After the clowning at Indianapolis last time out, the Formula One circus produced an altogether different kind of show at Magny-Cours, with Fernando Alonso calling the shots in the French Grand Prix.
As well as being the obvious candidate as ringmaster, the Spaniard also produced a disappearing act to rival the best as he scorched away from the field, competing three fuel stops on the way to a comfortable eleven second victory. In his wake, Kimi Raikkonen performed an escapology display to salvage second from 13th on the grid, while world champion Michael Schumacher walked the high wire as the last unlapped runner in third.
With much debate over the various fuel loads that teams may have used in qualifying, and the merits of individual laps in the timed session, Alonso's initial pace could have been forgiven for representing a possible four-stop strategy. The Spaniard made the most of pole position to leap into the lead at turn one, and then romped away as second-placed Jarno Trulli bottled up Schumacher and the rest of the top ten.
With Raikkonen also mired back in the pack, despite having split the Saubers off the line, Alonso was able to make hay while the Burgundy sun shone. Lapping at anything up to 1.5secs a lap faster than his pursuers, the points leader had opened up a three-second advantage in as many laps, and continued in the same vein right the way through to his first pit-stop.
Contrary to may expectations, that stop didn't materialise until lap 20 - two after Schumacher - by which time he had built up a 30secs gap that enabled him to resume at the front.
By running longer even than the Renault, however, McLaren ensured that the cars that Alonso rejoined in front of were those of Juan Montoya and Raikkonen, up from eighth and 13th respectively. The silver machines passed Schumacher and Trulli while the pair pitted together on lap 18, and continued to open a gap so that, when Raikkonen finally pitted on lap 28 - underlining a qualifying effort which initially netted third, just one-tenth off pole - he was able to rejoin in front of both his team-mate and the current world champion.
Schumacher was able to retain fourth place when he stopped for the second time just shy of half-distance, having short-filled on his first stop in an effort to leap-frog the Trulli roadblock, effectively reducing the number of potential winners to the leading quartet.
The field was already two light by this point, Christian Klien having had his car quit on him when its fuel pressure died on lap two and Felipe Massa pitting repeatedly before succumbing to an hydraulic problem. They were soon to be joined by both Minardis, worryingly as the two backmarkers appeared to suffer similar tyre problems on the left rear corner. Patrick Friesacher managed to park up at the Adelaide hairpin after his tyre reportedly let go on the preceding straight, but Christijan Albers was pitched into the barriers without warning, fortunately without injury.
Takuma Sato came close to joining them when an ambitious lap 27 lunge at Trulli resulted in him overshooting the hairpin and dropping to tenth. The Japanese had been running fifth prior to his own early fuel stop, but failed to feature after his off, save for avoiding contact with the barriers when caught out by a slippery surface in turn two on lap 51.