Despite the usual paddock talk beforehand, Fernando Alonso
again proved to be the class of the field in the British Grand Prix, romping to a 13-second victory at Silverstone.
Carrying a tiger-stripe livery in place of the team's more familiar tobacco branding, the Spaniard got his teeth into the opposition to become on the third pole winner to successfully convert top spot in qualifying into first place in the race, extending his championship lead over Michael Schumacher by another two points.
Having been beaten off the line by Juan Montoya in last year's race, Alonso was determined not to fall foul of the Colombian's McLaren
team-mate Kimi Raikkonen
this time around and, despite a slower than usual start, managed to hold the advantage into Copse. The top five all held station, with Schumacher, Felipe Massa
and Giancarlo Fisichella
all getting through cleanly, but Rubens Barrichello
made a poor getaway to drop behind both Nick Heidfeld
- who got a flier - and Juan Montoya, who found himself rudely assaulted by the second BMW
Sauber of Jacques Villeneuve, although both cars managed to continue.
That wasn't the end of the first lap action, however, as the Becketts complex - not usually known for its passing opportunities - saw American rookie Scott Speed attempting to make the most of a poor start for Ralf Schumacher. The German had dropped back from seventh on the grid to be under pressure from the Toro Rosso
driver, but Speed got a little too close in the middle of Becketts, clouting the back of the Toyota. Both cars were damaged, but that was not the end of the story for, as Ralf attempted to correct the tankslapper that resulted, he swerved into the path of Webber's Williams, which was left with nowhere to go. Australian and German parked up on the exit of the complex to swap stories of how they were the innocent party, while Speed repaired to the pits, his race also soon to be curtailed.
The clear-up operation required the use of the safety car, halting the battle that was emerging at the front of the field, but only allowed the anticipation to build for a couple of laps. Approaching the end of lap three, Alonso was left in charge of the pace, and backed it right off, bunching the field up through Priory, Brooklands and Luffield, waiting for Raikkonen to have to hit the brakes before flooring it and giving himself a decent cushion as the race got underway again.
Barrichello rounded out the early occupants of the top eight, but it was Honda team-mate Jenson Button
that was attracting the most attention. Determined to make up for the disappointment of qualifying only 19th, the Briton was already 14th on lap one, having narrowly avoided becoming a part of the Schumacher-Webber clash. Jarno Trulli
was quickly disposed of, while Tonio Liuzzi succumbed to a classic Stowe pass on lap seven, leaving Button behind David Coulthard, the man who had condemned him to his early qualifying exit.
Before the two Britons could resume combat, however, Button's afternoon was over, his Honda aflame as he coasted past the BRDC suite into Brooklands. Although the oil leak that caused the blaze then pitched the car into a spin, Button attempted to drive out of the gravel, keen to give the crowd something else to cheer after they exhorted themselves in support of Lewis Hamilton
during the morning's GP2 event. He failed to do so, and was left to make his way back to the garage, heartened both by the cheers he received and the knowledge that the Honda had handled better in its few brief laps before retirement.
As Button was wending his way to a spectator role, Alonso was easing out a couple of seconds over his closest rivals, who were now nose to tail after Raikkonen ran wide at Club on lap four. Schumacher was with the McLaren
in a flash, the pair all but banging wheels on the entry to Abbey, before Raikkonen emerged in front, and the positions remained unchanged to the first round of pit-stops.
Trulli was the first to stop, surprising the pit-lane as he had started from the very back following a qualifying engine failure. The Italian was only one lap earlier than Schumacher, however, and that too was something of a shock, as many had expected the Ferrari
to be heavier than Alonso's Renault. In hindsight, the Spaniard proved to be the most heavily-fuelled of the leaders, stopping on lap 22, four after Schumacher and three beyond Raikkonen. For all its hope that a harder specification Michelin may play into its hands, McLaren
was already on the back foot as Alonso stretched his lead still further.