Renault's Fernando Alonso took his tally of victories in 2005 to six when he won the German Grand Prix, an unexpected result after rival Kimi Raikkonen was forced to retire when leading. McLaren had been the favourites this weekend but Raikkonen...
Renault's Fernando Alonso took his tally of victories in 2005 to six when he won the German Grand Prix, an unexpected result after rival Kimi Raikkonen was forced to retire when leading. McLaren had been the favourites this weekend but Raikkonen was robbed of the win when his car ground to halt on track with a hydraulic failure.
His teammate Juan Pablo Montoya made up for his mistake in qualifying, when he spun off, starting from the very back of the grid and having a very strong drive to second. Jenson Button also had a determined race and bought his BAR home third, he and Renault's Giancarlo Fisichella, fourth, battling past the Ferrari of Michael Schumacher.
It was a rather chaotic start; pole-sitter Raikkonen got away in the lead from Alonso, who got past Button as he needed to in order to challenge the McLaren. There was quite a lot of pushing and shoving down the field; Takuma Sato lost the front wing off his BAR after hitting Fisichella and Jarno Trulli suffered a puncture on his Toyota in the melee.
Several cars went wide in the first few corners and there was contact between Rubens Barrichello's Ferrari and the Sauber of Jacques Villeneuve. In the general confusion David Coulthard got his Red Bull up to sixth from 11th, Felipe Massa hurled his Sauber through the middle to take seventh from 13th and Nick Heidfeld's Williams went up two to fifth.
Trulli, Sato and Mark Webber, whose Williams was also caught up in the battle somewhere, all dived into the pits. Webber thought he was retiring but eventually rejoined 10 laps down, after some damage repair, in the hope of a better qualifying slot next time. Montoya launched his McLaren off the back row and was up to 11th by the end of the first lap.
After all the bumper-car antics, Raikkonen was leading Alonso, Michael was third, Button fourth and then came Heidfeld, Coulthard, Massa and Fisichella, who had dropped down after the contact with Sato. Villeneuve came to grief again shortly afterwards when he tangled with the Minardi of Robert Doornbos, both having to pit for swift repairs then rejoining.
Things settled down again and Raikkonen widened the gap between himself and Alonso to four seconds by lap eight. Montoya dispatched Ralf Schumacher's Toyota and the Red Bull of Christian Klien to get up to ninth but then got stuck behind Fisichella for quite some time. Fisichella had a slight problem with his rear wing after the start difficulty.
Heidfeld was the first of the top eight to pit, on lap 15, and Doornbos got a 10 second stop-and-go penalty for having his Minardi refuelled and the tyres changed in the same stop, which is not allowed. Klien and Massa were next to pit, followed by Coulthard and Button on the next lap, which was a bit earlier than Jenson had been expected to stop.
Alonso and Michael were next in, on lap 23, and they rejoined in second and fifth respectively. With the pit stops Montoya was by then up to fourth. Klien had a quick trip across the gravel and Fisichella had his rear wing checked in his stop but it appeared to be intact. Raikkonen was belting out fastest laps then came in for his first stop on lap 25.
Once again it underlined Kimi's performance in qualifying, that he was over four tenths faster than Button while carrying half a dozen more laps of fuel. The Finn rejoined in the lead, while Ralf took his turn in the pits and sneaked out in front of Fisichella for seventh. However, he went wide at the next turn and Fisichella regained the place.
Montoya pitted on lap 26, along with Barrichello, and returned in fifth, so after the first pit stop shakeout it was Raikkonen from Alonso, with Michael and Jenson holding station in third and fourth, followed by Montoya, Fisichella and Coulthard, who had got ahead of Ralf somewhere unseen.
Villeneuve's adventures continued when he bounced off the Jordan of Tiago Monteiro. Villeneuve had aimed to go round the outside but Monteiro apparently didn't see him and moved across track in the braking zone for the corner, and Jacques had nowhere to go but into the back of him. Villeneuve lost his front wing but both continued after repairs.
The gap between Raikkonen and Alonso was 11 seconds, with Montoya closing in on Button and Michael, but then it all fell apart for the leader. The McLaren slowed drastically and then came to a halt by the side of the track with the hydraulic failure. Disaster for Raikkonen and a heavy blow to his title aspirations.
"It's always terrible to retire from a race, but to retire whilst in the lead with a good gap to the number two car is even worse," said the Finn. "This is the worst thing that could have happened as it looked like the race was in the bag. However that is motor racing, but it seems like I have had my fair share of bad luck this season."
Alonso, who had by then looked resigned to second, as he was nowhere near challenging Raikkonen, was promoted to the lead and Michael and Button to second and third. Alonso had a rather solitary race after that but it got quite heated behind him. Heidfeld started the second round of pit stops and Klien dived past a distracted Barrichello at the hairpin.
Button was closing on Michael, having a look here and there, and eventually attacking at the hairpin down the inside to take second. Good effort by Jenson -- would Montoya do the same? As it turned out, he didn't have to. Button took his second stop, followed by Michael on the next lap and the Ferrari stayed behind the BAR.
Alonso had plenty of time to pit and retain the lead and Klien lost out to Barrichello in the second stops. Not to be deterred, Christian promptly attacked the Ferrari once more and retook him, again at the hairpin. Barrichello appeared to be in difficulty, having a rather random wander across the track, possibly struggling with his tyres.
Montoya got held up by backmarkers in the run up to his second stop -- Trulli subsequently got a drive-through penalty for ignoring the blue flags -- but had enough time to pit and rejoin in front of Button for second. The order was then Alonso, Montoya, Button, Michael, Fisichella, Ralf, Coulthard and Massa returned to the points in eighth.
Trulli had taken his drive-through but was back in the pits a couple of times afterwards with a pneumatic problem. The Toyota eventually failed on the last lap, although he was classified 14th. Fisichella was determinedly harassing Michael and Ralf was lurking behind to see what he could possibly get out of the situation.
Fisichella had a go at the Ferrari once or twice, then on the penultimate lap he shot up the inside of the hairpin and snatched fourth. Great stuff from Fisichella, who retrieved his original grid place after his troubles at the start. Ralf had a little look or two but there was not enough time left for him to mount an attack on his brother.
Alonso took the chequered flag 22 seconds ahead of Montoya, another confident performance from the Spaniard. McLaren may have the speed but Alonso is consistent and always there to take advantage of Raikkonen's misfortunes, which seem to be happening rather a lot lately. He now leads the Finn in the drivers' standings by 36 points.
"It was obviously a fantastic day, perfect for me," said Alonso. "I did my perfect race, the car's balance was also almost perfect from the beginning to the end, we didn't adjust anything in the pit stop because I felt really, really good and competitive."
"Obviously it was not enough in the first 30 laps to follow Kimi because he was a bit quicker than us, two or three tenths a lap, so I thought at that time that second place was good enough but after the retirement from Kimi the race was a little bit boring being in first place with such a gap."
Montoya made up for his qualifying faux pas with a storming drive from the back to second. Of course, if not for his error on Saturday he should have been challenging for the win but he did a good job of damage control for McLaren. The Colombian has climbed to fourth in the standings behind Michael.
"It was good," Montoya confirmed. "The first few laps were a bit crazy. I managed to save quite a bit of fuel on the first stint, running behind traffic and when I had a clear track I pushed. The same thing when I caught Michael and Jenson, it was save fuel there. I got a bit worried when Jenson passed Michael. My car was quick by itself but not so good in traffic, but it was a good day."
Button said before the race that fourth would be a good result, as BAR didn't have the pace of Renault and McLaren, so he went one better than his expectations. A good drive by Jenson and the passing move on Michael was a determined one -- he was coming up for his second stop anyway but didn't let that sway him.
"Michael is never the easiest person to overtake but it was a reasonably good move," Button commented. "I knew at the corner apexes he was very slow and he really had to slow the car down so I knew that was the best place to do it at the slowest corner on the circuit, so I was very happy with it. To get a podium here, for the team, it is such a tough season it is a fantastic result and it can only mean better things for us for the rest of the year."
Fisichella was equally determined to get past the Ferrari and made it stick as well as Button. Giancarlo hardly seems to get through a race without some kind of bad luck hitting him but he never stops fighting. Michael was struggling with his tyres and did his best to hold off the challenges but it just wasn't enough.
If there had been another couple of laps Ralf probably would have got past as well but had to settle for sixth, which wasn't a bad result after starting 12th. Coulthard was another who drove a strong race to get his Red Bull home in the points, and although teammate Klien finished ninth, he showed some feisty spirit and was unlucky to miss out.
Massa's one point in eighth was pretty much due to his fearless charge through the muddle at the start, without which he would have found it hard to move up. Sauber had a disappointing qualifying but the car was pretty good, if not terribly fast, in the race. Villeneuve had more than his fair share of troubles and finished 15th.
Barrichello's strategy didn't work out and he came home 10th, followed by Heidfeld and Sato. Christijan Albers headed the Minardis in a fairly respectable 13th, while teammate Doornbos was the tail ender in 18th but at least he finished his first race. Both Jordans reached the line, Narain Karthikeyan 16th and Monteiro 17th after his tangle with Villeneuve.
Hockenheim was not a thriller of a race but it was interesting, with enough happening on track to keep the fans entertained, although presumably the hordes of Michael supporters were disappointed not to see him on the podium. Ferrari still doesn't have the wherewithal to challenge the front runners.
Raikkonen's retirement was painful to see -- it was never going to be a fight between him and Alonso because once Kimi got away at the start, Fernando could not stay close enough to be in with a chance of the win. He got it anyway, at Raikkonen's expense, but that's not Alonso's fault and the Spaniard has every right to be happy about the victory.
Raikkonen is far from out of the title fight but the German result has certainly made his task a lot more difficult. To compound it, he will be out first in qualifying at the Hungaroring, a track that's notoriously dusty and dirty and doesn't have much in the way of overtaking opportunities in the race. It was unofficially the most boring Grand Prix of 2004.
Hungary should be another winning opportunity for Alonso but even with a difficult qualifying in prospect Raikkonen will undoubtedly be ready to take the fight to his rival. He has to, before it's too late. Final top eight classification: Alonso, Montoya, Button, Fisichella, M. Schumacher, R. Schumacher, Coulthard, Massa.