Despite the usual paddock talk beforehand, Fernando Alonso and Renault 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.

The Renaults ran one-two for a while between stops, and Heidfeld also took a turn in the top echelon as BMW ran longer even than the regie, but it was not enough to prevent Alonso resuming in front, his advantage up to eleven seconds over Raikkonen by lap 35.

Heidfeld's strong run was scuppered by a tardy getaway after his lap 25 stop, the result of possible clutch or gearbox problems, but the biggest loser in the first round of pit activity was Barrichello, who found himself on the tail of the top ten, now behind both Villeneuve and Nico Rosberg. The gainer of note was Fisichella, who benefited from his later stop to leap-frog Massa and give Renault two cars in the top four.

The oppressive heat, which continued to rise as the race - which started earlier to accommodate World Cup schedules - put paid to any real racing, confirming Silverstone's reputation as providing its best grands prix when more typical British conditions come into play. The leading group remained unchanged between stops, gaps developing between them although Alonso was pegged at around eleven seconds by Raikkonen and twelve by Schumacher.

Coulthard, meanwhile, was struggling with worsening understeer, conceding places at the mid-point on a day that did not look like offering much to either Red Bull team. Midland and Super Aguri, meanwhile, continued to plug away at the back, Christijan Albers and Tiago Monteiro battling between themselves and Takuma Sato and Franck Montagny bringing up the rear, counting down the races to the arrival of the first bespoke SAF1 machine at Magny-Cours.

Schumacher was again the first of the frontrunners to pit second time around, on lap 41, but, this time, the German was able to push hard immediately after rejoining. First time around, only Alonso appeared to have instant pace in his replacement rubber, but Schumacher's pace was to prove crucial.

Raikkonen dived in a lap later and, marginally hindered by a slower stop than the German, found himself staring at the rear of the Ferrari as he emerged from pit-lane. Schumacher's new pace suggested that he had sand-bagged, Imola-style, in the run up to the stops, conning McLaren into believing that it could its man out in front. It wasn't to be, and Schumacher opened enough of a gap in the next few laps to guarantee himself second in a damage-limitation run behind the championship leader.

Alonso stopped on lap 44, allowing team-mate Fisichella a brief taste of glory out front, but order was soon restored next time around. With the Spaniard back in front and with a comfortable, if slightly reducing, cushion, the main interest switched to the battle for the podium between Raikkonen and Fisichella, the Italian closing to within a second of the McLaren as the laps ticked down.

Sadly for those hoping for an exciting finish, the current design of F1 cars and the Silverstone layout - as well as one eye on preserving his engine for the next round in Montreal - allowed Fisichella no further, and the same was true of the impending scrap for the final point between Villeneuve and Nico Rosberg. The German had made a decent start to move into the top ten from twelfth on the grid, and got to within a second of Villeneuve's rear wing but, despite encouragement from the Williams pit, could not close down the last man to take a world title for the Grove equipe.

Villeneuve's eighth place confirmed a double score for BMW, as he trailed team-mate Heidfeld across the line by seven seconds, and produced a top eight filled by just four teams. Button's retirement was the only one mechanically induced among the four sidelined early on, and Renault, Ferrari and McLaren blocked out the top six in perfect formation.

Alonso's win, his third in a row and fifth in eight outing this season, lifted him a further two points clear of Schumacher in the title race, with Raikkonen, third-best overall as well as in Britain, now 41 points adrift in a seemingly one-sided fight.



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