Michael Schumacher and Ferrari dominated the German Grand Prix as Schumacher took his home race victory, his third successive win, and teammate Felipe Massa played his part perfectly to come home second. McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen gambled on a ...
Michael Schumacher and Ferrari dominated the German Grand Prix as Schumacher took his home race victory, his third successive win, and teammate Felipe Massa played his part perfectly to come home second. McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen gambled on a three-stop strategy to the others' two-stop and he took the final podium place in third.
It was another fine day at Hockenheim and there was a minor reshuffle at the back of the grid. Sakon Yamamoto had qualified in the spare Super Aguri but switched back to his repaired race car for Sunday so was demoted to the very back, which was only a couple of places. As it was he opted to start from the pit lane.
Pole sitter Raikkonen shot away in the lead at the start, followed by the two Ferraris in formation. Behind them there were several minor incidents which made the first couple of laps a bit confusing. The Renaults of Giancarlo Fisichella and Fernando Alonso got past the Honda of Jenson Button to fourth and fifth respectively.
Button came back at them very rapidly and retook Alonso, while there was some pushing and shoving at the hairpin. Ralf Schumacher's Toyota and David Coulthard's Red Bull had contact and Nico Rosberg went flying off sideways over the gravel and the Williams impacted with the tyre wall. Rosberg was unharmed.
"It's very disappointing," he said of his rather short afternoon's work. "I lost the rear of the car very quickly, I don't really know what happened. Maybe it was my fault, maybe I pushed too hard."
The BMW Saubers of Nick Heidfeld and Jacques Villeneuve both made a visit to the pits, Villeneuve for a front wing change, and Ralf was in as well. It's not clear what happened to the BMWs although Heidfeld had a puncture on the right rear -- he thought there was contact between himself and Villeneuve. All three managed to rejoin the race.
Meanwhile, Button had got past Fisichella at the hairpin to return to fourth. Behind Alonso in sixth came the McLaren of Pedro de la Rosa and the Williams of Mark Webber. Honda's Rubens Barrichello had dropped three places to ninth and Yamamoto was evidently in difficulty, the Super Aguri crawling around the track with a suspected driveshaft problem.
De la Rosa was the next retiree, pulling off onto the grass with what turned out to be a mechanical fuel pump failure. "I was running well behind Alonso but I think it was something electrical," he explained. "I was on the back straight and the engine just died; it wasn't the engine itself I don't think, it was something else."
Yamamoto went into the pits to retire and things calmed down. Christian Klien's Red Bull was then ninth, Tonio Liuzzi's Toro Rosso 10th, Jarno Trulli's Toyota up to 11th from the back and Coulthard down to 12th after the incident with Ralf. Scott Speed's Toro Rosso was next in line, then the Super Aguri of Takuma Sato and the two MF1s, Christijan Albers leading Tiago Monteiro.
Raikkonen was the first in for a scheduled pit stop on lap 10 -- reportedly he didn't intentionally run light in qualifying but there was some kind of problem with the fuel rig and he didn't get as much fuel as he should have. It was quite a long stop due to a delay on the right rear but he got back out and rejoined in eighth.
Heidfeld's eventful race didn't last much longer as he retired to the garage with dodgy brakes. "I had a problem on the right rear," he said of his early incident. "I think it did something to the brakes. The brake was getting longer and longer, it wasn't safe to continue."
Barrichello was harassing Webber and the pair of them were closing in on Alonso, who was evidently having a pig of an afternoon. The Renault didn't look comfortable out there and the Spaniard was not on the pace of teammate Fisichella, never mind the leaders. Barrichello got past Webber at the hairpin to move into sixth and started attacking Alonso.
Button was next to pit and Barrichello followed suit shortly afterwards, which gave Alonso a bit of a reprieve. Massa was the first of the Ferraris to visit the pits and Michael was in the next lap, followed by Alonso. However, Barrichello's charge came to a fiery end when he skidded onto the grass with flames sprouting from the Honda.
"It's a shame because we had one of the best cars today," he said. "Although, I had a terrible start -- all the hard work we've done and we lose it all on the start. I was having a good race, it was very competitive, and then the engine expired."
Webber was driving a great race, up to third although he was yet to pit. He finally went in at the same time as Raikkonen took his second stop and Trulli was in next. Villeneuve took a charge across the gravel at the last corner and the BMW made the acquaintance of the tyre wall with quite a hefty thump.
The Canadian was fine. "Since the car's nose change (after the first lap incident) I had a lot of oversteer and every second corner I was sideways, and eventually it got me," he said.
The points position order was then Michael, Massa, Button up to third, Fisichella, Webber, Alonso, Raikkonen and Klien in eighth. Sato retired to the pits with a gearbox issue so it was not an encouraging debut for the SA06. Ralf got a drive through penalty for speeding in the pit lane and Monteiro awarded the same for ignoring the blue flags.
The second round of visits to the pits for the two-stoppers started reeling through, while Trulli got past Klien and Speed had an off-track rallying moment across the grass but managed to continue. Liuzzi and Ralf were scrapping, side-by-side through the hairpin but Liuzzi held the Toyota off. The Ferraris were in a race of their own up front, untroubled.
Ralf's next tussle was with Coulthard (again) and he got ahead of the Scot for 10th. Liuzzi then homed in on the Red Bull and dispatched it just as quickly. Raikkonen took his third stop and came out alongside Webber; the McLaren and Williams went side-by-side round the first corner and it was very close but Raikkonen made it ahead for fourth.
The Finn then charged up behind Button and scorched past for third -- Raikkonen was on a mission, showing some of the determination and scary speed that we saw last year but has often been absent so far this season. Unfortunately, after all Webber's hard work the Williams suffered a water leak with just seven laps to go and he had to retire.
Ralf had closed in on Massa in an attempt to unlap himself and the Brazilian let him go without too much argument, and Michael did likewise a little later. With Webber's demise Klien was back into eighth then Alonso had a well wobbly moment and the Renault went off track.
He managed to wrestle it back under control and luckily for him it was Fisichella who was behind and the Italian didn't take advantage. The moment allowed Trulli to close right in. It seems Renault was not impressed with the Michelin tyres, as the used ones were out the back of the garage with many blisters on display.
The order held in the final laps and Michael gave the German crowds something to cheer about as he took the chequered flag. Ferrari was untouchable this weekend -- Massa once again did a great back up job and is now up to third in the standings. If he wasn't on the leash due to the title fight Michael would probably have trouble with him.
"We have had a superb weekend," Michael said. "Our car just functioned really great. We had a good work-out before coming here, the last and final test before the summer break. We worked very hard together with Bridgestone in order to sort out the whole position and get organised and understand everything up to the last detail."
"We improved the car, Shell is delivering great products, so it's a package which is the reason why we can perform as we do perform, although I have to say it was a bit of a surprise being that much in front but we'll take it, we'll really take it. It's the right moment in time when we need to have such a performance in order to bring down the gap in the championship and keep the pressure on."
Massa was happy with the result but hopes for the top step before the end of the season. "I'm getting used to the podium a bit, just not the first place, so hopefully we're starting to get there, working hard and just looking to push hard at every race to improve and to be there at every race," he commented. "It's important to be on the podium at every race and I think my time will come."
"(Michael and I) had a very similar car in the whole race. Sometimes I was pushing and the gap closed, and sometimes he was a little bit quicker, so it was very, very similar in the whole race for sure. After the middle of the race we started to see that our gap was very big to the other cars (and) we just decided to save the car, save the engine and everything to bring home both Ferraris at the front."
Raikkonen's three-stopper initially looked like it wouldn't work out and even with the Finn on pole it was unlikely the McLaren could stand up to the Ferraris. But it worked well enough, although Raikkonen's ferocious attack in the last phase of the race was more likely what gave him the podium than the strategy.
"I think we had some problems yesterday, to be honest, between the second and last qualifying," said the Finn. "When we were fuelling the car we really didn't get as much fuel as we wanted. Then it turned out that we needed to get on pole because we knew that we didn't have as much fuel as planned but in the end it worked out pretty well, because we came in quite early although the tyres were on the limit. I blistered my second set also, so it was a bit difficult at that moment."
"I also had a hydraulic problem so I lost a place to Jenson earlier. Because of that, the car was behaving really badly and I wasn't getting full power and the gearshifting was all over the place. Looking at those things, we are happy to finish third and the end of the race was very strong for us, so no problems."
Honda must be relieved to get some solid points with Button's fourth place but he couldn't hang on to third and Barrichello's retirement was a blow when the cars were running well. Renault scraped by with damage limitation, Alonso fifth and Fisichella sixth -- is this just a blip on the radar or is Renault starting to crack?
Trulli did very well to cross the line seventh after starting at the back -- there were some raised eyebrows about his contract extension with Toyota but he's certainly persistent. Finally Klien got a small reward for his hard work and picked up the last point in eighth. He's attracted some unwarranted criticism lately but drove a strong race.
Ralf had another one of his mad days and was ninth, while Liuzzi again made it home 10th. Coulthard couldn't improve after his early brush with Ralf and was 11th and Speed was 12th. Both MF1s made it to the chequered flag, Albers ahead of Monteiro in 13th and 14th.
The gap between Alonso and Michael in the standings is now only 11 points, and between Renault and Ferrari 10 points. Can Renault bounce back in Hungary? They only have a few days to prepare and certainly at Hockenheim Renault looked nowhere near Ferrari's performance. Not only that, McLaren could well put a spanner in the works for taking points.
Everything seems to be going Ferrari's way at the moment: the drivers are on top form, the car is all hooked up and the tyres are performing well. In comparison Renault appears to be going backwards -- but for how long? Final top eight classification: M. Schumacher, Massa, Raikkonen, Button, Alonso, Fisichella, Trulli, Klien.