Spaniard picks up the spoils after rival's demise
In this business you never say never, but the heartbreak that struck down Kimi Raikkonen this afternoon at Hockenheim, which handed Fernando Alonso his sixth success of the season, has surely put the Spaniard into an almost impregnable position in his world championship quest.
Before the race he had a 26-point lead over Raikkonen; now it is 36.
From pole position the Finn boiled into an immediate lead from Alonso, with Michael Schumacher quickly bursting through to get the jump on Jenson Button. Behind them, all hell was breaking loose in the scrum that marked the first corner. By braking late and running out wide on the Tarmac apron, Felipe Massa overcame his 13th starting slot and grabbed seventh, separated from Button by Nick Heidfeld and equally fast-starting David Coulthard. But for Jarno Trulli, Mark Webber and Takuma Sato that opening lap was a disaster. The Australian and the Italian both ran out wide after Webber had been pushed by Sato. Then, further round as all of them kept battling away, Sato whacked the back of Fisichellas Renault and destroyed his own front wing. Three of them made pit stops for repairs, which damned their races from that point onwards, but Fisi was able to keep going even though the Renault momentarily leapt into the air. Webber was the biggest loser, restarting after 11 laps had gone by after suspension repairs.
It wasnt much better for Rubens Barrichello or Jacques Villeneuve, either. Somebody pushed the Ferrari driver into the side of the Sauber in the hairpin, and that would not be the only attack that the former champion would suffer.
For 35 laps Raikkonen was unbeatable. From lap 30 onwards he held a lead of more than 11 seconds, but suddenly he had lost two at the end of lap 35, and he only made it as far as Turn Five on lap 36 before his McLaren ground to a halt with low hydraulic pressure, the same problem that had taken Montoya out in France. It was the bitterest of blows to the man who currently has the fastest car in the business but none of the good luck.
That settled it as far as Alonso was concerned, for his only challenger, Juan Pablo Montoya, was already well behind despite making a great start from the back of the grid and running 11th at the end of the opening lap. Montoya ran further than anyone else and had thus jumped up to third place when he finally refuelled for the first time on lap 27. Raikkonens demise left him second, and another long stint kept him clear of Jenson Button to the end. The Englishman drove a superb race, biding his time in fourth early on before hunting down Michael Schumacher from the 30th lap. He had a couple of stabs at the champion, before finally catching him napping at the hairpin on the 45th lap in a great move. Unfortunately, being trapped behind the red car had allowed Montoya to close in; without the Schumacher problem Button might have been able to hold on for second.
Behind them, Fisichella recovered from a poor start (he dropped from fourth on the grid to eighth at the start) and he too hunted down Schumacher. Their dice was a little more bloody; twice the Italian had a good look, only to get chopped so sharply that he had to lock his Renaults brakes to avoid contact with the Ferrari. In the end he too made his move at the hairpin, with one lap to go. By the finish, Schumacher had brother Ralf breathing down his neck after the Toyota drivers best performance of the year, and the time he and Fisichella had lost bottled up behind the Ferrari also allowed Coulthard to close in. The three of them were separated by a second as they crossed the line.
Massas start kept him in play for the final point, which he took with ease ahead of Christian Klien, who twice passed Rubens Barrichello but marred an otherwise strong run with trip through the gravel in Turn 12 on lap 22. By the finish he was well ahead of the second Ferrari, Barrichello rueing his choice of Bridgestones harder tyre.
Heidfelds three-stop strategy didnt work out as he lost a lot of time in traffic on his way to 11th, Sato recovered for 12th, and Christijan Albers brought his Minardi home 13th ahead of Jarno Trulli, who lost way too much time after his opening lap problem and later received a drive-through penalty for ignoring blue flags while fighting with Heidfeld. Jacques Villeneuve was 15th, having tangled with rookie Robert Doornbos on lap four, and later been pushed off the road inadvertently by Tiago Monteiro on lap 27 when the Portuguese driver didnt see him following closely. Later still a serious vibration obliged him to slacken his pace after a change of front tyres failed to effect a cure.
Narain Karthikeyan had a ride through the gravel and a spin late in the race on his way to 16th, while Monteiro at least maintained his finishing record with 17th after repairs. Doornbos too had his car fixed, so with Webber completing 55 laps (albeit not being classified as a finisher), once more we had a race with unusual reliability.
Once again, after the first lap antics this proved to be a slow-burn race that came alive near the end, but it will be one that Kimi Raikkonen wants to forget.