mayo 30, 2005

Raikkonen turns championship on its head

Raikkonen turns championship on its headKimi out
After a crucial mistake on lap 34

This year's tight fight for the Formula One world championship was turned on its head in Sunday's European Grand Prix as Kimi Raikkonen made a mistake to hand Fernando Alonso the lucky break.

The title race was set to move closer towards a two-horse race when Raikkonen led from the start and looked favourite to cut Alonso's 22- point advantage at the top of the table down to 18 at one stage. But a crucial mistake on lap 34, when Raikkonen locked a front tyre while overtaking former world champion Jacques Villeneuve to put the Canadian a lap down, threw the championship advantage right back in Alonso's lap.

Raikkonen suffered from new regulations, which prevent teams from changing tyres during the race unless they are deemed to be in dangerous condition, which made him and his team decide to stay out and keep racing. Had the race been one lap shorter it would have worked, but the persistent vibration from Raikkonen's damaged tyre caused a catastrophic front suspension failure and left him heading home with a massive 32-point deficit to make up.

McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh said: "Kimi acknowledged in the end that he shouldn't have flat-spotted the tyre and in retrospect we clearly should have brought him in, but we are there to try and win.

"We took a decision, we would have had to negotiate (with the officials) on the tyre situation anyway, and Kimi accepted we made the right decision. We are here to take points from Alonso."

Instead, Alonso took a massive ten points from Raikkonen, leaving it impossible for the Finn to win the title even if he wins all 12 remaining races of the season with Alonso finishing every one of them in second. With third-placed Jarno Trulli finishing only eighth here to stay level with Raikkonen on 27 points, Alonso now has more points than the second two drivers put together, a commanding lead in the world championship chase.

The resurgence of Williams, who started from pole and finished second with Nick Heidfeld but missed out on a potential strong result with Mark Webber because of a first-lap lunge, has given Alonso even more breathing space. Heidfeld, now on 25 points, moved to within two points of second place with a strong drive in his homeland but like Raikkonen and Trulli, he has a major gap to break down if he is to build a title challenge.

The drivers' title now looks to be Alonso and Renault's to throw away but the continued failure of all the front-running teams except Williams to get two cars on the podium has left the constructors' championship more open. Renault took 12 points more than McLaren here to move 23 points ahead but with a total of 18 available at each race there is every chance of rapid change at the top if any of the leaders slip up.

Williams are now just one point behind third place Toyota on 43 points with last year's title winners Ferrari plugging away in fourth and now 45 points behind after their claims of a strong race pace failed to materialise.

Rubens Barrichello scored them a podium in third but this time a first corner incident was to blame for their failure to show that they are not planning to stay fallen champions for long.

"It was a frustrating start," said technical director Ross Brawn. "At the end of the first lap, after what happened at the first corner, we were last and close to last. Because of that, I think we had a fantastic race."

Unfortunately for the men from Maranello, it was not a fantastic result. And in the championship world champion Michael Schumacher is now a lowly eighth with Barrichello further back in tenth.

Red Bull Racing continued their impressive form to stamp their authority on mid-table while BAR-Honda returned from a two-race ban confident claiming they had the pace to win but headed home pointless.

There were no excuses from McLaren, just an open admission that mistakes do not win world titles. Raikkonen and the team will hit back hard in Canada and the United States, but for the championship, it might already be too late.

"When you try to drive quickly, from time to time you make mistakes," said Whitmarsh. "The title is now a big challenge, but we will have to give it a go. We have got the performance, now we have to go and win some races."