburgring, Germany, Sunday, 22 July 2007 Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing RB3 (Left) passes team mate David Coulthard (GBR) Red Bull Racing RB3.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, European Grand Prix, Race, Nurburgring, Germany, Sunday, 22 July 2007 Robert Kubica (POL) BMW Sauber F1.07.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, European Grand Prix, Race, Nurburgring, Germany, Sunday, 22 July 2007 Ralf Schumacher (GER) Toyota TF107.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, European Grand Prix, Race, Nurburgring, Germany, Sunday, 22 July 2007

For much of the European Grand Prix, McLaren were resigned to scoring eight points as Fernando Alonso was generally outpaced by Ferrari’s Felipe Massa. But there was even a time, around lap 24, when it seemed that only six might be on offer as Kimi Raikkonen closed to within half a second of the Spaniard’s MP4-22.

In the dry, the F2007 still clearly had an edge, as Massa’s fastest lap of 1m 32.853s compared to Alonso’s 1m 33.231s clearly testified.

But then came that final rain shower, a set of tyres for Massa that vibrated badly, and suddenly the world champion went home with a 10-point haul.

On a day when no matter what he did Lewis Hamilton had to be content with ninth, one place shy of a point, that was a significant bonus for the team in the constructors’ stakes. With Raikkonen’s challenge ultimately stymied by a hydraulic problem, Ferrari took home only eight points, so that McLaren actually increased their lead by two, to 138 to Ferrari’s 111.

There was great happiness at Red Bull, as the team enjoyed their best run of the season. Both RB3s were reliable, and Mark Webber was always in the hunt for at least five points. In the end, Raikkonen’s problem gave him six, and with fifth place David Coulthard grabbed another four, so for the first time they matched McLaren’s score. That jumped them ahead of Toyota in the championship, close behind Williams. Their race began badly with Nico Rosberg attacking Rubens Barrichello on the opening lap, before in turn being assaulted by an unidentified assailant, before dropping his FW29 in the gravel in Turn One. And it ended well with Alex Wurz lunging to the line right behind the third placed Red Bull. The Austrian did a cool-headed job in the tricky conditions, and his five-point haul was a major fillip and just what was needed as Red Bull took home an unexpected 10 points to jump to within two points in the battle for fifth place overall.

Nick Heidfeld derailed BMW Sauber’s chances of a strong points finish when he tapped team mate Robert Kubica into a spin in the second corner on the opening lap. The two white cars lost a lot of ground, and were only able to make it up due to the unusual weather conditions. Later the German had an incident with Ralf Schumacher, and finally out-fumbled Kubica in the chicane on the penultimate lap as the Pole struggled with a brake problem. Together they added another five points to their tally, which is now 61, almost double that of closest challenger, Renault.

The champion team had a troubled weekend. They brought a new front wing for the R27, which seemed to do all that was required of it, but the cars were hard to balance and their race pace was largely disappointing. In the rain they were very slow. Kovalainen drove hard, lost the chance of higher points with a lap-too-early pit stop for wets at the end, but clung on ahead of the much faster Hamilton to take the final point. Fisichella had a bruising afternoon, in which Hamilton overtook him not once but twice and could only manage 10th.

All Honda got for a similarly tough afternoon was an 11th-place finish for Barrichello. The Brazilian was whacked up the back on the opening lap by Nico Rosberg, and his RA107 was never right after that. Then Jenson Button crashed in Turn Two after a spectacular run up from 20th to sixth by the time of the first pit stops. He got out right behind Massa and Alonso and was thus perfectly placed since the three leaders were at that stage Winkelhock, Schumacher and Trulli, but his car aquaplaned into the gravel and that was that. There would be no repeat of Hungary 2006.

Super Aguri didn’t fare any better. Takuma Sato somehow managed only to spin in Turn One on lap two, but not to get into the gravel, but his race was over after 19 laps with a hydraulic failure. Anthony Davidson battled Barrichello throughout, but the team made the wrong tyre choice right at the end when they put him on extreme wets.

The third Japanese team, Toyota, having qualified eighth and ninth, came home with just a 13th and last place for Jarno Trulli. Ralf Schumacher might have battled for a point, even after getting wet Bridgestones on one side of his car and dry weather grooved tyres on the other when he pitted on lap one (until the problem was hastily rectified before he left), but was then bundled off the road by Nick Heidfeld on lap 19. Later, Trulli’s cause was not helped when his tyres were not ready at his next stop, nor by the fact that every gamble he and the team took failed to pay off.

This was the greatest moment of Spyker’s life thus far, and as their press release wryly indicated, it was the first time this century that a Spyker has led a Grand Prix. That came about because Mike Gascoyne shrewdly called Markus Winkelhock in for wet tyres after the parade lap. As others floundered when the rain arrived, Winkelhock moved up into the lead, and was able to extend it even after a quick stop for wets. He led under the safety car, but was quickly elbowed down the order as the racing resumed on lap eight. He lasted only another five laps, before stopping with suspected hydraulic failure. His race was much more auspicious than team mate Adrian Sutil’s, as he planted his car at very high speed in the Turn One gravel on lap two.

The race was a disaster for Toro Rosso. Tonio Liuzzi had a great opening lap and was 10th up until the final chicane, when Scott Speed and another illegally passed him after missing the chicane. That meant that Speed arrived first in the Toro Rosso pit, where mechanics had Liuzzi’s tyres ready and waiting. After that was sorted out, Speed dumped it at the first corner, and so did Liuzzi. The American just lost it, but the Italian had been hit from behind on the opening lap, and technical director Giorgio Ascanelli believed some sort of differential or suspension problem was to blame. Liuzzi was lucky not to hit the safety car (which Bernd Maylander shrewdly moved just in time) and only to reverse gently into a mobile crane that was being driven across the gravel to recover one of the other cars there.

David Tremayne