Montoya's 'perfect' start ends victory drought with McLaren

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The Independent Online

With a little bit of help from his friends here yesterday Juan Pablo Montoya threw the monkey off his back to score his first victory for McLaren-Mercedes. The tense, nip-and-tuck contest between the Colombian and the championship leader, Fernando Alonso, could have gone either way, they were so evenly matched. In the end, the cards fell for Montoya, and to make it a great afternoon for the silver arrows Kimi Raikkonen overcame a lowly start for the second time in eight days, to take the final podium slot.

"It's a great feeling winning my first grand prix for McLaren," Montoya beamed. "My start was perfect, and I managed to get by Fernando in a wheel-to-wheel dice. I was really going for it and knew that he had more to lose than me. I just wanted to win the race. It was then all about staying ahead and our strategy combined with two excellent pit stops really helped me to manage that."

The drivers, along with dignitaries who included Bernie Ecclestone, the Leader of the House of Commons, Geoff Hoon, and the Sports Minister, Richard Caborn, gathered before the race for a minute's silence to honour those who died in the London bombings last Thursday.

Then Montoya, who was third on the grid, dealt with the front-row starter Jenson Button from the moment the red lights went out, and pulled his brave move round the outside of Alonso at Copse corner. Momentarily, the safety car then interrupted matters for two laps after Takuma Sato's BAR-Honda had stalled before it had even reached the grid - and had to be pushed to the pits - but then Montoya pulled away again. Button, back in third under pressure from Rubens Barrichello's Ferrari and the Renault of Giancarlo Fisichella, already knew he could not deliver the home win his fans were hoping for.

"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."

Montoya refuelled on lap 22, having opened up just a second over Alonso, who stopped a lap later. As Alonso exited the pits, Montoya swept back into the lead through Copse.

Alonso continued to hound Montoya until the Colombian stopped again on lap 44. This time Alonso went a further five laps, and that should have made the difference. But then he got balked inadvertently by Jarno Trulli as he lapped the Italian's Toyota, and once again the McLaren driver was able to move round the outside of the Renault as Alonso resumed the race.

"I lost a lot of time behind Trulli but it wasn't his fault because they were not showing any blue flags," an aggrieved Alonso said.

Before each pit stop Montoya had extended his lead to the safety margins that his crew demanded over the radio. Just as their communication had failed in Canada, so it worked to perfection here. Alonso pushed even harder and closed to within a second of the lead in the final stint, before electing not to risk the eight points that increase his overall lead in the title race.

The only other drivers in contention for the podium were Fisichella and Raikkonen. The Italian appeared to have a lock on third place as he made his second and last pit stop on lap 46, but then the engine stalled again as it had in Magny-Cours. The delay allowed the Finn through to snatch another great podium finish following the penalty of 10 grid places he had received after an engine failure on Saturday.

Raikkonen's McLaren lost time early on after being held up in eighth place by Michael Schumacher's off-the-pace Ferrari. Once the German refuelled on lap 24, Raikkonen was able to make ground and climbed up to second with a beautiful pass on a fuel-heavy Alonso going into Stowe corner on the 26th lap, before immediately peeling in to refuel.

He resumed in fifth place behind Montoya, Alonso, Fisichella and Button, before hunting down the BAR until the Englishman made his final stop on lap 43. After Fisichella's latest disaster three laps later, Raikkonen was home and dry for third.

"I think I did the best I could today," the resigned Finn said. "But if I hadn't had the penalty, the result would have been different."

Fifth was the nightmare Button had hoped to avoid, but it was the best BAR could have expected and better than Schumacher's unhappy sixth ahead of Barrichello and the German's brother, Ralf, in the Toyota.

Regarding rumours that he may join Ferrari, Button was dismissive. "It is not an ambition of mine to drive for any team," he said after his fifth place. "If Ferrari are the sixth or seventh best team next year I have no reason to be with them apart from a nice company car... I want to be with the best team, whoever it is."

Earlier in the day the head of McLaren, Ron Dennis had flagged away the journalist Bob McKenzie, who had vowed to run naked round Silverstone if the team won a race in 2004 (they did, in Belgium). But it was McLaren who left their rivals feeling exposed as a record crowd headed home from this British summer day's motor racing.