Alonso closes in on title

Fernando Alonso took another giant stride towards becoming world champion after Kimi Raikkonen again found himself haunted by Hockenheim.

Fernando Alonso took another giant stride towards becoming world champion after Kimi Raikkonen again found himself haunted by Hockenheim.

Raikkonen appeared on course to complete the perfect German Grand Prix weekend, but suffered yet more heartbreak in his McLaren to leave his title dreams in tatters.

Throughout practice Raikkonen had been the quickest of the race drivers, while in yesterday’s qualifying he was almost half-a-second faster than front-row companion Jenson Button.

The Finn then made the perfect getaway once the five red lights disappeared to signal the start of the 67-lap race, leaving Button in his BAR trailing.

For 36 laps there appeared only one winner as Raikkonen glided round the circuit, and at no stage was he headed until a wisp of smoke billowed from the car.

In the recent French and British races he suffered failures to the engine in practice that required a change and subsequent 10-place demotion down the grid by way of penalty and it appeared that the Mercedes had let him down again.

Raikkonen promptly skidded to a halt, left the car parked on the track and the marshals to wheel it away as he disconsolately trudged off perhaps realising his championship hopes are now hanging by a thread.

Championship leader Alonso was far in the distance at that moment, but from then the victory was his, strolling to his sixth win of the season to open up a 36-point gap over the ailing Raikkonen.

In five attempts Raikkonen has failed to finish at this circuit, and he must now be wondering what he has to do to exorcise the demons that follow him here.

Behind Alonso a fascinating battle ensued, and it was the brilliant Juan Pablo Montoya who ultimately prevailed ahead of Button and seven-times world champion Michael Schumacher who had to eventually settle for fifth.

The Colombian had started at the back of the grid following his shunt in qualifying when he appeared to be on course to join Raikkonen on the front row.

But by the end of the first lap he was up to 11th, and from then on it was a case of reeling in those in front of him one by one to clinch the runners up spot following on from his victory at Silverstone a fortnight ago.

As for Button, who had started on the front row for the second successive race, he had conceded beforehand he was worried by the power of the Renaults who formed the second row directly behind him.

His fears were partly realised as Alonso passed him before the first corner, and while he managed to fend off the Spaniard’s team-mate in Giancarlo Fisichella, he was unable to stop Schumacher from also forcing his way through.

Button, though, was able to gain sweet revenge on lap 45 as his relentless pursuit of the 36-year-old German finally bore fruit, producing the overtaking manoeuvre of the race into the hairpin.

That gave him the track position he required to eke out vital seconds over the next two laps before pitting for a second time, having time in hand to beat Schumacher to the punch as he swept past as the three-times winner of this race emerged from the pit lane.

Montoya, though, continued to produce the drive of his life as he pushed his McLaren to the limit over the following few laps before pitting again 10 laps from home.

Button could do nothing about the Colombian who had done enough to snatch second from the 25-year-old for whom there was still no disgrace in clinching his first podium finish of the season.

Behind the leading trio, Schumacher endured a frantic battle with Fisichella in the closing stages.

Superb wheel-to-wheel racing ensued, and it was Fisichella who nicked fourth with a fine overtaking move into the hairpin again on the penultimate lap.

That left Michael fifth and brother Ralf sixth in his Toyota, followed by Red Bull Racing’s David Coulthard and Felipe Massa in the Sauber.

“It was a fantastic day, perfect for me,” said Alonso following the seventh win of his career, and courtesy of Raikkonen’s retirement which was later determined as hydraulics.

“I felt good and competitive at the start, but it was not enough to keep pace with Kimi and I thought second place was it for me.

“But the race is 70 laps and not 30, and after another retirement from Kimi, the race was a bit boring.”

In the wake of his storming performance, Montoya said: “I should have won the race, but I made a mistake in qualifying – and I would like to apologise to all the team again – so to get second from 20th is not that bad.

“But it’s still been a great day.”

An enthusiastic Button was understandably delighted as he said: “It was a good race, a lot of fun.

“To get a podium – and after such a tough season – is a fantastic result, and it can only mean better things for the year.”

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