McLaren played a tactical game in order to vault Kimi Raikkonen to the front of the Hungarian Grand Prix, and was rewarded when the Finn took maximum points to title rival Fernando Alonso's zero score.

Raikkonen would have needed a rocket-like getaway, from the dirty side of the grid, if he was to assume control from the start, but he settled for third into turn one behind Michael Schumacher and McLaren team-mate Juan Montoya - the front row pairing - before jumping the Colombian later in the lap to put himself in prime position to take advantage of any tactical or mechanical lapse on Ferrari's behalf. Behind the leading trio, however, key moments in the championship story were being written.

Although McLaren and Raikkonen effectively began the Hungaroring weekend by dismissing their chances of taking the individual title this year, both knew that a nightmare weekend for Alonso and Renault would help keep them in the hunt. To this point - twelve races into the season - the Spaniard had suffered just one, driver-induced, retirement and a couple of non podium points finishes, but the bubble finally burst at the track where he recorded his first victory two seasons ago.

Birthday boy on Friday, Alonso's party was spoiled somewhat at the first corner, the nose of his R25 being squeezed by Ralf Schumacher's Toyota, damaging the front wing sufficiently to require a first lap pit-stop. Although Schumacher escaped unscathed from the brush, the other Toyota came off worse after a punt from Rubens Barrichello, pieces of diffuser clearly being spread across the circuit. It was the Brazilian, however, who needed a pit call to check for significant damage.

If either of the four drivers involved in those two incidents thought themselves unlucky, however, they should spare a thought for Christian Klien. The Austrian, starting perhaps his last grand prix of the year for Red Bull, pending its seat share policy, was clipped by the front wheel of Jacques Villeneuve's Sauber and pitched into a low-speed flip that tested the structural integrity of the rollhoop. Fortunately, Klien landed the right way up and was able to extricate himself with little more than a stiff neck.

The fates were not done with Red Bull at that point, however, and the closest thing the sponsor has to a home race ended less than a lap later, when a unsighted David Coulthard collected the remains of Alonso's wing section, smashing his own aero device and all but ripping off the right front wheel. A wild ride across the grass again ended with the driver unharmed but more than a little bemused.

While Raikkonen was making up a place by passing his team-mate, therefore, Alonso was plotting just how he could make his way back through the pack to claim at least a point. If he wanted something akin to mission impossible, he could not have chosen a better venue, for the Hungaroring continued to prove unwilling - if not completely incapable - of providing passing opportunities. The backmarking Jordans and Minardis were despatched easily enough but, once he caught up with team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella - on the fringes of the top ten after being muscled out at the start - and Barrichello, the Spaniard's recovery ground to a halt.

Raikkonen, meanwhile, was trading fastest laps with Schumacher, determined not to allow the German to get away at the front, despite the suspicion that the Ferrari was running lighter than the McLaren. The gap between them fluctuated at around a second before the first team to blink brought its man in. To the surprise of most of the pit-lane, it was McLaren who reached for the fuel hose first, suggesting that Raikkonen's qualifying lap had been at least partly achieved by running light, but also hinting at a tactical ploy designed to get the Finn out of Schumacher's dirty air and ahead of the Ferrari.

The world champion made his first stop three laps later and, thanks to a combination of a couple of quick laps and the McLaren being held for a relatively long ten seconds, emerged in front again, the pair now behind Montoya, who had begin to chip in with his own fastest laps.

With a variety of two- and three-stop strategies being played out, the order behind the top three began to shuffle, with Jenson Button moving ahead of the two Toyotas - which had held fourth and fifth despite their first corner skirmishes - as he ran longer without a fuel stop. BAR team-mate Takuma Sato was also in the points positions, running ahead of Nick Heidfeld and Fisichella, who duelled over eighth in the early stages.

Schumacher re-assumed top spot when Montoya made his first stop on lap 22, the Colombian filtering in behind team-mate Raikkonen to restore the status quo. Ferrari headed leading McLaren by just under a second at this point, but Raikkonen was soon back into his stride and beginning to put the hammer down. Schumacher, however, was equal to the task and managed to resist the pressure being applied until his second stop on lap 36.

This was the crucial stage of the race, as Raikkonen was freed to try and establish a gap to the German that would prove decisive. Instead, with just one lap more fuel on board, there was little the Finn could achieve by himself, leaving at least half of the task up to his pit crew. McLaren responded wonderfully, employing part two of its tactical plan to perfection and holding the MP4-20 for just under six seconds. Schumacher was only exiting the final corner as Raikkonen was released and had no way of preventing himself from falling behind the Finn.

Once again, Montoya assumed control of the race as the two leaders pitted, but Raikkonen was not about to make things easy for his team-mate - or Schumacher. The benefit of clean air and a clear track at the Hungaroring immediately began to pay off the for the Finn, as he streaked away from the world champion, seven seconds to the good within a lap, and 17 up four laps after that.

The only questions that remained centred on whether the McLaren would hold together, and whether Montoya would - or would have - to yield to his team-mate. The Colombian has made no secret of the fact that, if Raikkonen is not in contention for the world title, he would like to beat him to second place in the championship, and showed no sign of letting the Finn close in on him this weekend. The question of reliability was another matter, however....

Just as Raikkonen was extending his maximum advantage over Schumacher, the rear wing of the leading McLaren hove into view. As in France, this time it was Montoya's turn to experience a less than wholesome MP4-20, a repeat of his team-mate's Imola driveshaft problem leaving him with no option but to limp back to the pits and contemplate what might have been.

Now out front with just his pursuers to worry about, Raikkonen continued to extend his advantage over Schumacher to the sort of gap he would need to execute his final stop and still emerge in front - just in case Ferrari had its own tactical plan for the end of the race.

In their wake, Toyota had established itself as the 'best of the rest', with Schumacher Jr and Trulli running clear of Button and Heidfeld, with Mark Webber having moved himself ahead of Sato by virtue of running almost to half distance on his first tank of fuel. Fisichella had survived an off at turn four, but lost ground as a result, and Barrichello and Alonso continued to dice over eleventh. The Red Bull duo had been joined in retirement by Robert Doornbos' Minardi as well as Montoya, and would later welcome Villeneuve and Christijan Albers to their number.

Button, Heidfeld and the two Toyota drivers continued to swap positions as their respective strategies played out, but the Cologne team engineered enough of a gap by the final round to ensure that neither Schumacher or Trulli would be troubled before the end. The Italian, in particular, was doing a sterling job without much of his diffuser, but the different aerodynamic performance began to tell as the race wore on, Trulli dropping away from Schumacher to the tune of almost 18 seconds by the flag.

That allowed the German to begin to make inroads into his brother's advantage, the Ferrari struggling to keep the performance of its Bridgestones up for the full 70 laps. With Raikkonen away and gone, the two brothers grew ever closer over the waning laps, although the circuit did its bit to ensure age came before duty. Trulli also had to find some resistance as Button rediscovered his pace in the last portion of the race, but the Briton couldn't get within five seconds of the Toyota until the run to the flag and had to settle for fifth.

Williams twins Heidfeld and Webber went some way to providing a morale boost for the boys back at Grove, claiming their first points since Canada with sixth and seventh, Webber the first of the lapped runners as he struggled with well worn tyres after subjecting them to heavier fuel loads at the start of the event. Sato made the most of a second Fisichella off to secure his first point of the campaign in eighth.

While the Japanese driver edged himself onto the scoreboard, at the other end, Raikkonen was making a serious dent in Alonso's seemingly impermeable advantage with a maximum haul. To make matters worse for the Spaniard, he was still mired in eleventh, his worst finish of the season. The 26-point margin is still something of a mountain to climb for Raikkonen, especially if this was Renault's one blip of the campaign, but Fisichella's failure to make the points allowed McLaren to close to within twelve in the constructors' championship with six rounds to run.