Britain 2005: Montoya takes first McLaren victory
10 July 2005
Heading to Silverstone, it was widely anticipated that a McLaren would be on top come the end of the race and as expected it was indeed a silver machine that took the chequered flag in the British Grand Prix.
However, having played a supporting role to Kimi Raikkonen for the first half of 2005, it was the turn of Juan Pablo Montoya to take to the top step of the podium as the Columbian secured his first win since Interlagos last season, picking up his first win, and indeed first podium finish, since making the switch to McLaren over the winter.
Behind Montoya, Fernando Alonso secured another valuable eight points for his championship challenge and more importantly outscored title rival Raikkonen who overcame a ten place grid penalty for the second week in a row to take third.
Knowing that Raikkonen would have to work his way up from twelfth place, Alonso was keen to build a lead up at the start, but as the lights went green it was Montoya who made the lightning getaway from the second row. With front-row man Jenson Button not getting away as well as he would have liked in the BAR, Montoya had jumped the Brit before the field reached Copse and was up alongside Alonso and fighting for the lead.
Sweeping round the outside of the opening corner gave Montoya the inside line on the run up to Maggots allowing the McLaren man through into the lead from Alonso, Button and Rubens Barrichello who, along with Giancarlo Fisichella in the second Renault, had jumped ahead of Jarno Trulli's Toyota at the start.
However one man who hadn't got away – and indeed hadn't even taken his place on the grid – was Takuma Sato in the second BAR, who had ground to a halt as the cars formed up on the grid at the end of the formation lap. Although the rest of the field was allowed to start the race, the safety car was called out as the Japanese driver was pushed into the pit-lane where the team elected to change strategy and fill the car with fuel before Sato eventually joined onto the rear of the field - albeit a lap down with a mystery electrical fault being blamed for the problem.
Although Sato had already been removed from the grid by the time the field completed the opening lap, the safety car had already been sent onto the track and led the field round for one lap before diving back into the pit-lane.
On the restart, the man on a mission was Raikkonen, who had climbed to eighth place on the opening lap and was fixed firmly on the rear of defending champion Michael Schumacher, who in turn was tucked up behind Trulli's Toyota. While Montoya and Alonso scampered away at the front, so began a frustrating stint for Raikkonen who, despite having a car that was clearly quicker than the two in front, was unable to find a way past. Having had a look at the Ferrari into Becketts immediately after the restart, Raikkonen swarmed all over the rear of Schumacher, the differing pace never more evident than going into Stowe on lap six when the Finn was forced to run wide simply due to the differing speed he was carrying into the corner in relation to his Ferrari rival.
With Trulli lacking pace of the top five ahead, Raikkonen could only watch on as the gap to the leaders increased, with Montoya and Alonso trading fastest laps out front. On lap 20, Trulli finally made his pit-stop to release both Schumacher and Raikkonen and two laps later Montoya followed him in - Alonso and Raikkonen both aware that the coming laps would give them the chance to move up a position.
As it was, Alonso would pit in just a lap after Montoya, and despite his stop being a fraction longer, emerged from the pit-lane just as Montoya came hurtling around Copse. As on the opening lap, the two approached Maggotts side-by-side, but with the racing line and extra momentum Montoya was able to hold the position with Alonso having to settle again for second.
Michael Schumacher then pitted in to release Raikkonen, his qualifying pace looking even more impressive as it became apparent that he was fuelled to go further into the race than most of the front-runners, and within a matter of laps the Finn was right on the tail of Alonso. As if to show what might have been, Raikkonen dived up the inside of Alonso into Stowe on lap 26 to briefly make it a McLaren one-two before coming in for his first stop.
That left Montoya with a lead of three seconds over Alonso, while Fisichella had benefited from good work from the Renault team to jump ahead of Button into third. Barrichello - who had pitted earlier than the rest of the pack on a three stop strategy - was fifth, but the important thing from a championship point of view was that Raikkonen had jumped ahead of both Schumacher and Trulli into sixth.
When Barrichello pitted on lap 32 for his second stop, it moved Raikkonen into fifth with the Finn lapping a second a lap quicker than fourth placed Button. While the gap between Montoya and Alonso out front fluctuated as the duo worked their way through the backmarkers, Raikkonen put in a number of stunning laps to bring a gap which had been over ten seconds down to mere tenths within eight laps.
Before he had to try and negotiate the BAR, Button pitted on lap 43 for the second and final time, with Raikkonen able to stay out another two laps before he made his stop - emerging comfortably ahead of Button and behind Montoya who had also made his second stop, the Renaults of Alonso and Fisichella now running first and second.
Knowing that he needed to put the quick laps in to try and jump Montoya, Alonso found himself baulked by former team-mate Trulli through the slow complex section before putting upping his pace to try and ensure he had enough in hand to come out from his stop ahead of the McLaren man.
Coming out ahead of the McLaren wasn't something Fisichella should have been worried about when he made his second stop on lap 46, but as was the case in Magny-Cours a week ago, luck wasn't on the Italians side. A stall as he attempted to leave the pits cost Fisi valuable time and he left the pits just in time to see Raikkonen go through into third. That left Alonso's final stop as the one which could ultimately decide the race as the Spaniard dived in for nothing more than a 'splash-and-dash' with just eleven laps to go. Despite the stop taking just 4.9 seconds, the time lost attempting to pass Trulli would be crucial, as Alonso became the second Renault driver in a matter of laps to be treated to the site of a silver car flashing past as he left the pits.
Over the closing laps, Alonso managed to get to within a second of Montoya, but the Spaniard was unable to find a way past and had to settle for second place as the Columbian took his first win of what has been a difficult season. However with Raikkonen third, it means Alonso has still managed to extend his lead over the Finn in the championship to 26 points - although for the second week in a row, fans leaving the Grand Prix were left to wonder what might have happened if the two championship protagonists had started the race alongside each other on the grid, rather than with half the field between them, expecially when a gap which had been as high as 30 seconds during the race was only 11.5 seconds by the end.
Fisichella, who had looked for periods during the middle stint of the race as if he could challenge Alonso for second, had to settle for fourth with Button taking a lonely fifth place. Although the BAR man hadn't had the outright pace to take the challenge to the McLarens and Renaults, he was comfortably clear of sixth placed Michael Schumacher whose Ferrari simply wasn't quick enough to contend with the front runners. Barrichello took seventh, with the final points scoring position going to Ralf Schumacher who won the battle of the Toyotas to edge out Trulli for eighth.
Felipe Massa secured tenth for Sauber ahead of Mark Webber and a big four way battle for twelfth which raged over the closing stages. With a low retirement rate - Narain Karthikeyan being the only man not to make it the end - Williams, Sauber and Red Bull were unable to fight for points, but the importance of a good finishing slot to gain a better qualifying position for the German Grand Prix in two weeks time wasn't lost on Nick Heidfeld, David Coulthard, Jacques Villeneuve and Christian Klien as they battle for position.
DC and Villeneuve had already been involved in a strong battle earlier in the race, with neither of the experienced racers prepared to give an inch, although Villeneuve did lose time during his second stop when he inadvertently knocked over his fuel man while attempting to leave the pits. As it was Heidfeld took the place from Coulthard, while Villeneuve dropped back slightly on the final laps as he ensured that he kept 14th from Klien - the Austrian driver having lost time himself with a trip across the grass at Stowe early on in the race while battling with Webber.
Having started a lap behind everyone else, Sato took 16th ahead of Tiago Monteiro, with Albers and Friesacher bringing up the rear for Minardi.
With a two week break now before the teams head to Hockenheim, its clear that the rest of the field have work to do to close the gap to McLaren and Renault and Raikkonen will be hoping that in that gap McLaren can solve the gremlins that have affected him in the last two races. Because if Kimi can keep up his current form - and avoid any more ten place penalties - the 26 point cushion that Alonso currently enjoys might not look too comfortable...