Luck stings Kimi, blesses Massa for French victory

Yes, we know Finns are not exactly of the same cultural bent as their fellow Northerners, but looking from the outside, it would seem a certain Nordic knucklehead name of Loki, trickster god, contriver of fraud, mischief-maker extraordinaire, is the driver of Kimi Luck. Or is it the Finnish spirit Piru? Gods know Kimi Raikkonen has suffered some demon messing with his machinery in his quest to forge his place among the superiors of Formula One racers.

Felipe Massa, Scuderia Ferrari leads Kimi Raikkonen, Scuderia Ferrari.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.

So it was that Raikkonen was again stripped of rightful victory. His Ferrari F2008 worked loose its right-side exhaust pipe that first turned the car's bodywork black then went tumbling off the vehicle altogether on Lap 62 - with eight laps to go. Didn't he leave all those heartbreaking breakdowns at McLaren Mercedes? Wasn't the foundation for Ferrari earning world championships the Energizer Bunny reliability established in the Schumacher years?

Guess not.

Thus Raikkonen, leader from pole position and setter of fast lap, unchallenged by every rival but his own car, finished second to Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa in Sunday's French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours. After holding nearly a half-minute lead on the peloton, Raikkonen proved mastery not with victory but with nursing to runner-up spot an ailing F2008.

"I just kept losing power," Raikkonen said. "And then it came back. A few more laps and I don't think I would have finished the race. I had a good car all weekend, was easily on the pole but then I have a problem with the car. I almost stopped a few times at the end."

The Brazilian passed his slowing teammate on Lap 39 to inherit a victory that was inevitably Ferrari's as the red cars dominated on speed and handling, leading throughout. Massa posted his eighth career victory and third of the season. The one-two finish is Ferrari's third this season.

Podium: race winner Felipe Massa celebrates.
Photo by xpb.cc.

"A great race, a fantastic result," Massa said in his fresh, enthusiastic way. "The win came my way because Kimi had a problem with his car, and at the pace he was running, it would have been hard for me to beat him on the track. I would have been happy with second place, but, of course, the win makes me even happier."

Massa pulled ahead of BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica, 48-46, to become the fourth leader this season of a very active World Drivers' Championship. Kubica is ahead of Raikkonen by three points; McLaren Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton stands fourth on 38.

Also offering a masterful display was Jarno Trulli, pursuing a good result in memory of first Toyota team manager Ove Andersson, killed in a recent historic rally in South Africa. Trulli held off a persistent Heikki Kovalainen in a faster McLaren Mercedes to take third. Kovalainen, who had been moved five places back on the grid for holding up Mark Webber during qualifying, sought to overtake on the next-to-last lap but Trulli held firm, their wheels brushing, and Kovalainen had to concede. Trulli likened the wheel-banging to go-karts. The result was Toyota's best in three years.

"What a great result and a great weekend by the whole team," Trulli said. "We were pushing really hard because we wanted to dedicate the result to Ove Andersson, who has done so much for Toyota Motorsport. Today was a great race, hard and tough. We had a good pace, even if we had to battle with some cars that were quicker than us. I had to fight really hard, but that is what people should expect both from myself and from Toyota."

Podium: race winner Felipe Massa with Jarno Trulli.
Photo by xpb.cc.

The race finished with spots of rain dropping but not enough to bother anyone.

BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica came fifth ahead of Webber for Red Bull. Kubica did well to earn points on a weekend that found the BMW Saubers lacking pace. Kubica teammate Nick Heidfeld finished 13th.

"We didn't score as many points as we wanted here in Magny-Cours," Kubica said. "Over the whole weekend we tried to minimize the problems we had, and we knew the race would be decided on the first lap. At the start, I tried to overtake Jarno Trulli but did not manage it. I tried again in Turn 5 on the outside but it did not work out. In the end, I have to say I am pretty happy."

Webber led his teammate to a top-10 finish. David Coulthard finished ninth.

"It's good for the team to get some more points today," Webber said. "It was a tough week in the buildup to this race, in terms of effort from the factory and the boys at the track, and three points is not to be sniffed at. Toyota had a strong race today, but we'll have more in the future."

Webber had to battle to hold off the closing Renaults. Team leader Fernando Alonso slid wide lapping Giancarlo Fisichella of Force India to allow Nelsinho Piquet by with three laps left. His job in the balance, Piquet hurried to harry Webber. The second-generation F1 driver needed to make up for losing a spot to Kovalainen. Piquet's team put him out sooner when the two pitted at the same time on Lap 26, but Piquet hit the neutral button instead of the pit-lane speed limiter upon exiting so Kovalainen nipped past. Piquet's points are his first of the season.

Alonso, though, continued to go backwards. He put himself out of the points the past two races by trying too hard. Sunday, he started third, was fifth by the end of the first lap, and managed only a single point.

"I have to be disappointed today," Alonso said. "I am sure we could have fought for the podium, but I lost too many positions at the start and after that I was not able to find the pace I had shown yesterday. The car was fast in a straight line, but I still couldn't make any progress. I scored a point, but I'm determined to do better for the British Grand Prix."

Former drivers' points leader Lewis Hamilton of McLaren Mercedes managed only to compound problems he began for himself in Canada. Starting downfield on a grid penalty assessed in Montreal, Hamilton didn't complete the first lap before making a mistake and earning a fresh penalty. He passed Toro Rosso's Sebastian Vettel by using the verge at the second chicane, Turn 7. Stewards investigated. By Lap 13 Hamilton had incurred a drive-through penalty, which he immediately reported for, and wound up in 13th, exactly where he had started. Only this time he was behind Heidfield. His race kept him in the lower half. He finished 10th.

Timo Glock brought the second Toyota home in 11th. After a good opening stint, his TF108 suffered tire graining and understeer. "It didn't work out for us in terms of strategy, either," the German said. "I lost ground at each of the pit stops and in the end we just dropped out of the points. Still, it's great for Jarno to take third place and the podium, a perfect result for him and the team. We have clearly made progress since the last test and our pace means I am determined to come away with better results in the coming races."

Unfortunately for Vettel, who loves the stuff, predicted rain did not materialize in full until after the checkered flag had flown. "I think we can be proud of ourselves because we had a very strong race," Vettel said. "We started and finished P12, but we were in a part of the pack that included McLarens and BMW. I think we did a fantastic job of keeping ahead of one BMW simply because we had a better pace."

Vettel was followed by Heidfeld, Honda's Rubens Barrichello, Williams's Kazuki Nakajima and Nico Rosberg, Scuderia Toro Rosso's Sebastien Bourdais and the Force Indias of Fisichella and Adrian Sutil. Fisichella met a target of finishing for the first time in four races, indicating the Force Indias might be finding reliability if not speed.

Barrichello made the best of a day that started him at back of the grid after a gearbox change. "It was in many ways a great race today, just with a difficult car," he said. "At least we were able to progress up the field and make a fight of it. As we expected, the car was slightly better in race trim, and with a good strategy and great pit stops, we were able to improve on my starting position and challenge the people we were able to."

Williams drivers were not as cheerful.

"It was a difficult race for us," Nakajima said. "We decided to go for a two-stop strategy, which was the best direction to take under the circumstances. All weekend we've been suffering with a lac`k of pace and that hurt us during the race. We couldn't have done much better today."

Button, the only driver to not finish, led the 'Why Did We Bother Brigade.' He bumped Bourdais's Toro Rosso at the start so needed a pit stop for a new nose after five laps, then he pitted to retire on Lap 17, the barge boards having been smacked around in the early collision.

Rosberg, supplanted as last on the grid by Barrichello's gearbox change ding, felt the solidarity: "In Canada, I was fighting the Ferraris and the BMWs, and here I was fighting at the back of the pack," he said. "It's incredible, and not a very nice feeling. I thought I would be able to fight a bit more. I was giving it my all as usual, but the car simply didn't have the speed and it was very difficult. I am now looking to score some points at Silverstone -- at least I won't have a grid penalty there."

After reports in the past several weeks that Magny-Cours would lose this race, a deal seems to have been put in place by race organizers, who promise area development, and F1 commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone. Ecclestone was on record favoring a race on the streets of Paris. Talk also had the formerly used circuit at Rouen in the frame to take over the French Grand Prix. France is the historical home of grand prix racing; the French "Grand Prix" was staged there in 1901. The first race in what is called modern F1 racing, from the time of organizing a formula series sanctioned by the FIA, was held in Britain in 1950. The British Grand Prix is next up for the F1 circus. The track playing host to this year's race, Silverstone, is under fire. Ecclestone has put it out that the race might go to Donington Park.