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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Alonso weathers the storm to win Nurburgring thriller

Double world champion Fernando Alonso brilliantly won the European Grand Prix as confusion reigned at the Nurburgring.

Alonso's third win of the season leaves him just two points behind McLaren teammate Lewis Hamilton in the overall drivers' standings.

The Spaniard made the most of his opportunity when torrential rain and car failures combined to leave him in a straight fight with Ferrari's Felipe Massa.

Alonso passed Massa superbly in the closing stages to win by eight seconds from the Brazilian, Australian Mark Webber was third for Red Bull Racing.

Massa's teammate Kimi Raikkonen started from pole position but his poor record on the German circuit continued as he was forced to retire after 34 laps.

It was also a tough weekend for leader Hamilton who finished ninth.

A bad crash in qualifying left Hamilton starting from tenth on the grid and his record run of nine podium finishes in nine races was always likely to end after he spun off the track early on.

Hamilton's Mclaren was eventually lifted back onto the track by a crane but the rookie rejoined the race at the back of the field, a lap behind and with too much ground to make up.

Alex Wurz of Williams was fourth ahead of Red Bull's David Coulthard in fifth with Nick Heidfeld sixth for BMW.

The final point-scorers were Heidfeld's teammate Robert Kubica and Heikki Kovalainen of Renault who were seventh and eighth respectively.

The race started in a sprinkling of rain, Massa darted past Alonso into second place while Kubica and Heidfeld collided just behind.

Heidfeld, the German racing in front of his home crowd, came off worse and had to go into the pits for extensive repairs.

Then the heavens opened. Track conditions quickly became treacherous and the need for wet weather tyres became obvious.

All the cars had to crowd into the pitlane except for debutant Markus Winkelhock of the Spyker team.

The 27-year-old German had made an instant decision when the rain began and headed into the pits as the race started.

Incredibly, as all kinds of havoc broke out around him, Winkelhock found himself in the lead by over 30 seconds.

The deluge was so torrential that even the wet tyres could not provide sufficient grip.

Hamilton, Scott Speed of Torro Rosso, Nico Rosberg of Williams, Adrian Sutil of Spyker, Jenson Button of Honda and Speed's teammate Vitantonio Liuzzi each slid off the track, the first four all at the opening corner.

Sutil, Rosberg, Speed, Liuzzi and Button were all out of the race, the Briton later describing the first section of the circuit as a "lake".

As the complete chaos threatened to turn into farce the race was stopped for twenty minutes so order could be restored.

Twenty minutes later bright sunshine had broken out as the race resumed behind the safety car.

Winkelhock led from Massa and Alonso as the cars went round the track in a procession for four laps but when the racing began the Spyker man soon began to slip back.

The cars began to change back to dry tyres after 12 laps as the race reverted to some kind of normality. Winkelhock's big day ended in misery after he was forced to retire by an engine failure.

Raikkonen had restarted in seventh place but he was soon tucked in behind Massa and Alonso as the three leaders began to open up a gap from Mark Webber in fourth place.

Further back, Heidfeld, perhaps smarting from his earlier troubles, made an aggressive move to overtake Ralf Schumacher.

The two cars touched sending Schumacher's Toyota into the gravel and out of the race.

Raikkonen was the next man to go, his Ferrari letting him down on lap 34 and leaving Massa and Alonso to fight for the victory.

The rain returned with eight laps remaining and after the cars changed back to wet tyres Alonso began a relentless attack on Massa's lead. Again and again the Spaniard tried to pass and Massa had to defend desperately.

Eventually Alonso squeezed through around the outside of the Ferrari, the two cars briefly making contact before Massa was forced to yield and settle for second place.

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