Bullfighters are undeniably brave, but frequently foolhardy, and similar sentiments could be levelled at Fernando Alonso after an ambitious, if flawed, effort to seize control of the Spanish Grand Prix cost him a shot at victory on the opening lap.

The local favourite attempted to pass polesitter Felipe Massa around the outside of turn one after slipstreaming the Brazilian down the straight, but cut the Ferrari off at the apex, with the expected result that the pair made contact. Alonso came off worst, Massa riding the kerb straight into the side of the Mclaren after being left with nowhere else to go. Alonso duly speared across the gravel trap, narrowly avoiding Kimi Raikkonen as he rejoined on the far side, now fourth.

As had been the case in Bahrain last time out, the two expected team leaders were again playing second fiddle to their junior partners, as Lewis Hamilton took advantage of Alonso's error, having already passed Raikkonen on the drag from the lights. The BMWs also came close to making the most from the melee, with Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld just being out-gunned as Alonso floored then throttle after getting the McLaren straight.

The lack of obvious passing places at the Circuit de Catalunya prompted more than one feint and move, with Giancarlo Fisichella finding himself touching the dirt as he attempted to make up places, rejoining just in time to get embroiled in the midfield scrap enveloping the Hondas, Takuma Sato, Ralf Schumacher and Alex Wurz. Although the Renault survived jinking between rivals, Schumacher and Wurz were not, the former forced to jump on the brakes when Sato checked up and Wurz being left with nowhere to go but into the back of the Toyota.

The Austrian's front suspension was a victim of the clash, which saw Wurz rear up in the air, but Schumacher's nose also needed attention, capping a bad opening for Toyota, which had had to wheel Jarno Trulli off the sixth grid spot when his fuel pressure dropped, stalling the engine.

When the order settled down, Massa enjoyed a healthy gap over Hamilton, with Raikkonen and Alonso already battling over third. Kubica and Heidfeld were next up, with David Coulthard into seventh, having passed Heikki Kovalainen at the start - something the Scot had claimed was important as he figure the Finn was running a heavy fuel load. Nico Rosberg had broken into the top ten, while Honda was enjoying the rarefied atmosphere of tenth and eleventh as Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button made the most of the chaos. Fisichella and Sato followed, with Scott Speed up from plumb last to run ahead of Toro Rosso team-mate Tonio Liuzzi.

Despite swarming over the back of Raikkonen, Alonso found an opening hard to come by, despite the suspicion that he was fuelled more lightly than his rival, and, out front, Massa was gradually extending his advantage by around half a second a lap over Hamilton, and a second a lap over the world champion.

The retirement rate continued to rise when Mark Webber was advised to park the second Red Bull after a recurrence of the hydraulic problems that wrecked his qualifying, and Trulli pulled into retire a TF107 that clearly wasn't running right after its startline drama.

A lap later, however, there was bigger news, as Raikkonen twitched and slowed on the back section. Although initial speculation pointed to suspension, the official line was electrics, but, whatever the diagnosis, the Finn was left to crawl back to the pits, barely reaching his garage without assistance. Scott Speed also joined those on the sidelines, adding a little more on-track drama as the Toro Rosso suffered its second blow-out of the season, this time, Mansell-style, to its left rear.

Ten laps in, and with five cars already out, the race already appeared Massa's to lose, the Brazilian easing away from the pack in the manner of his former team-mate, watching from the Ferrari garage. Massa was 13secs up on Alonso by lap 16, as the first round of pit-stops loomed and, as predicted, the Ferrari was among the first in. Massa was joined on pit-road by Alonso, the two front row men clearly having adopted similar fuel loads, and rejoined ahead of the Spaniard, but not before suffering his own moment of drama as the fuel hose stuck and then sprayed its flammable fluid on the exhausts. Massa took off with flames spreading down the right-hand side of his car - something he later claimed to have been unaware of - before the conflagration extinguished itself without causing too much damage.

Alonso, meanwhile, followed his pre-race plan of fitting the harder Bridgestones for the middle portion of the race, confident that the MP4-22 had the set-up to maintain its pace and save a set of softer rubber for the run to the flag.

Massa pitting, of course, allowed Hamilton to lead for the fourth race in a row, and the Briton ran all the way to lap 22 - three more than his team-mate - before fitting his second set of medium-spec tyres. His fellow countrymen were again enduring mixed fortunes, with Coulthard running in the points, but having to avoid the crawling Liuzzi as he made his stop. The Italian had suffered a mechanical problem and was returning to the garage, forcing DC to jink left as he caught the Toro Rosso at the most inopportune moment. Jenson Button had risen to seventh when he stopped a lap before Lewis, but contrived to wipe his nose off on the back of Honda team-mate Barrichello as he rejoined, ending any hope of a points finish. Anthony Davidson, meanwhile, was again running a long first stint, rising as high as eighth before finally pitting a few laps short of half-distance.

By that point, the race had lost another of its frontrunners as Nick Heidfeld suffered a comedy moment in the pits. The German had risen to lead the race after running longer even than Hamilton, but his first stop was marred when the BMW Sauber team failed to seat the right front wheel nut. Waved back into the fray, Heidfeld realised the problem and halted just yards from the garage, but was then forced to crawl around another lap before the situation could be rectified. The initial issue dropped him to 13th and the second stop two places further down the order, although it mattered little as Heidfeld would eventually retire with gearbox problems on lap 47.

Once order was restored, Massa picked up from where he left off, again easing away from the two McLarens. Hamilton, however, was also opening a gap over Alonso, whose gamble on the harder rubber was not paying off as track conditions changed enough to make the MP4-22 a handful. Kubica began to close in on the Spaniard, suggesting a possible repeat of Heidfeld's Bahrain battle with the McLaren but, in truth, there was very little passing on track, despite the installation of the new chicane before the final corner.

Coulthard continued to lead Rosberg and Kovalainen, the former GP2 sparring partners running strongly for Williams and Renault respectively, with Barrichello upholding Honda honour on the fringe of the points, despite pressure from Fisichella and the hovering Sato. The two Renault pilots, however, were harbouring secret problems after neither received the full complement of fuel and would have to make three stops in order to complete the race. Fortunately, their pace - while not exactly frontrunning - was enough to keep both in the hunt for a score.

Schumacher joined the list of retirees on lap 44 after his Toyota ran into suspension problems, preceding countryman Heidfeld's demise by two tours, but the rest soldiered on the flag in a race where almost every team ran into gremlins of some sort. Alonso's tyre woes prompted the McLaren team to pit the Spaniard a couple of laps ahead of schedule, and the transformation was immediate, the local hero closing on Hamilton, who had fitted the harder spec rubber a lap earlier. Massa, however, had returned between the silver machines after his second stop and, further drama aside, looked good for a second win.

With ten laps to run, Massa was eleven seconds ahead of Hamilton who, in turn, had a comfortable, if diminishing, cushion back to his team-mate that suggested another second place was a formality. Kubica was somewhere between Alonso and Coulthard, with Rosberg and Kovalainen closing on the Scot who, it turned out, had lost the use of third gear, and was having to nurse the RB3 to the flag. As with Hamilton and Alonso, however, there appeared insufficient time for the Williams to close the gap.

Kovalainen was safe in seventh, chasing hard after Rosberg without actually making much of an impression, having had to cede position courtesy of his third stop. That wasn't as bad as team-mate Fisichella, however, whose own third call cost him a point - which was gratefully accepted by the chasing Sato, opening Super Aguri's account in only its 21st grand prix.

Massa backed off approaching the final laps, allowing Hamilton to reduce the deficit by the flag. The result was good for both, however, as the Brazilian's victory made him the first to take two grands prix this year and moved him firmly back into the championship chase. That championship, however, is now being headed by a rookie with but four races under his belt. Hamilton broke two more records in Spain, becoming the first newcomer to make the podium in his first four races, and stealing Bruce McLaren's mantle as youngest outright points leader.

Raikkonen's retirement, meanwhile, means that he is now the outsider, trailing his McLaren successor by eight points, while Alonso and Massa sit two and three adrift respectively. It could have been the Spaniard at the head of the points, however, and Alonso will know that he was maybe a little hasty in his attempt to usurp Massa. A case of the matador reacting to the red rag perhaps.....

 

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