JULY 25, 2005
GERMAN GP - SUNDAY - RACE REPORT
Blues and rhythm
The French love blue racing cars and this year they have been able to watch as Fernando Alonso came home to victory on six occasions and Giancarlo Fisichella won in Australia. The funny thing is that it has been clear for a long time now that McLaren has a faster car and Alonso is winning races because he keeps up a strong rhythm and waits until the McLarens fail.
Sitting in the Media Centre several hours after the German Grand Prix, as rain beat down on the metal roof, the Drivers' Championship table made interesting reading. Fernando Alonso has 87 points. This is 36 more than Kimi Raikkonen. There are seven races left. A maximum of 70 points. If Raikkonen wins all seven races (which is entirely possible if McLaren could sort out its reliability) and Alonso finished second on all occasions (which is entirely possible given Juan Pablo Montoya's tendency to not get maximum points when they are needed) the gap between the two men would close by just 14 points. Alonso would be World Champion. And even if Montoya finished second to Raikkonen in the next six races with Alonso third on all occasions, the Finn would arrive in China in October only equal on points with Fernando.
Nothing is ever over in Formula 1 until it is over, because you never know what is going to happen, but the signs are that with the current levels of reliability and the current scoring system, Alonso has the 2005 title in the bag. With six wins in 11 races (one can hardly count the United States Grand Prix) he is the class of the field this year, even if on three occasions he has picked up the pieces when Raikkonen has retired while leading. At San Marino, Nurburgring and Hockenheim, Kimi has had lousy luck. And 30 points have evaporated. More than that, in fact, because Alonso would have scored six fewer than he has done, so the difference would be 36 points. Or to put it another way, the two men would be equal on points right now.
Instead, Raikkonen in only four points ahead of Michael Schumacher's Ferrari, which has been lacklustre all year and only won a race when the opposition (if one can call it that) came from Jordan and Minardi.
Kimi should have won at Hockenheim. The McLaren is the quickest car in F1 at the moment and it has been since the teams came back from the three fly-away races at the start of the season. In fact when you look at it all in depth it is a pretty distressing tale of wasted opportunity because in France and Britain Kimi's hopes of victory were blown with his engines in qualifying and he had to fight through the field to get a pair of podiums. They were great achievements, but they were not victories. In the United States the car was fastest as well but that too was wasted. Add it all up and McLaren could - should - have won the last nine races.
These are just numbers of course. The point is that a winning team needs reliability as well as speed.
"The mountain is now a bit higher and steeper to climb," said Ron Dennis, waxing lyrical after the event. "Our commitment to the challenge remains undiminished. It's more difficult but not impossible."
If things had gone as they should have gone Raikkonen would have won the race at Hockenheim by around half a minute. Up to the point at which the car stopped running it had been brilliant. Kimi took the start and drove away. After 10 laps the gap was four seconds. After 20 laps it was eight seconds. But on lap 36 of 67 something nasty happened in the hydraulic system and Kimi no doubt said something rude in Finnish.
There was no challenge at all to Alonso after that because he was nearly half a minute ahead of Michael Schumacher by that point. The Ferrari made a good start and ran third from fifth on the grid. After that the Ferrari was in the way of Jenson Button's BAR-Honda and it remained that way until finally, just before the second pit stops, Jenson got Michael with a lovely overtaking move at the hairpin. It was as if Michael had gone to sleep, perhaps not thinking that Button would challenge him. All the hold-ups meant that Jenson was overtaken at the second stop by Montoya, who had done a nice job coming up from last place on the grid. On the first lap several drivers were very fortunate and Monty was one of them. He went from 20th to 11th. Two laps later he was ninth and thanks to a big fuel load he was third when he pitted after 27 long laps. It was a nice recovery after the qualifying screw-up.
The first lap also helped out David Coulthard, who went from 11th on the grid to sixth and Felipe Massa who started 13th and was seventh at the end of the lap. The place-grabbing was made possible thanks to Takuma Sato. He had qualified well and was eighth on the grid but down at the first corner he ran into the right rear of Mark Webber and pushed the hapless Williams driver wide. Trulli had to go even wider to avoid hitting Mark so there were three men off the road. Behind them Rubens Barrichello collided with Jacques Villeneuve but both survived this brush. There was a lot of cut and thrust down to Turn Two and then as they accelerated on towards the hairpin, Sato for some reason ran smack into the back of Fisichella. The impact knocked off part of Fisichella's rear wing.
"The handling felt strange at first," Fisichella said. "I lost some more places before I could start pushing."
But push he did and by the end he was up to fourth place, having passed Michael Schumacher with two laps to go.
So Michael ended up fifth, which was where he began.
Right behind at the end was Ralf Schumacher, who came up through the field thanks to a good strategy and did a good job. Jarno Trulli's race was compromised on the first lap with a puncture which meant a pit stop and then a lot of catching up. He got back to 13th, despite a drive-through for a blue flag infringement, before a late-race retirement with pneumatic problems.
Coulthard was seventh after a good solid race.
The final point went to Felipe Massa who once again did a grown-ups job for Sauber and again underlined that he has developed into a very good racing driver after a rather wild youth.
The same could not be said for Jacques Villeneuve who seemed to have rediscovered his wild youth. Admittedly the first incident was not his fault as Barrichello bounced him out of the way at the first corner. He then found himself dicing with Robert Doornbos's Minardi, which sent both men into the pits for repairs. Jacques tried to fight back and ended up dicing with Tiago Monteiro and the two cars collided when Monteiro squeezed Jacques a bit too much and put him on the grass and JV lost control. The stewards called it a racing incident and one got the impression that Tiago was happy to get away with it.
It was a pointless afternoon for Williams but at the moment most of them are. The reasons of this lack of performance are the subject of much conjecture. The cars were victims of a breakdown of communications between Williams and BMW.
Quite a contrast from McLaren and Mercedes!