Alonso widens gap as Raikkonen judders to a halt

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The Independent Online

"It's always terrible to retire from a race, but to retire whilst in the lead with a good gap to the number two car is even worse," Raikkonen managed to say.

For Fernando Alonso, second up until that point, this was indeed a gift from the gods. Raikkonen had been set to pull back two of the 26 points that separated them in their title quest going into the race; now the gap is 36. On the slowing-down lap, the Spaniard took both hands from the wheel of his Renault to give his now customary summary of his 2005 victory tally. All five digits on the right hand, plus one on the left.

After Raikkonen won the start from pole, Alonso slotted into second ahead of Michael Schumacher, who beat both Jenson Button and Giancarlo Fisichella to the first corner. But as Raikkonen crossed the start/finish line at the end of lap 35, the timing revealed he had lost two seconds of an 11.5sec lead in one lap; the Finn made it as far as Turn 5 on his 36th lap before his McLaren rolled to a stop with the same loss of hydraulic pressure that had stopped his team-mate Juan Pablo Montoya in France.

"We saw McLaren dominate this weekend and knew it would be tough to beat them in the race," Alonso said, "even though our pace was closer than in qualifying. So to win here is a good surprise but we all know the race is 70 laps long [well, 67, actually], and you don't get prizes for being fastest until half-distance."

An excellent drive from the back of the grid redeemed Montoya after his spin in qualifying, but had Button not been bottled up behind Schumacher Snr for several laps the Englishman could have given him a better run for his money.

Third place for Button cemented one of his finest performances, which culminated in him passing Schumacher in the hairpin on the 45th lap. It was further proof that the 25-year-old is ready to win when he gets his hands on the right car.

"It's fantastic to be back on the podium," he said. "I don't need to tell anyone what a tough season this has been for us and it's a great feeling to come away from here with a trophy for the guys who've worked so hard to get us up there today. I didn't get a great start and Michael was able to pass me. I worried I might not be able to catch him but then he seemed to lose a bit of pace and I just kept pushing until I had my chance."

Schumacher later lost fourth place to Fisichella. By the finish, the world champion had his mirrors full of the Toyota of his brother, Ralf, and David Coulthard's Red Bull. How the mighty have fallen.

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