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Germany 2005: Raikkonen retirement benefits Alonso

24 July 2005


For the third time this season - after Imola and the Nurburgring - Fernando Alonso was in the right place at the right time to pick up a victory discarded by the McLaren team, further increasing his advantage over the luckless Kimi Raikkonen.

After admitting that he would rather have had his engine failures in practice than the race, after salvaging podium finishes from ten-place grid penalties in both France and Britain, the Finn started the German Grand Prix from pole, only to see another mechanical gremlin sideline his MP4-20 just past half distance.

The race holds something of a hex over Raikkonen, as the Finn has yet to finish at Hockenheim in five attempts since graduating to the top flight, but even the most superstitious of team members must have believed that that hoodoo could be laid to rest as their man sprinted away from the field at the start and came though the first round of pit-stops with a healthy advantage over Alonso and third-placed Michael Schumacher.

The race had got underway in typically frenetic Hockenheim fashion, with almost half the field taking advantage of the extra tarmac run-off area at turn one, before indulging in a little extra-curricular contact at both turn two and the hairpin. The biggest losers from the skirmishing were Takuma Sato - who broke a front wing on the back of Giancarlo Fisichella's Renault - and Jarno Trulli and Mark Webber, who came together and joined their Japanese colleague in heading to the pits. Sato and Trulli rejoined quickly after repairs, but Webber's day appeared done after the Williams team diagnosed suspension damage.

The three melees had served to shuffle the field, with front row starter Jenson Button being shuffled back to fourth by the fast-starting Alonso and Schumacher. Fisichella had made a surprisingly slow getaway in the second Renault, putting himself into Sato's sights, while Nick Heidfeld, David Coulthard and Felipe Massa all took advantage of the Italian's misfortune to move up the order on lap one. The biggest winner, however, was the man who lost big on Saturday, Juan Montoya gaining no fewer than nine places by the time he re-crossed the line.

The Colombian continued his forward progress next time around, passing Rubens Barrichello for tenth, and on lap three, as he added Christian Klien's ninth place to his list of scalps. The brought the McLaren on to the tail of Fisichella, who proved a more than able opponent, despite struggling with rear wing damage following his collision with Sato.

The man Sato replaced at BAR two seasons ago was also in the wars early on, Jacques Villeneuve making heavy contact with Barrichello at the hairpin, getting the Sauber airborne, then collecting debutant Robert Doornbos in the stadium section on lap four. The Dutchman was cited by the stewards in that instance, as was Jordan's Tiago Monteiro when the Canadian was left with nowhere to go under breaking on lap 27.

Raikkonen, however, was well clear of the trouble, lapping at around a second a lap quicker than his immediate pursuers as he began to drag his times down in the low 1min 15secs region.

The pit-stops began on lap 15, when Williams' Nick Heidfeld paused for fuel, but the leaders were all intent on running deeper into the race, underlining just how much fuel they were able to carry whilst setting the qualifying pace. Button was the first of the leading quintet to require a top-up, stopping on lap 20 along with fellow Brit Coulthard, but those ahead of him were all able to press on. Alonso and Schumacher waited another two tours before having to pit - the German living up to his insistence that he had not run light in qualifying - while Raikkonen continued until lap 25. Only Barrichello and Montoya ran further, suggesting that the Colombian would have been the real pre-race favourite had he lived up to his front row potential.

Raikkonen resumed in front, and continued to ease out his advantage over the following ten laps before disaster struck. With the majority of the crowd still fervently behind national hero Schumacher, the television cameras were among the first to pick up the slowing McLaren, the MP4-20 giving one last twitch before grinding to a halt with suspected hydraulic failure. Unlike twelve months ago, when a very angry Finn climbed out ready to hurl his steering wheel at anyone in the immediate vicinity, Raikkonen calmly stalked away from his stricken machine.

The McLaren's demise left Alonso firmly in control of the event, the Spaniard having pulled away from Schumacher to the tune of almost half a minute. The Renault driver was able to continue in a similar vein as Schumacher gradually found his mirrors filled more and more by Button, the Michelin-tyred runners again finding their rubber more competitive than the Bridgestone alternative.

Schumacher's right rear, in particular, was showing increasing signs of wear, with two of the mandatory four grooves all but invisible to the naked eye. Despite having opted for differing tyre compounds and strategies, both Ferrari drivers were reporting a lack of grip, as Barrichello lost ninth spot to a charging Christian Klien. The Austrian had been off the road mid-race, but still had pace in hand for the Ferrari, whose engine he will hope to be using next season.

Schumacher's troubles worsened as Button closed right on to the tail of the F2005, but the pair's scrap also allowed Montoya to home in, the Colombian confirmed in fourth after his late first pit-stop. Knowing that, as the meat in the sandwich, he was in the most vulnerable position of the three, Button began to explore ways around the Ferrari, only for Schumacher to provide a champion's defence.

Pace and grip eventually told, however, as Button launched the BAR down the inside of his rival at the hairpin on lap 45, resisting Schumacher's attempt to force him over the kerb and immediately pulling away on exit. The only downside for the Briton was that his second and final pit-stop was imminent, not giving him enough time to capitalise on Montoya being bottled up behind the Ferrari over the next few laps.

Montoya did not have to worry for long, moving ahead of Schumacher when the Ferrari man pitted on lap 49 - three after Button - and immediately upping his pace to ensure that neither Button nor the world champion would get ahead of him during his own final stop, which followed on lap 56. Even finding himself held up by the scrapping Nick Heidfeld and Jarno Trulli failed to delay the Colombian enough to make a race of it over the closing laps, as he underlined the pace of the MP4-20.

Trulli received a drive-thru penalty for his part in holding up the McLaren - ironic given his similar role in helping the Colombian escape Alonso at Silverstone - but the Italian was not long for the race, six pit-stops, the last few to top up the Toyota's pneumatic system, eventually led to late retirement. It was not late enough for Webber, however, who was unable to reward the work of his Williams crew's efforts to get him back out after losing nine laps to his rivals at the start. The Australian will follow Raikkonen on track in qualifying for the dustiest race of the year, in Hungary next weekend.

The focus of attention in the closing laps fell on the two Renaults. Alonso was away and clear out front, heading for the sixth win of an increasingly likely championship campaign, leaving team-mate Fisichella to provide the late-race excitement by trying to overhaul Schumacher's ailing Ferrari. Two half-hearted attempts in front of the Mercedes grandstand were rebuffed before the Italian finally found a way through at the hairpin. Renault headed Ferrari, and the chasing Ralf Schumacher and David Coulthard, across the line by a matter of tenths. Felipe Massa completed the top eight, scoring a valuable point for Sauber.

Alonso, meanwhile, was already on his slowing down lap, steering with his knees as he attempted to signal his sixth victory to the cameras without enough fingers on one hand.

The Spaniard had the grace to admit that his main rival had once again been unlucky to retire while well in front, but could do little to disguise the fact that he had been handed another major step towards a first world title. McLaren boss Ron Dennis had started the weekend by admitting that the Renault man needed only seconds and thirds to lift the crown - an unopposed ten points was not what the doctor ordered.


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