Having vanquished his principal rivals Michael Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen en route to victory in the British Grand Prix here yesterday, the world champion Fernando Alonso had one simple message for the opposition: "The best defence from now on will be attacking. We are going to keep on winning."
In the absence of victory for the troubled Jenson Button, who was an early retirement, or even David Coulthard, whose Red Bull failed to give him wings yesterday, Alonso was the nearest the huge crowd got to a home winner. He lives 20 miles away, in Oxford.
Taking the lead from the start, he spent the early laps fending off a hungry Raikkonen, who in turn had Michael Schumacher in hot pursuit. An initial advantage was soon neutralised when the safety car was deployed following a first-lap collision between Scott Speed's Toro Rosso, Ralf Schumacher's Toyota and an innocent Mark Webber's Williams. When the track went green again on the fourth lap, Alonso initially struggled to keep Raikkonen at bay as Schumacher challenged the McLaren. The German got so close at Abbey curve on the third lap that he later suggested they could not have got a sheet of paper between their cars. "We touched sidepods, I'd say, into Abbey!" he grinned. "Kimi didn't want to give me the inside so I had to try the outside..."
Soon, Alonso pulled clear of their duel, and when Schumacher and Raikkonen each stopped sooner than he did to refuel he was able to pit on the 22nd lap without losing his lead. By the time he stopped again on lap 44, only his Renault team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella was able to take advantage, before he pitted a lap later. Thereafter, the Spaniard preserved a 14 -second advantage to the chequered flag.
"The early laps were very close," he admitted. "For the first two laps after the safety car, Kimi was very quick. I had too much understeer, because we prefer to set the car up to be quick at the end of each stint. I was not quick enough and Kimi obviously tried very hard, but I had good straight-line speed and was able to pull away. Gradually, lap by lap, the car felt better. I had some tyre graining problems in the second stint, but after that I controlled the race. Victory is in our hands again. It was fantastic to win in Spain and Monaco, and now Silverstone. The last two are a dream come true, because they are big circuits with big names and great emotion in the grandstands. To win in this country, close to my home in Oxford, is a really good feeling."
This was not a classic grand prix, however. The frisson of excitement generated by their fight soon evaporated as Raikkonen kept Schumacher at bay through their first pit stops, but the German was still within striking distance as he was the first of them to pit for fuel for the final time on the 41st lap. He was stationary for 6.8sec. Raikkonen came in a lap later, and was at rest for 8.0sec. By the time he rejoined, the Ferrari had already swept through Copse and into its eventual second place, thanks to a blistering out lap from the former champion. Thereafter Raikkonen had no reply, but Schumacher was likewise unable to do anything about Alonso even though they were recording similar lap times.
"I had two sets of new tyres left by the final stint," Schumacher revealed, "whereas the others used them at the start so they had none left. That was the only strategy we could pull, so I could get a clear lap and move into second. The car was going well, no particular issues or problems. But I have to say we were not quick enough this weekend."
Raikkonen just shrugged when asked about the Ferrari moving ahead. "We were a bit too slow in a straight line to challenge anyone. I had a very good exit from the last corner on to the straight but couldn't get a tow from Fernando to try and overtake. Maybe we had a bit more downforce than he did. I got close but just couldn't pass him. Third place was the maximum we could have done today, I think. I lost rear-end grip a little bit at the end of the race and always got lapped traffic in the first sector, whereas Fisichella was very quick through there."
By the flag the Italian had closed to within a second of the McLaren, but could not pass. Felipe Massa's Ferrari, Juan Pablo Montoya's McLaren, and the BMWs of Nick Heidfeld and Jacques Villeneuve completed the points scorers.
The three podium finishers bore the strain of their exertions afterwards. "It was pretty hot out there and quite a physical race," Alonso admitted with a broad grin. "We are not used to this temperature in England!"
He is, however, very well versed in winning these days. His result gave him his eighth consecutive podium finish in 2006, and his fifth victory, bringing his points cushion over Schumacher to 23. But he made it clear that cruising home is the farthest thing from his mind.
"We didn't give our rivals the opportunity to beat us today and that's good news for the rest of season. But we have to take advantage of that now."
* Lewis Hamilton is hoping to land a Formula One test drive soon after continuing his dominance of the GP2 series. With five races remaining, the McLaren protégé now has a 22-point lead after clinching back-to-back victories at Silverstone this weekend. Following his win in the 36-lap race on Saturday, the 20-year-old made light of the competition in the 24-lap "sprint" event yesterday after starting from eighth on the grid. In particular, Hamilton produced a breathtaking manoeuvre in overtaking his nearest title rival Nelson Piquet Jnr and Clivio Piccione to move into second when they were three abreast on the track at one point. Hamilton, driving for ART Grand Prix, then swept past the leader Felix Porteiro, who went on to claim second from Ulsterman Adam Carroll, who lies eighth in the championship, 47 points adrift.
Button struggles to hide frustration as flags and fanfare lead only to failure
Even Jenson Button cannot have foreseen what an unmitigated disaster his British Grand Prix would become when he cautioned his loyal fans in the week before the race not to expect too much.
First there was the fiasco in qualifying, when he was not in a position to challenge for a better lap time as David Coulthard, Christian Klien and Tiago Monteiro improved and bumped him out of contention after the first session, leaving him a lowly 19th. Then came his eight-lap race.
He started well and overtook Christijan Albers and Monteiro in their Midlands, Klien's Red Bull, Jarno Trulli's Toyota and Tonio Liuzzi's Toro Rosso, and he benefited from the first-lap accident that eliminated Scott Speed, Ralf Schumacher and Mark Webber. But then his Honda engine developed a problem and he spun into dusty retirement in the gravel trap at Luffield.
"We weren't as quick as the leaders, but the car was working well and had a good balance," he said. "I was absolutely loving it out there, working my way through the field and, given our fuel load, I was doing pretty well. Then I saw the flames out of the back of the car and went off due to oil on the tyres, so it's looking like an engine oil tank leak, unfortunately.
"A disappointing end to the weekend really, especially in front of my home crowd. It's frustrating that I couldn't give them the race they deserved. When I walked back in it was quite emotional as there were lots of cheers and flags being waved. The fans' support this weekend has been fantastic."
But not the outcome. This is now the longest period without a British winner in formula one, as yesterday marked the 59th race since David Coulthard's win in Australia in 2003. Prior to that, the record was 52 races between James Hunt's last win in 1977 and John Watson's British GP victory in 1981.
1 F Alonso (Sp) Renault 1hr 25min 51.927sec; 2 M Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari 1:26:04.936; 3 K Raikkonen (Fin) McLaren-Mercedes 1:26:09.933; 4 G Fisichella (It) Renault 1:26:10.936; 5 F Massa (Br) Ferrari 1:26:22.932; 6 J Montoya (Col) McLaren-Mercedes 1:26:55.934; 7 N Heidfeld (Ger) BMW-Sauber 1:27:02.932; 8 J Villeneuve (Can) BMW-Sauber 1:27:09.929; 9 N Rosberg (Ger) Williams-Cosworth 1:27:10.927; 10 R Barrichello (Br) Honda +1 lap; 11 J Trulli (It) Toyota +1 lap; 12 D Coulthard (GB) Red Bull-Ferrari +1 lap; 13 V Liuzzi (Ita) Scuderia Toro Rosso-Cosworth +1 lap; 14 C Klien (Aut) Red Bull-Ferrari +1 lap; 15 C Albers (Neth) Midland-Toyota +1 lap; 16 T Monteiro (Por) Midland-Toyota +2; 17 T Sato (Japan) Super Aguri-Honda +3; 18 F Montagny (Fr) Super Aguri-Honda +3.
Not classified: J Button (GB) Honda 8 laps completed; S Speed (US) Scuderia Toro Rosso-Cosworth 2; R Schumacher (Ger) Toyota 0; M Webber (Aus) Williams-Cosworth 0.
Fastest lap: F Alonso (Sp) 1min 21.599sec, 21st lap.
Championship standings: Drivers: 1 Alonso 74pts; 2 M Schumacher 51; 3 Raikkonen 33; 4 Fisichella 32; 5 Montoya 26; 6 Massa 24; 7 Button 16; 8 Barrichello 13; 9 Heidfeld 10; 10 R Schumacher 8; 11 Coulthard 7; 12 Villeneuve 7; 13 Webber 6; 14 Rosberg 4; 15 Klien 1.
Manufacturers' championship: 1 Renault 106pts; 2 Ferrari 75; 3 McLaren 59; 4 Honda 29; 5 BMW-Sauber 17; 6 Williams 10; 7 Red Bull 8; 8 Toyota 8.Reuse content