This is the final part 7 of the European Grand Prix mini history series – years 2006 – 2007.
The 2006 season was all about the title fight between Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher and the European GP was not too different. This was by no means a classic and in line with the usual practice the race win was decided in the pitlane. Fernando Alonso claimed the pole position ahead of Ferrari duo Michael Schumacher and Felipe Massa. Alonso had better start and kept the lead. Behind them a little Liuzzi (Toro Rosso), Ralf (Toyota) and Coulthard (Red Bull) get together resulted in Safety Car. After the restart Alonso and Schumacher pulled away and from then on it was all between these two. Kimi Raikkonen (McLaren) lead the race too for a while during the pit stop times but that was about it. After the first round of pit stops Alonso still had the lead. Then Alonso made his second stop on lap 38, Schumacher stayed out until lap 41. Those few flat out laps made all the difference and Schumacher rejoined the race in the lead. He went on to win what was to be his last F1 race at Nurburgring. Alonso finished second, Massa third, Raikkonen 4th.
The 2007 European GP was a very differet kind of animal. First of all, it was actually the German GP (since 2007 Hockenheim and Nurburgring alternate hosting the race), but due the naming rights dispute between 2 German tracks it had to revert to the European GP name. So, not the European GP proper but still probably the most exciting race of the season. Thanks to torrential rain of course.
The race started normally. Kimi Raikkonen was on pole, Alonso P2, Massa P3. Hamilton crashed heavily during qualifying and started from P10. The rain was however expected to arrive shortly after start. Spyker pulled Winkelhock (in his debut race) to the pits after his warm up lap and changed him to wet tyres. All the others started the race on dry tyres. Shortly after start, the heavens opened. Everybody expected the rain but few expected it to be that heavy. All the cars (except Winkelhock) started to slide around and spinning off the track. Most of them made it to the pits, except Kimi Raikkonen who missed the pit entry and had to go an extra lap on his dry tyres.
The rain was getting heavier, too heavy for intermediate tyres that most of the drivers took on. And cars started to pile up in turn 1 . The safety car came out. One of the victims of the wet was also Lewis Hamilton. In a good European GP tradition he was helped back to track. A push from marshalls was enough for Schumacher in 2003, crane had to come to Hamilton’s assistance in 2007. Amazingly he was allowed to continue. In all this chaos Marcus Winkelhock had his 5 minutes of fame – he was leading the field in his first (and probably also last) Formula 1 race.
Before the restart Lewis Hamilton (a lap down) went on to unlap himself (confusing quite a few others) only to go back to pits and gamble on dry weather tyres. Too early, he kept sliding off and never recovered. This was to be his first F1 race without podium and points.
In the front Ferrari of Felipe Massa lead McLaren of Fernando Alonso. Behind them lined up Mark Webber’s Red Bull and Williams of Alex Wurz. In the wet dry conditions Alonso started to gain on Massa and on lap 56 Alonso took the lead. Massa held on to his 2nd place, Webber gave Red Bull the podium finish after some fight with Alex Wurz in closing stages of the race.
That was for a while the last European GP at Nurburgring. Let’s how Bernie and the organizers work out the naming of the Nurburgring (or Valencia) race in 2009.
Photos: Renault/LAT, Williams/LAT