He may not be in the car again at the next race in Hungary, but Formula 1 debutant Markus Winkelhock knows he will go down in the grand prix record books after sensationally leading his debut race at the N?rburgring...in a Spyker.

The German - racing in front of his home fans in place of Christijan Albers - held an advantage of more than half a minute over world championship protagonists Felipe Massa, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen after the team had made the inspired strategic call to switch him over onto wet tyres prior to the race and leave him starting from the pit-lane.

As the rain worsened just minutes into the race and the other drivers came into the pits for different rubber, Winkelhock sailed serenely on. Though he was soon deposed following the re-start and a suspected hydraulic failure ultimately meant an early bath on lap 18, the DTM ace could not hide the smile on his face afterwards.

"First of all I have to say thanks to the team for letting me start my first grand prix in my home race," the 27-year-old enthused. "Also thanks for the good decision to go into the pits to change tyres before the start. Starting on wet tyres was a really fantastic decision and that's the reason why I was leading my first F1 race.

"To lead an F1 race is something nobody can take away from you - you have it for your whole life. I am really happy about leading my home grand prix! Unfortunately then we had a hydraulic problem and I had to stop. The target for me was to finish, but I know that not getting there was not down to me so I am really pleased with what I achieved."

Chief technical officer Mike Gascoyne explained the rationale behind the early tyre call that allowed the son of late former F1 star Manfred to make such a splash on his maiden appearance.

"Obviously it was short and sweet but good while it lasted," Gascoyne said. "We had the forecast of showers coming in so we decided to take the risk with Markus and put wet tyres on at the start, which proved to be exactly the right decision. We are one of the smallest teams at the back of the grid with the smallest budget, but we showed today that thinking is free and we got the calls spot-on.

"Then when even more rain came, we put him on extreme wets so he was in a very good position at that stage. We really didn't need the safety car or the red flag as he was leading the race by 30 seconds and, as one of the only two cars on extreme wets, I think we would have been in very good shape.

"Overall it was a great first grand prix for Markus, and it's been a pleasure working with him this weekend. He has done a very professional job and while it was a shame we couldn't get the car to the finish, I'm sure his dad would be very proud of him."

"I am very pleased with the effort of the whole team this weekend," added team principal Colin Kolles. "Markus has done a fantastic job of dealing with the incredible pressure of stepping into an F1 car at his home race, dealing with that new situation and all the media interest surrounding him. To then lead the race in such difficult conditions shows his professionalism and talent. Unfortunately we couldn't get the car to the finish, but for a Spyker to have led a race is still a very good showing."

 

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