On this day… 22nd July
Fernando Alonso won the European Grand Prix, which was then actually held in Europe at the Nurburgring.
So much has changed since then.
This venue which is probably the most notorious of all F1 circuits, has been ditched by Ecclestone and FOM; who and along with his mate Vladimir is re-drawing global geography.
But we digress.
Alonso’s win closed the gap in the driver standings to just two points between himself and leader championship Lewis Hamilton. Of course both drivers were engaged by McLaren that year, and their intense rivaly has been the subject of many other ‘on this days…’.
Yet the big story on THIS day, was that debutant racer, Markus Winkehock in a Spyker, took the lead of the race on merit and led by over half a minute.
The race began on a damp track, but the heavens opened 1 lap in. Having anticipated this well, Spyker and Winklehock pitted following the warm up lap and fitted the car with wet weather tyres.
As the video below shows, all hell broke loose in the monsoon like conditions which ensued, but Marcus Winklehof went serenely on his way until the race was red flagged.
At the restart Spyker’s new found reputation for strategic race genius was undone as they resumed on wet tyres, whilst others realised it was time to switch back to intermediates.
Lewis Hamilton was set to have an interesting afternoon. Finding himself the only car a lap down at the safety car restart, Hamilton proceeded to overtake the field and the safety car to un-lap himself. The championship leader then attempted a Jenson-esque tea leaf reading of the conditions and decided to switch to slicks tyres, while still under safety car conditions. The result was Lewis spent several laps slithering around and was out of serious contention from then on.
Later in the race, Lewis had another skirmish with the gravel and refused to exit his car when requested by a marshal. He was then craned in situe back onto the track and continued to finish P10.
The dream of a win, podium even some points failed to materialise for Winklehof, as his car suffered a hydraulic failure on lap 15. And to this day, Marcus Winklehock is the only debutant F1 driver to this day to lead a race.
The rain returned on lap 52 and Fernando Alonso came into his own. After harrying Massa for several laps, on lap 56 he pulled off a dramatic overtake around the outside of turn five. The cars touched, but both survived and the Spaniard proceeded to collect the race victory – which was McLaren’s first at the Nurburgring since 1998.
Formula One crowned the next incarnation of its ‘Rain Meister’ – or maybe better, though less catchy – ‘maestro de la lluvia’.
F1 safety has come on somewhat in the intervening years as the video shows.