The 2007 European Grand Prix (read German Grand Prix here) was one of the most attention grabbing Formula One races for a long long time. It seems the only true variable in Formula One these days is the weather, and as yet it’s something Bernie has not managed to control, although there are still rumors of Bernie controller weather still circulating.
Strategy, tire choices and everything else about Formula One these days could be said to be quite sterile, and very predictable. Mother Nature every so often though makes the engineers and everyone else in Formula One earn their money, and this weekend was one of those times.
A quick flash back to qualifying on Saturday sets the stage. This seasons famous four were in top form, dominating all of the sessions and it looked situation normal going into Q3, however looking at the starting order Lewis Hamilton was missing from the front rows, where we have become so accustomed to him being. This time he was found in 10th, not because of a penalty, but rather a crash, yes a crash. Ron’s boys must have had a lapse of paying attention to detail, and somehow the gun tightening Lewis Hamiltons right front wheel did not tighten the wheel enough, and Lewis going as fast as he could had the misfortune to experience a front wheel failure at high speed, pitching him off the track, through the sand trap and into the tire wall.
Interestingly Lewis never removed his hands form the steering wheel as is standard practice by most drivers. He hung on to the bitter end, trying to steer the car through the gravel trap, but in reality he was just a passenger, and nothing he did was going to avoid hitting the tire wall. Fortunately for him the results of the crash were not life threatening, and he even managed a thumbs up from the stretcher as they took him off to the medical center for observation. Next morning he would be cleared to start, so there he was 10th on the grid. Taking the pole position was a resurgent Kimi Raikkonen, although from the replays it looked like ALonso would ahve been the pole sitter had it not been for an off during his final hot lap.
On to the race, and sitting on the grid there was talk of rain coming either at the start or just after. ALl drivers were on dry tires on the warmup lap, but a quick thinking Spyker team took a huge gamble (well I suppose starting at the back it really wasn’t such a big gamble) and bought Marcus Winklehock in to the pits for intermediate tires on the formation lap. This meant he would start from the pitlane, but qualifying 22nd (actually the same place his father qualified in his last F1 race at the same circuit years ago) he had absolutely noting to lose, and a chance of gaining a lot.
Into the race and almost immediately it started raining, well, not just rain but more of a monsoon usually found in Malaysia or Japan. The heavens just opened and flooded the track, sending everyone to the pits, except for one Marcus Winklehock in his first ever grand prix. Suddenly wiht everyone pitting Marcus found himself leading his very first grand prix, a amazing feat when driving a Spyker! Meanwhile chaos reigned, with a number of cars all aquaplaning off the track on the same corner, including Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton, Antonio Luizzi (who almost hit the pace car, and actually did hit a tractor). The other drivers all left their cars and scampered away to safety, but not Lewis Hamilton. he had managed to keep his car running and waited patiently until the tractor/crane lifted him back on to the track so he could carry on. This is unusual in Formula One, as most times the track crews will just take your car behind the barriers and you are done, but should they help you to get going again, you may continue, so Lewis did, even thought he lost a lap in the process.
Meantime the pace car had come out and sloshed it’s way around the track, until the multi car parking lot and the conditions called a halt to the race, and the red flag was shown. So on to the restart once the rain had stopped, and it was Marcus Winklehock leading the way back to racing. he was quickly passed and dropped down the field, but he had led his first Grand Prix, something no-one can ever take away from him.
Kimi had assumed the lead, and looked invincible , but it wasn’t to be, with his Ferrari grinding to a halt with what he described as “Hydraulic Failure”, but tv commentators described as “lacko benzino”. Of course we will never know the truth, but we do know that Kimi ended the day in the garage, not on the track. The weather was threatening all the way through the race, and it still looked like a good day for Ferrari with Massa now in the lead with a very healthy margin over a rapidly closing Alonso.
I hear you saying, what happened to Hamilton. After he was winched out of the gravel trap and sent on his way, he was then allowed by some new freak loophole in the rules designed to remove lapped cars from between the lead lap cars, to under the safety car pass the field and come around to the back, getting his lost lap back. Formula One as far as everyone knew was not to have a NASCAR style “Lucky Dog” rule, but in this case that is exactly what it was. McLaren then rolled the dice, with him trapped at the back of the field they must have felt he would be going nowhere, so the decided to pit him and change his tires to dry tires with the rest of the field on intermediate or wet tires. A bold move, but unfortunately one that did not work out, as the track was still too slippery. With the time lost in the pits while the rest of the field went back to racing, Lewis found himself almost a lap down again, and on the wrong tires. He slipped and slithered around and did go a lap down, but soon the track did dry out, but it was too late, he was too far behind and went on to finish 9th, the first time in his short formula one career that he has not finished on the podium.
With Alonso charging hard in the dying laps of the race, he closed the gap to Massa, just as the rains came again. Massa tried to hold him off, but after a couple of attempts, and a clash between the two, Alonso got past to go on and win the race from a very annoyed Massa. ALmost lost in the excitement was Mark Webber, who hung on all day to get his Red Bull onto the podium in 3rd, his 2nd ever top three finish, and with his teammate David Coulthard in the points it was a double points haul for the improving Red Bull team.
After this race, I really cannot wait for the next time Mother Nature unleashes her fury on the Formula One field. it really makes for an edge of the seat race.