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Alonso wins European Grand Prix

The European Grand Prix at the Nurburgring circuit in Germany was simply a lottery, characterized by farcical episodes and disrupted by bad conditions.

Lewis Hamilton was recovering from a bad attack of ‘flu and crashed out at 150mph in qualifying. He was then left recovering from both, plus the anxiety of an inquiry on Thursday which could rob him of points in the Drivers’ Championship for no apparent fault of his own. His run of good fortune seems spent at last, and rapidly turning into its opposite.

Rain drenched the circuit before the first lap, and after just 13 minutes it was halted by a red flag.

Lewis Hamilton started from tenth on the grid following a crash in qualifying on Saturday. He moved rapidly up to fourth after the first few corners. This was helped by a sizzling overtaking manoeuvre on the approach to the first corner, which was aided by a collision between the two BMW Saubers of Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld.

But it was downhill from there as the young ace appeared to have a mechanical problem with his car and he started to drop back through the field.

Kimi Raikkonen, who had started on pole made a clean getaway. But rain caused a frantic rush to change tyres before the safety car was introduced.

In monsoon conditions, officials decided to restart the race.

The race result was as follows :

1 F Alonso Spa McLaren
2 F Massa Bra Ferrari
3 M Webber Aus Red Bull
4 A Wurz Aut Williams
5 D Coulthard GB Red Bull
6 N Heidfeld Ger BMW Sauber
7 R Kubica Pol BMW Sauber
8 H Kovalainen Fin Renault
9 L Hamilton GB McLaren
10 G Fisichella Ita Renault

It was the first time in ten races that Hamilton had finished off the podium.

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Nick Heidfeld on the Nordschleife

On Friday, Nick Heidfeld took the BMW Sauber F1.06 around the Nordschleife circuit at Nurburgring, as promised. You can see the video on the BMW Sauber website or (naturally) on YouTube.

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The car was shod with demonstration Bridgestones, which are slower than racing tires, and Nick had strict orders to take it easy but, even so, he looked to be trying pretty hard at some points. Not at the Karousel, however – he rounded that very carefully, understandably since it is very bumpy by modern F1 standards and the car would bottom out even with the ride height jacked up as far as it would go, as it was.

But there was a story a few days ago that he would not be allowed to take the Karousel at all so we should be grateful that he went round it at all. In the end, it was a fantastic sight and gave us a glimpse of how things might have been had F1 continued racing at the track through the intervening years.

Safety reasons have been the excuse for dropping so many circuits off the calendar but, in the Nordschleife’s case, there is no doubt that this was true. Even with the amount of money floating around in the sport today, it would be impossible to provide adequate marshaling and emergency coverage for the full 14 miles of the track. But that doesn’t mean we can’t dream.

Perhaps there should be an annual event of this type at the circuit, one to include the other teams as well; just demonstration runs by each car on its own, so that we could be reminded once again of the great circuit and its famous history combined with the sound and speed of modern F1.

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But, whatever happens, thank you to BMW for making this happen and for the video – a wonderful sight.

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BMW Sauber and the Nordschliefe

There is some irony in the fact that Sauber arrived in F1 after having achieved success in sportscar racing with Mercedes yet now are BMW’s effort in the sport. From the first, the team looked effective and produced some pretty good cars over the years; in BMW’s hands, however, they begin to look like winners.

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Nick Heidfeld in Bahrain

The progress made last year was excellent and it has continued this season with Nick Heidfeld surely ready to bring them their first victory soon. Robert Kubica has had some bad luck so far but will be in there punching with Nick before long. At the very least, BMW should achieve third in the constructor’s championship this year.

I have not had a favorite team since the sad demise of Brabham several years ago, but I think BMW can claim that spot now. Everything about the team is so darn impressive. Progress has been steady and unrelenting, without drama or fanfare, the cars are beautifully finished and perform beyond expectations, the drivers excel, with quick Nick proving me completely wrong in thinking his motivation lacking. What more could one ask for?

Yet there is more; have a look at the team’s website – it is as slick, professional and effective as their cars. And you will see that, on April 28, Nick Heidfeld will be driving the BMW F1.07 around the Nordschliefe at Nurburgring – the first time an F1 car has lapped the circuit in 31 years.

That alone is enough to make an F1 fan grateful to BMW, surely. Yes, it’s an exercise in public relations but what an effective one! To see how a modern F1 car handles the greatest of all circuits is the stuff of dreams.

Everything looks good at BMW now – they are almost certain to join Ferrari and McLaren as the leaders in 2007 and, if the champion does not emerge from one of those two teams, he will be driving a BMW. Here’s hoping that the team exceed Mario Theissen’s careful expectations and win many more than one GP this year.

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Auf Wiedersehen, Hockenheim

As the owners fight to keep Hockenheim on the F1 calendar, perhaps in rotation with the Nurburgring, is there no-one who sees the irony in the fact that they have just emasculated the circuit in true modern fashion? It was never the most exciting circuit in the world, but at least it had those long blasts into the atmospheric German forests; now they are gone in the interests of safety and we are left with the usual twiddly bits surrounded by grandstands.

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The Hockenheimring

Did I say “safety”? Hasn’t anyone noticed that accidents are not caused by going fast in a straight line? They happen in corners, exactly those things that we sprinkle in abundance into modern circuits. But it’s too late for Hockenheim to point this out; the deed is done and now the FIA comes with the axe. Never mind that the organizers were probably counting on the proceeds from future GPs to help pay for the “improvements”.

It was inevitable that one of the two German races would have to go, however (and Imola, of course). With countries lining up with wads of cash in their hands, desperate to have a GP, those countries with two GPs were always going to be the ones to lose. And no-one was ever fooled by talk of the “European” and “San Marino” GPs; we knew it was just a way of giving more than one to the favored nations.

And now it seems that European countries have dropped off the favored list. Whoever bids highest can have a race and, increasingly, that means the Far East. If we lose some of the most famous and best loved circuits in the world to be replaced by more sterile and “safe” chicane-fests, who cares as long as the FIA gets richer still?

Surely there has to be a limit somewhere. It’s all very well taking the money for new races in Asian countries but can it last? They may be huge markets but surely not for the stuff F1 is selling (especially with the ban on cigarette advertising). China still gets around on a bicycle and India walks. How many extra BMWs, Renaults and Toyotas are going to sell in those countries thanks to their having GPs? The races there are PR exercises only and, as such, can be guaranteed not to last for long.

I can only presume that the FIA doesn’t care. Now that they have the habit, they can shut down any GP and sell a new one as and when they please. And the sport becomes a mobile circus without tradition or soul, for sale to whoever bids the most.

Sometimes I think Montoya was right – that F1 will end up racing on ovals so we might as well go straight to NASCAR. The only bright spot on the horizon is the return of Spa next year. For how long, I wonder.

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