Schumacher has the edge in game of cat and mouse

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The Independent Online

For a while it looked like one of those gripping nip-and-tuck races, as Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher played a game of cat and mouse round the Nürburgring yesterday afternoon.

The world champion, having taken a pole position that surprised himself almost as much as it did Schumacher, took the initiative from the start and maintained it through the first pit stop, but the truth emerged when he swept into the pits to refuel for the last time and the Ferrari driver went three crucial laps further.

Then it became clear that the red cars had had a small but critical advantage all along. Once he had hit the front, Schumacher never looked back.

"Great race, great strategy, great performance all through," he said cheerfully after logging up the 86th win of his career and his fifth in front of his adoring Eifel fans. "It was no surprise that it was difficult today, though, we were both driving pretty competitively and as quickly as we could. It was a bit more difficult running in the slipstream with the wind condition the way it was in certain areas, but on the car, tyre and engine side everything was superb.

"Actually, I thought I might be able to pass Fernando in the first stop but I pushed too hard in turn six and almost lost it. Interestingly, there were certain parts of the race where he was slower, then where I was slower, but we were able to pick up the pace again before the second pit stop."

It was not quite all plain sailing. At the start Schumacher's Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa ran side by side with him into the first corner.

"I couldn't see him in the mirrors or alongside when I looked over, but I could feel something there. I was in the slipstream of Fernando, then suddenly there Felipe was! I hope I left him enough room."

"There were two other occasions, one when Fernando was in the pits and I pushed pretty hard and got a bad tailwind in one corner which almost took me off the circuit, and then on lap 24 I went wide in turn 11 and lost quite a bit of ground. That was quite tricky."

Massa backed Schumacher with a strong run to third to collect the first podium finish of his career, chasing Alonso home while coping with serious pressure from a pursuing McLaren-Mercedes of Kimi Raikkonen.

The race proved another crushing disappointment for Jenson Button and Honda. The Englishman was, for once, on a strategy in which he was not among the first to stop and while Alonso came in on lap 17 and Schumacher 18, Button stopped from second place on 20, a lap after his team-mate Rubens Barrichello. After dropping to 10th he had worked back up to fifth when his engine broke as he completed the 28th lap. His body language as he stalked back up the pit road told its own story.

"A disappointing end to a fairly tough weekend, really," he said afterwards. "In my second stint it was starting to come good as the fuel came down. Then I had a big loss of power."

European Grand Prix (Nürburgring, Ger): 60 laps: 1 M Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari 1hr 35min 58.765sec; 2 F Alonso (Sp) Renault +00:03.751sec; 3 F Massa (Br) Ferrari +00:04.447; 4 K Raikkonen (Fin) McLaren-Mercedes +00:04.879; 5 R Barrichello (Br) Honda +01min 12.586sec; 6 G Fisichella (It) Renault +01:14.116; 7 N Rosberg (Ger) Williams-Cosworth +01:14.565; 8 J Villeneuve (Can) BMW-Sauber +01:29.364; 9 J Trulli (It) Toyota +1 lap; 10 N Heidfeld (Ger) BMW-Sauber + 1 lap, 11 S Speed (US) Scuderia Toro Rosso-Cosworth +1 lap; 12 T Monteiro (Por) Midland-Toyota +1 lap; 13 C Albers (Neth) Midland-Toyota +1 lap. Not classified: 14 J P Montoya (Col) McLaren 8 laps; 15 R Schumacher (Ger) Toyota 8 laps; 16 T Sato (Japan) Super Aguri-Honda 15 laps; 17 F Montagny (Fr) Super Aguri-Honda 31 laps; 18 C Klien (Aut) Red Bull-Ferrari 32 laps; 19 J Button (GB) Honda 32 laps; 20 M Webber (Aus) Williams-Cosworth 48 laps; 21 D Coulthard (GB) Red Bull-Ferrari 58 laps; 22 V Liuzzi (It) Scuderia Toro Rosso-Cosworth 60 laps. Fastest lap: M Schumacher 1:32.099 (lap 39). Championship Standings: Drivers: 1 Alonso 44pts; 2 M Schumacher 31; 3 Raikkonen 23; 4 Fisichella 18; 5= Montoya 15; 5= Massa 15; 7 Button 13; 8 R Schumacher 7; 9= Villeneuve 6; 9= Webber 6; 9= Barrichello 6; 12 Heidfeld 5; 13 Rosberg 4; 14= Coulthard 1; 14=` Klien 1. Manufacturers: 1 Renault 62pts; 2 Ferrari 46; 3 McLaren 38; 4 Honda 19; 5 BMW-Sauber 11; 6 Williams-Cosworth 10; 7 Toyota 7; 8 Red Bull 2.