Europe flashback 2007 - Winkelhock stars, Alonso wins 13 Aug 2008
This season it will be Spains all-new street circuit in Valencia holding the European Grand Prix in just over a weeks time. Last season the venue was one of Formula One racings classic circuits, Germanys Nurburgring. On the back of consecutive wins at the two preceding rounds in Britain and France, Kimi Raikkonen arrived as the bookies' favourite for victory, bolstered by Ferraris promising pace in testing just prior to the race.
McLaren, however, were not to be discounted. The British team had also been quick in the Spa-Francorchamps test sessions and with a home crowd urging on their Mercedes-engined machines, both Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso were genuine contenders for the win.
Impressing the local fans also dominated the agendas of BMW Sauber and Cologne-based Toyota, while the race would be more crucial still for the career of young German tester Markus Winkelhock, who joined fellow countryman Adrian Sutil at Spyker for a one-off race appearance, stepping in to replace the departed Christijan Albers.
With a later date on the calendar than usual and showers forecast, many in the paddock were predicting a hectic race - and maybe even a surprise result. The opening day of practice, however, ran pretty much to form, with Ferrari, McLaren and BMW Sauber slogging it out to top the timesheets. Hamilton set the days fastest lap in the morning, while after a brief spell of rain, Raikkonen led the way in the afternoon.
Ferrari admitted they expected a tough fight for pole on the Saturday, but Raikkonen continued to hold the advantage in the mornings final practice session. And though the McLarens of Hamilton and Alonso were not far adrift, in qualifying itself Raikkonen remained unassailable.
Alonsos best time was three-tenths off the Finns, but it was enough to put him on the front row. For Hamilton times were tougher. A front-right wheel failure saw the Briton crash heavily out of Q3, leaving him only tenth on the grid. Massa took third, with BMW Saubers Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica fourth and fifth.
The session proved bittersweet for both Red Bull and Renault. Mark Webber for the former and Heikki Kovalainen for the latter were celebrating with their respective sixth and seventh grid slots, while team mates David Coulthard and Giancarlo Fisichella languished in 20th and 13th.
Although rain had threatened all weekend, no one could have predicted the deluge that greeted the cars on Sundays opening lap. No one that is, except Spyker, who presciently started Winkelhock on full wets. As the only driver thus equipped, when the torrential rain began to fall and the rest of the field piled into the pits (or skidded off the track into the gravel), the German debutant became the early frontrunner. Although his lead didnt last for long, it was undoubtedly a moment to savour.
Victims of the early slippery conditions included Hondas Jenson Button, Spykers Sutil and Toro Rosso team mates Scott Speed and Tonio Liuzzi. Hamilton also fell foul at Turn One but, controversially, was rescued from the gravel by a nearby crane and survived to race on. Polesitter Raikkonen attempted to pit, but then slid over the pit lane entry line and back on to the track. Conditions soon became so bad that the race was red-flagged, only to be re-started half an hour later behind the safety car.
Battle finally resumed on lap eight, with Massa gradually pulling away from Alonso, even after both had pitted to swap from wet Bridgestones to dry tyres. Raikkonen had fought his way back up to third following the rainy melee, but would eventually retire with a hydraulic problem.
The rain returned with 10 laps to go and again caused drama. On its new set of wet-weather tyres, Massas Ferrari began to vibrate - so badly that Alonso was able to catch and then pass the Brazilian to steal victory for McLaren. Massa clung on to second, with Webber finishing a strong third (despite similar vibrations on his RB3) to score Red Bulls best-ever result. Alex Wurz came home just behind the Australian to take an impressive fourth place for Williams.
Further back, Coulthard was fifth in the second Red Bull, ahead of BMW Sauber team mates Heidfeld and Kubica, and Kovalainen, who claimed the final point for Renault. Hamilton endured an event-filled race, but, like Raikkonen, ultimately left empty-handed after crossing the line in ninth, thereby ending his run of nine straight podium finishes.
The result brought the championship frontrunners even closer together, with Alonso on 68 points to Hamiltons 70, Massa lying third on 59 and Raikkonen fourth with 52. On the team front, McLaren further extended their lead over Ferrari, 138 points to 111. To one man that was all of little consequence. His one - and probably only - Formula One race appearance had lasted just 13 laps, but Germanys Markus Winkelhock can now forever say that he led a Grand Prix - and in front of his home crowd!