Sunday, July 22, 2007

Alonso steals win from Massa

Fernando Alonso overtook Felipe Massa four laps from the end of the race to clinch victory in today's chaotic Grand Prix at Nurburgring. Rain played a big part in the fate of today's race before the McLaren driver banged wheels with the Ferrari driver in an exciting finale to the European Grand Prix. Mark Webber claimed third place for Red Bull.

The Australian saw off a threatening attack from Alex Wurz's Williams on the last lap to claim the second podium of his career. David Coulthard drove solidly to take fifth in the second Red Bull ahead of the two BMW Saubers of Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld, who would have made more of today's conditions had they not tangled with each other at the start. Heikki Kovalainen completed the top eight ahead of Lewis Hamilton, who just missed out on the points. It was the first time this season after ten grands prix that the young rookie failed to get on the podium. The result means that his lead over Alonso in the standings gets significantly reduced to just two points.

As the cars lined up on the grid, it started drizzling making for an exciting first lap. Raikkonen got off the line well as did Massa - both Ferraris managing to out-muscle Alonso around turn one despite the Spaniard's probing. The two BMWs collided around turn two but both managed to keep going. Lewis Hamilton got off to a great start and took advantage of the tangled BMWs to get up to fourth but appeared to have run into more tyre trouble as his right rear had a puncture, possibly from passing the spinning BMWs. He quickly fell to through the field - creating a hazard for the charging pack. However the biggest hazard seemed to be the track itself, as it got more and more slippery. Coulthard went off and Rosberg hit Button, damaging his front wing.

The rain was really pouring down at this point as all the drivers dived into the pits after just one lap to change tyres. Over just one lap however the conditions had deteriorated so much that some drivers - Raikkonen in particular - struggled to even get the nose of the car into the pits, bouncing across the kerb and having to carry on for another lap. When everyone had pitted, it emerged that the leader of the race was in fact Markus Winkelhock, who had opted to start in the pits just as the rain started to spit - allowing him to change to wet tyres. Then by lap three, the rain had come down so hard that turn one was completely flooded, causing cars to helplessly aquaplane into the gravel. The skittling cars caused havoc with Vitantonio Liuzzi almost collecting the safety car and bouncing off the tractor, which was on its way to collecting the stranded cars. Amongst them was Hamilton's McLaren but somehow the young rookie had kept the car alive and was able to rejoin. By this point the chaos had caused the race to be red flagged.

The cars were gathered on the grid in the order of the lap before the waving of the red flag. This meant the order was as follows: Top ten; Winkelhock, Massa, Alonso, Webber Coulthard, Kovalainen, Raikkonen, Wurz, Barrichello, Fisichella, 11th to 17th; Kubica, Schumacher, Sato, Trulli, Davidson, Heidfeld, Hamilton. Retired were: Button, Sutil, Rosberg and the two Toro Rossos. Hamilton was classified a lap down but once the safety car had got going, he was allowed to un-lap himself. He also decided to take a gamble, being so far back, and pitted for dry tyres as it appeared the track was drying out under the sunshine. At the re-start, Winkelhock sensibly yielded to Massa and Alonso, who maintained formation. Coulthard and Webber battled in third and fourth as Raikkonen tried to find a way past fellow countryman Kovalainen for fifth. Hamilton struggled to stay on the track as his dry tryes suffered in the wet conditions - with the whole field lapping him.

But on lap 12 Hamilton set the fastest lap, suggesting it was the right time for the rest of the field running on intermediates to change to the dry compound. Raikkonen was the first to come in after a frustrating time trying to pass Kovalainen. Massa and Alonso pitted a couple of laps later to rejoin in that order, with Coulthard taking the lead. Winkelhock's exciting home Grand Prix then sadly came to an end following a hydraulics problem - having fallen to the back of the order. The top eight after the pit-stops: Massa, Alonso, Raikkonen, Webber, Wurz, Kovalainen, Coutlhard, Kubica. On lap 18, Heidfeld knocked Schumacher off after the Toyota driver made a mistake at the chicane giving Heidfeld a sniff up the inside at the final corner but not enough to make a full manoeuvre. Consequently a highly frustrated Schumacher was knocked into the gravel trap, having probably not seen Heidfeld. Heidfeld got away safely but the stewards decided to investigate the clash after the race. Sato then retired on the same lap. Hamilton meanwhile was working on a 30 second gap to the rest of the field down in 14th and made short work of it, banging in fastest laps one after the other. By lap 32, he came up behind Fisichella and pulled off a fearless two-wheels-on-the-grass manoeuvre around the outside on the approach to the NGK chicane. A few laps later Raikkonen retired from third having put some serious pressure on Alonso for second. That put Webber up to third and with a second career podium in sight. After what should have been the last round of pit-stops on lap 44, Alonso had worked a 11 second gap to Massa down to six seconds and was ever closing on the race leader. Webber had safeguarded his third place whilst Wurz had done well to keep fourth, albeit under pressure from Kovalainen.

However, with ten laps remaining there was forecast of rain and Renault decided to take a gamble with Kovalainen and bring him in for intermediates. But it was too soon and the Finn lost a lot of time on the track, which had remained dry, falling down the order. But soon everyone had to pit as the rain did indeed come down. After rejoining, Alonso was right up behind Massa and crawling all over the Brazilian in the pouring rain. The two were side by side as the Spaniard tried many times to find a way past and eventually did on the inside as Massa's front right banged into Alonso's side board as the Spaniard muscled past. The collision however failed to cause any damage and Alonso stormed ahead to take a memorable victory. Webber saw off the challenge from Wurz to cling onto third, with the Austrian almost managing to get past the Red Bull driver on the last corner.
Race Result :
1. F. Alonso McLaren 2:06:26.358

2. F. Massa Ferrari + 8.155

3. M. Webber Red Bull + 1:05.674

4. A. Wurz Williams + 1:05.937

5. D. Coulthard Red Bull + 1:13.656

6. N. Heidfeld BMW + 1:20.298

7. R. Kubica BMW + 1:22.415

8. H. Kovalainen Renault + 1 laps

9. L. Hamilton McLaren + 1 laps

10. G. Fisichella Renault + 1 laps

11. R. Barrichello Honda + 1 laps

12. A. Davidson Super Aguri + 1 laps

13. J. Trulli Toyota + 1 laps

Did not finish

14. K. Räikkönen Ferrari + 24 laps

15. T. Sato Super Aguri + 40 laps

16. R. Schumacher Toyota + 41 laps

17. M. Winkelhock Spyker F1 + 46 laps

18. N. Rosberg Williams + 58 laps

19. V. Liuzzi Scuderia Toro Rosso + 58 laps

20. S. Speed Scuderia Toro Rosso + 58 laps

21. A. Sutil Spyker F1 + 58 laps

22. J. Button Honda + 58 laps

Fastest Laps: Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:32.853

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