JULY 11, 2005
BRITISH GP - SUNDAY - RACE REPORT
Juan Pablo Montoya and Fernando Alonso fought a cat-and-mouse battle for victory in the British Grand Prix, with the deciding factor being the traffic on the road. In a straight fight the McLaren was probably quicker but in the rough-and-tumble of the race, with different strategies going and different computer projections, the fight was more intense. After the race Alonso blamed traffic but the question that hung in the air was whether or not it could have been avoided.
One can argue that this was the key moment of the race but probably the thing that really made the difference was the start. Montoya needed a good start and he needed to avoid being stuck behind Jenson Button or a fast-starting Jarno Trulli. In fact Button and Trulli suffered from the dirty track and the way was left open for Alonso and Montoya to go for it.
"I knew that I needed to get Fernando before Becketts," said Montoya. "I knew he couldn't risk too much and I was willing to risk a bit more and it really paid off. I think that's where the race was won. We were going to go side by side into Becketts. Either one of us was going to back off or we were going to go off and the chances were that he was going to back off before me. He's got a fight for the World Championship and I haven't. I just wanted to win the race."
Once ahead Montoya tried to drive away from Alonso but his car was suffering from understeer and Juan felt that he could not really push hard and so he decided to take it easy and look after his tyres and wait. Fernando shadowed the McLaren grey car. They remained close. There is no reason in F1 today why you need to win by a huge margin if a small margin will do, particularly when one is trying to look after engines. So it looked like a tight race but Montoya was always pretty much in control.
In the end Montoya pitted first - the team deciding to pull him in a lap early because of traffic ahead. That put him into clear air and Montoya had to push hard to make up the time he needed to still be ahead when Alonso came out. It was exciting but he just managed to beat Alonso to the first corner. The two then played follow my leader for another 22 laps but by the time they got to the second stops Montoya had edged away and had a seven second lead.
"We put a lot of fuel on board to go very long in the second stint," said Alonso. "I think the strategy was good. The four or five laps longer I had should have helped me to win the race but unfortunately I had some traffic after Juan Pablo stopped. Those six or seven laps I had to really push and I lost two or three seconds with two guys and even with that we were still close at the pit exit."
As Alonso was trying to get through the traffic so Montoya was doing the same thing further back and once again Monty managed to do it. The car had the pace when it was needed. That was highlighted by the fact that Montoya's best lap was two-tenths off the best recorded by Kimi Raikkonen - and the two men were half a second faster than the best laps that the Renaults could achieve.
One can argue that Montoya's victory was a setback for McLaren in the Drivers' Championship and a boost in the Constructors'. What Raikkonen really needed was the maximum points available to close the gap in the championship to Alonso but the victory meant that Kimi went away with fewer points. After the engine failure on Saturday morning Raikkonen knew he was going to struggle. In the end he did manage to come through from 12th on the grid to take third place thanks mainly to the fact that Giancarlo Fisichella's never-ending bad luck results in his car stalling as he tried to leave the pits. By the time the car was going again, it was too late.
Giancarlo ended up fourth.
Button was fifth and realistic about life.
"It was evident that we can't expect any more from the car at the moment," he said. "We came here hoping that we would benefit from our improvements but they obviously didn't go far enough and we are still some way behind."
Raikkonen's hopes of a better result rested largely on the first stint when he was stuck behind Michael Schumacher and Jarno Trulli.
"The cars are difficult to follow in fast corners," he explained. "I was quite a bit quicker than they were but I got close at the end of the back straight but I was never able to follow close enough to the fast corners. I couldn't get any grip when I got close to him, so when I did get very close, the car got very loose and I couldn't follow him so that was the main problem.
"We lost only two points in the championship battle," said Kimi, "and hopefully we can challenge for victory at the remaining races.
BAR's other hope ran into trouble straight away, Takuma Sato pushing the wrong button on his dash just before the start. This was supposed to put the car onto different settings for the engine but in fact was the kill switch. There was an unnecessary Safety Car period as Race Control wanted to be safe but that only lasted a lap and then the race was on again.
The two Ferraris were off the pace but reliable and finished sixth and seventh, while the final point went to Ralf Schumacher who had harder tyres than Trulli and was able to race better. Jarno ended the day ninth, the last man who was not lapped.