Instead the two drivers many expected to be at the front of this year’s championship battle finally had their first major duel of the year.
Kimi Raikkonen’s second consecutive win, ahead of Fernando Alonso, underlined that the Finn is back in business.
Hamilton only just held on to his lead from pole position as the race got under way. Raikkonen got away smartly and almost repeated the pass he made on Hamilton at the start of the previous race.
Alonso started on his own on the second row as a problem on the grid forced Felipe Massa to start from the pit lane. While Raikkonen was stuck behind Hamilton the Brazilian’s rapid progress underlined how quick the Ferrari was.
He was 19th after the first lap, 16th on the next and then past Vitantonio Liuzzi and Alex Wurz on the third to take 14th. But, after taking 13th from Scott Speed, he was caught behind Nico Robereg and, as Alonso had at France, was finding it hard to get past.
But Massa had fortune on his side. Rosberg ran wide at Club on lap six, trying to get past David Coulthard. Massa went through – and gained another lap next time around when Coulthard ran wide at Stowe. On the tenth tour he went past Jarno Trulli as if he were overtaking a backmarker – the Italian making no apparent effort to defend his position.
Hamilton’s lead was beginning to look shaky. On lap 13 Raikkonen was three tenths of a second behind the Briton, who nevertheless protected his racing line with calmness and precision. But he would be powerless to defend himself over the forthcoming pit stops.
He was the first of the leaders to stop two laps before Raikkonen, which took the shine off his pole position too. He jerked forward too soon in his pit stop, which lost him time. But Raikkonen’s devastating pace did even more damage. The Finn’s 1’20.6 time on lap 17 guaranteed he would pass Hamilton.
But Ferrari had their eye on the wider strategic game and recognized the threat posed by Alonso. They gave Raikkonen a larger fuel load and second set of softer tyres, ceding the lead to Alonso but running a longer second stint.
Alonso therefore jumped into the lead which he held after his first stop, with Raikkonen second and Hamilton an increasingly distant second.
Massa’s pit stop dropped him to seventh but he was set to pull off a crucial piece of damage limitation following his earlier problem.
Alonso made the most of his lighter fuel load to pull out a lead over Raikkonen. By lap 22 Raikkonen was 3.2s behind, Hamilton a further 2.8s back. A three-way battle for fifth developed between Nick Heidfeld, Giancarlo Fisichella and Massa, the three covered by 2.5s.
As the race approached the half way distance the leaders began to struggle in traffic. Alonso raised a fist at Scott Speed as he passed the American at Stowe on lap 31. Perhaps distracted by that the Toro Rosso driver failed to give sufficient room to Alexander Wurz as the Williams driver tried to pass at Club, the two tangled and Speed’s car suffered terminal damage to the front left corner.
Hamilton wasn’t able to keep pace with the two ahead of him, Alonso frequently up to 1.5s per lap quicker than his younger team mate. By lap 36 Hamilton was 15.8s behind Raikkonen, with a similar advantage over fourth placed Robert Kubica.
Alonso made his second pit stop on lap 36, holding a five second advantage over Raikkonen as he peeled off into the pit lane. Raikkonen now reeled off a series of ultra-quick laps that won him the day: 1’21.6 on lap 39, 1’21.2 lap 40, 1’21.0 lap 41, 1’20.9 lap 42 – with Alonso over a second slower on each tour.
As the Ferrari emerged from the pit lane on lap 44 Alonso’s McLaren was rounding Copse, now over three seconds behind the leader. On his out lap Raikkonen set a new fastest time for sector three, by which time Alonso must have realized it was all over.
It left two significant battles for position on the track. Coulthard was trying to pass fellow home driver Jenson Button for tenth. But despite being able to run within half a second of the Honda he found nowhere to pass.
Massa had leapfrogged Heidfeld and Fisichella via the pit stops and now found himself fifth behind Kubica. But the pole made a vigorous and scrupulous defence of his position and Massa looked increasingly as though he was out of ideas.
That settled the final of the points positions and up ahead Raikkonen backed off enough – just enough – to allow Alonso a sight of the lead. Raikkonen became the first driver this year to win three races.
Hamilton’s thousands of fans might have been disappointed to see him finish second behind his team mate – but they never showed it. Hamilton retains a twelve-point championship advantage.
Kubica kept Massa at bay with great skill and was followed home by Heidfeld and the Renaults of Kovalainen and Fisichella. The two Hondas finished outside the points, Rubens Barrichello ninth and Button tenth.
Toyota failed to deliver on the promise they had shown earlier in the weekend, with both drivers slipping back from their starting positions and eventually retiring.
Liuzzi retired with four laps to go but was classified, but it was another double DNF for Toro Rosso in all but name. Mark Webber retired on the tenth lap making it another poor weekend for the Red Bull quartet, with only Coulthard finishing in 11th.
Behind him was the Williamses of Rosberg and Wurz – the Grove team having a poor home race – with Sato, Albers and finally Liuzzi the remaining classified finishers.
Hamilton lost only two points of his championship lead. Raikkonen, despite now having won more races than anyone else, is only third, having passed team mate Massa.
McLaren out-scored Ferrari despite not winning the race – and not for the first time this year. But Ferrari has sent them a loud and clear warning in the last two races: they will be on the pace for every one of the remaining races and this championship still has a long way to go.
Apart from Massa’s efforts the race was short on passing. The lead changed twice – but only because of pit stops.
Drivers’ championship standings
1. Lewis Hamilton 70
2. Fernando Alonso 58
3. Kimi Raikkonen 52
4. Felipe Massa 51
5. Nick Heidfeld 33
6. Robert Kubica 22
7. Giancarlo Fisichella 17
8. Heikki Kovalainen 14
9. Alexander Wurz 8
10. Jarno Trulli 7
11. Nico Rosberg 5
=12. David Couthard 4
=12. Takuma Sato 4
=14. Ralf Schumacher 2
=14. Mark Webber 2
=16. Sebastian Vettel 1
=16. Jenson Button 1
Constructors’ championship standings
1. McLaren-Mercedes 128
2. Ferrari 103
3. BMW 56
4. Renault 31
5. Williams-Toyota 13
6. Toyota 9
7. Red Bull-Renault 6
8. Super Aguri-Honda 4
9. Honda 1
Read the support race reports at Maximum Motorsport
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