The 2007 European Grand Prix had it all. Good weather, bad weather, overtaking, crashes, aquaplaning, clever strategies, bad decisions. Somehow, the German circuit separated the men from the boys, and while some drivers performed well to keep everything together, others drove superbly. We saw debutant Markus Winkelhock lead the race in his Spyker, a great challenge from Lewis Hamilton and one belter of an overtaking move that saw Fernando Alonso pass Felipe Massa to lead the final four laps.
The start of the race was dry. Each car had dry tyres and dry set ups, but immediately it was realised that rain had started to fall and the cars poured into the pitlane. Robert Kubica struggled in the changing conditions, spun and collected his team mate as he rotated. Both drivers were forced to pit and Nick received a new nose cone as well tyres. This incident also caused Lewis to pick up a puncture and the British driver was forced to pit after casual tour of the circuit with only three working wheels.
However, it wasn’t long before it really started to rain. And I mean seriously raining. Shortly after seeing replays of the Kubica/Heidfeld clash, we were seeing pictures of Hamilton, Button, Sutil and Speed in the gravel trap. A further replay made it abundantly clear that the circuit was flooded in parts and the cars were simply flying off the circuit. Drivers were losing control and floating on the standing water, causing them to shoot off the tarmac at just about every corner. The Safety Car was deployed to cool the pace and at that moment Vitantonio Liuzzi shot past the safety car backwards and clipped a tractor clearing Buttons Honda out of the way. The race was red flagged, and rightly so.
With the red flag, the cars immediately lose all sense of pace and crawled around the track to just before the grid markings on the start/finish straight. Interestingly, as the red flag rules so rarely come into play, a lot of teams were unsure of what exactly they should be doing or are allowed to do. I imagine a lot of people were furiously reading the regulations book trying to determine what they can and cannot do.
Amazingly, as the Honda and now the Scuderia Toro Rosso were removed, Lewis Hamilton was able to drive away from the dangerous position. He somehow mnaged to keep the engine running all the time he was sitting in the trap. Incredibly, Hamilton was able to join the back of the tail and sit in the red flag zone – his race was far from over yet.
Most cars manged to get intermediate tyres on before the carnage ensued, although Kimi Raikkonen had a torrid time trying to get into the pit lane. He initially started to enter the entry zone, but due to the track surface being so wet, he simply slid right out of it and back onto the race track. The Finnish driver was forced to continue for another lap before getting decent tyres on his Ferrari. This incident handed Felipe Massa the lead who had a reasonable start.
The cars sat in the red flag zone for a good twenty minutes while the circuit was assessed and the cars removed from the dangerous positions. The teams were allowed to adjust the wings and other components that wil help the car grip better in the poor conditions. And because some of the drivers ended up putting on full wets, the rule regarding drivers having to run both hard and soft compounds gets thrown out of the window.
So, this brings us up to about lap four. Anyone wanna guess who’s leading the race? Markus Winkelhock. The German rookie leads his debut race in Germany. This is one day he will never forget. Unfortunately, because of the comparative pace of the Spyker, the team choose to leave their sole remaining driver on full wet tyres in the hope that it will rain again shortly after the restart. This will leave him in the lead as the rest of the teams will be forced to pit and change from their intermediate tyres.
Another driver who takes a gamble on lap seven, just as the race restarts and the safety car pulls in, is Lewis Hamilton. Taking a massive risk, the British driver puts dry weather tyres on in the hope the circuit drys out pretty quickly. Unfortunately for Lewis, the gamble doesn’t pay off and this move is what really blew the race for Lewis. Had he remained on inters, the rookie may well have finished on the podium, but because his inexperience got in the way, Hamilton finished the European Grand Prix outside of the points in ninth.
As Lewis Hamilton tip-toes around the outside of the corners, it seems everybody is attempting to pass everybody else. Alonso takes a few serious lunges on Massa, both Red Bull’s are attacking each other and Heikki Kovalainen. Slowly but surely, Winkelhock descends down the order of placings as the faster cars pour past him.
Eventually the circuit begins to dry and Hamilton starts to set purple sector times in two and three, indicating that it is still wet in sector one. However, some drivers start to come into the pits for a change of shoes when it becomes clear that Hamilton’s strategy isn’t working. Although the circuit is finally coming to him, he is 85 seconds adrift of the lead driver and one lap down.
For much of the race, Felipe Massa lead Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen. But by the midway distance, Kimi’s Nurburgring luck had come back to haunt him. It seems as though the Finn just cannot win around this place, and he crawls back to the pitlane with what sounds like some kind of intermittent problem causing the engine to temporarily lose drive. Either way, Kimi gets as far as the pit lane entrance, but cannot make it up the hill. He parks the red car on the side and stalks back to the garage. Mark Webber is promoted, amazingly, to third.
Just prior to Kimi retiring his Ferrari, the Germans are having a bit of a one-two as Ralf Schumacher waved his fist at Nick Heidfeld. Coming out of the final chicane, Ralf got it a bit wrong which allowed Heidfeld to attempt a move up the inside of the final right-hander. However, Ralf closed the door, the two touched and Ralf was forced to retire. Heidfeld was able to continue, much to Schumacher’s dismay who clearly wanted to have a private word with his compatriot. Looking at the replays and hearing Ralf speak after the incident, it seems to be a simple racing accident, and Ralf admits to knowing Nick was there, so why the Toyota driver didn’t take avoiding action at the last second is beyond me?
By now of course, and it is about lap 40, the circuit is dry and to be honest, the race has become a little boring. Each driver has settled into a routine pace and they’re simply going round and round. Lewis is working hard on reducing his gap to twelfth place, and from there he should be able to get up to 8th quite easily. Alonso falls back to about 5 seconds behind Massa and the two drivers share fastest laps for the afternoon. Nothing much happens until the final few laps. Can you guess what happens?
Lap 48 of 60 sees the crowds of fans in the grandstands putting on rain coats. Umbrellas are erected and rain is clearly falling on certain parts of the track. From fifth place, Heikki Kovalainen bizarrely pits for intermediate tyres. While the Renault’s aren’t having a brilliant race, with Fisichella outside of the points, fifth place isn’t too shabby, and to risk it all on a strategy that will either see Heikki win or lose is pushing the envelope a bit too much. Needless to say, Kovalainen eventually finishes in eighth.
A couple of laps later and there is definitely rain falling. The teams bring in their remaining cars for intermediate tyres, and Alonso, Massa and Fisichella all pit together. Massa goes first, but Fisichella has a better stop and is released into the fast lane before Alonso. However, Alonso is still released just ahead of the Renault and the two come very close to touching. Nothing has yet been said of this incident, but undoubtedly the stewards are reviewing the footage to see if anything should be done about it.
As soon as everyone is back up to race pace in the rain again, Alonso is all over the back of the Ferrari of Massa. The Spaniard is moving left and right in an attempt to pass, but the Ferrari is placed just right to defend the position. And then, with only four laps to go, Alonso makes his move and it sticks. The two bang wheels but Fernando keeps his foot in. As soon as Alonso is clear of the Ferrari, he extends a seven second lead before taking the chequered flag.
Mark Webber takes a fine third for Red Bull, and David Coulthard finishes in fifth from 20th on the grid. Alex Wurz collects five points from fourth which makes up for Nico Rosberg retiring at the start. The BMWs did well to finish after all their scrapes and knocks, and Heidfeld brought home his car ahead of his team mate in sixth. Heikki Kovalainen takes the final point from a charging Lewis Hamilton in ninth.
As Fernando Alonso cheered on the podium, Felipe Massa showed his disgrace at what he thinks was a poor move for the lead. However, this win for Alonso moves him up to just two points behind Hamilton in the drivers title race, and Massa’s eight moves him back ahead of team mate Raikkonen.
The final satisfaction? Ron Dennis received the Winning Constructor Trophy from none other than Michael Schumacher.
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