Alonso weathers the storm to win Nurburgring thriller 22 Jul 2007
McLarens Fernando Alonso won a humdinger of a European Grand Prix at the Nurburgring on Sunday afternoon, in a contest that at the start was almost rendered farcical by rain.
But it was only when more precipitation fell on parts of the track in the closing laps that the Spaniard was able to pounce on erstwhile leader Felipe Massa, and to snatch the triumph from the Brazilian in the Ferrari.
It was a great day for Alonso, for team mate Lewis Hamilton had an up and down race which ultimately brought him no points and ended his nine-race string of podium visits. Alonso thus has 68 points to Hamiltons 70, and with Ferraris Kimi Raikkonen failing to finish, Massa lies third on 59 to the Finns 52.
To begin with there was total confusion as a deluge, which arrived earlier than expected, flooded the track during the opening lap. That then prompted the extraordinary sight of rookie Markus Winkelhock leading on his debut by the second lap, thanks to Spyker presciently putting him on full wets after the parade lap. As everyone else headed for the pits (well, not leader Raikkonen, who tried to, but then slid over the pit lane entry line and back on to the track!), the first corner claimed Hondas Jenson Button (who had risen to third but got slightly short-braked in the appalling conditions behind Massa and Alonso), Spykers Adrian Sutil and Toro Rosso team mates Scott Speed and Tonio Liuzzi (whose STR07 had broken its rear suspension after being rear-ended on the opening lap). Hamilton also went off there, but was rescued by a crane that Liuzzi nearly struck.
The race was wisely red flagged on the fourth lap as everything was tidied up, then restarted behind the safety car in better conditions half an hour later. Everyone who could run was allowed to, and after three more laps behind the safety car (in which Hamilton was allowed to unlap himself), the racing resumed on Lap Eight. Massa quickly asserted himself over Alonso, but another flurry of pit stops as people switched from wet Bridgestones to dry tyres as conditions improved, enabled the canny Raikkonen to jump up to a challenging third by Lap 14 as Massa and Alonso continued their duel.
The Finn stopped later with an intermittent problem that crippled his Ferrari on the 35th lap, and as the race went into its second half Massa pulled away from Alonso. Then the rain came back with 10 laps to run, prompting another rash of stops. Massa and Alonso came in together on Lap 53. Later the Brazilian complained of a set of tyres that vibrated badly, and soon Alonso was able to reel him in before grabbing the lead on the 56th lap, the sides of their respective cars briefly making contact in the process. Massa clung on to second, while behind them Red Bulls Mark Webber just managed to keep hold of the third place he had held for much of the race, as a similarly vibrating set of tyres on the Red Bull enabled Alex Wurz to mount a late challenge for Williams. They finished nose to tail.
Further back, David Coulthard made it a great day for Red Bull with fifth, ahead of the duelling BMW Saubers of Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica. They had tangled on the opening lap when the Pole tried a move in Turn Two that spun the German, and it was only at the very end that Heidfeld moved back ahead. He faced a post-race investigation after pushing Toyota's Ralf Schumacher off the track in the final corner on Lap 19, but the stewards ultimately deemed it a racing incident.
Poor Hamilton! He had made a brilliant start to run fourth by Turn Two, only to sustain a puncture that crippled his car. No sooner had he pitted for a replacement than he slid off the road in the lake in Turn One, from whence he was lucky to be rescued by the mobile crane. A lap behind now, he was allowed under the new rules to make up that lap behind the safety car, but a premature switch to dry tyres put him off the road again briefly. He then launched a great comeback as he traded fastest laps with Massa while trying to get back on the lead lap. After a dogged drive he got back into the points in eighth place on Lap 53, but then the need to pit for wets dropped him back. In the final laps he passed Renaults Giancarlo Fisichella (for the second time, having overtaken him earlier round the outside in Turn 12), but he just ran out of time to deprive Heikki Kovalainen in the second R27 of the final point, even though he was at that stage lapping three seconds faster than the Renaults.
Behind Fisichella, Rubens Barrichello brought the surviving Honda home 11th, having been given a hard time for much of the race by Anthony Davidsons Super Aguri, and Jarno Trulli brought his Toyota home 13th.
Besides Raikkonen, Schumacher, Button, Sutil, Speed and Liuzzi, Nico Rosberg was taken out when he was hit from behind shortly after doing likewise to Barrichello on the second lap, Super Aguris Takuma Sato retired after 19 laps, and so did Winkelhock after 13, following his moments of glory in the Spyker early on.
It was one of those races with a thousand moments, many of which are still being unravelled. But three things stood out: the superb performances by Alonso, Massa and Hamilton; the wisdom of the FIA in stopping the race initially but later leaving it to run its course (when conditions were nothing like as severe) and Red Bulls best day in Formula One racing.
Roll on Hungary!