22 July 2007
Europe 2007: Re-born Alonso walks on water.
Fernando Alonso has blown the 2007 Formula 1 World Championship wide back open again, after triumphing in a European Grand Prix that had so much drama it could even have been scripted by visiting film director Quentin Tarantino.
In fighting his way past Felipe Massa courtesy of an inspired move in the closing stages at the Nürburgring, the Spaniard has closed to within just two points of non-scoring team-mate Lewis Hamilton in the drivers' standings. What's more, with McLaren seeing off the threat of a seemingly dominant Ferrari and only seven grands prix remaining on the calendar, there promises to be no let-up in the drama until season's end.
With the rain clouds moving in fast as the drivers set off for their formation lap, there was a sense in the Eifel Mountains air that anything could happen, and the afternoon would produce one of the most memorable Formula 1 races in recent history.
Pole-sitter Kimi Raikkonen held the lead off the start as Massa went all the way around the outside of Alonso into turn one and almost took his team-mate too for good measure. Behind them all hell let loose as the two BMW-Saubers collided, with Nick Heidfeld nudging Robert Kubica into a spin and the unfortunate Hamilton getting caught up in the ensuing mêlée. Having got up as high as fourth place from his tenth grid spot, the world championship leader was then forced to tour around the remainder of the lap to the pits with a punctured left rear tyre, but with the rain now fairly hammering the circuit the opening lap drama was far from over yet.
David Coulthard was the next to go for a trip across the gravel trap, to be followed by Nico Rosberg and Jenson Button, but as the cars came around to complete the lap and head for the pit-lane it was leader Raikkonen who provided the biggest shock by firstly missing the final chicane and then, worse still, inadvertently straight-lining the pit-lane entrance, requiring the Finn to complete another lap on slicks in the torrential conditions before being able to change tyres.
With about half the drivers electing to pit – amongst them Massa, Alonso, Hamilton and Heidfeld – Giancarlo Fisichella paid the price for carrying on round as he lost his Renault and was lucky to recover. In yet another bizarre twist, the new race leader – by some 19 seconds – was rookie Markus Winkelhock in the Spyker, stunning his home fans having started from the pits on intermediate rubber.
With the conditions worsening and little to no grip in turn one, even on the inters, Button flew off into the gravel on lap three, to be followed seconds later by Winkelhock's team-mate and countryman Adrian Sutil, Scuderia Toro Rosso duo Scott Speed and Vitantonio Liuzzi – the latter almost collecting both the newly-deployed safety car and rescue digger in the process – Anthony Davidson just stopping short of hitting the chippings in his Super Aguri and, most notably of all, Hamilton.
The McLaren-Mercedes ace, however, had kept both his head and his engine running amidst all the chaos, and after being lifted out of the boonies by the digger was able to rejoin the fray à la Michael Schumacher and live to fight another day, albeit a lap down and in 17th place. With Massa too almost losing it into turn one, the decision was wisely made to red flag the race, with it re-starting under clearer skies some 20 minutes later…but with rain once again threatening.
As the action got underway once more – with the first lap behind the safety car – fans watched the almost incredulous sight of Winkelhock on extreme wets leading the field around, ahead of Massa, Alonso, Red Bull pairing Mark Webber and Coulthard, Heikki Kovalainen, Raikkonen and Alex Wurz, with Button, Rosberg, Speed, Liuzzi and Sutil all consigned to watching from the sidelines.
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