For Ferrari's Felipe Massa the Turkish Grand Prix was near enough a carbon copy of last year, as the Brazilian led from pole to flag for his second consecutive win at Istanbul. He came under pressure from teammate Kimi Raikkonen but the Finn, who...
For Ferrari's Felipe Massa the Turkish Grand Prix was near enough a carbon copy of last year, as the Brazilian led from pole to flag for his second consecutive win at Istanbul. He came under pressure from teammate Kimi Raikkonen but the Finn, who got ahead of McLaren's Lewis Hamilton at the start, had to settle for second. Fernando Alonso's McLaren made up for a poor start to finish third while Hamilton suffered a probable puncture and ended fifth.
It was hot and sunny, with the track temperature around 50 degrees throughout the race, but despite the heat and the punishing nature of the circuit there was only one retiree. Mark Webber's Red Bull had a suspected hydraulic problem barely a dozen laps in, forcing the Australian back to the pits to end his afternoon.
It was a mostly clean start with Massa away in the lead and Raikkonen charging ahead of Hamilton. Alonso was slow away and the BMW Saubers of Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld got past, leaving the Spaniard sixth. Jarno Trulli's Toyota spun at the first corner, nudged by the Renault of Giancarlo Fisichella, and the Super Aguris had to go wide in avoidance.
Trulli and Sato dropped towards the back while Fisichella continued but had dropped to 13th. That allowed the Red Bulls of David Coulthard and Webber to take ninth and 10th behind the Renault of Heikki Kovalainen and the Nico Rosberg's Williams. His teammate Alex Wurz was up to 11th and Tonio Liuzzi's Toro Rosso had climbed to 12th. Ralf Schumacher's Toyota also gained a couple of places to 14th.
Anthony Davidson's Super Aguri was down to 15th, but within a couple of laps Jenson Button's worries about being stuck behind the Spykers proved unfounded. Button and Honda teammate Rubens Barrichello started on the back row due to engine changes but gained ground to 18th and 16th respectively. The Spykers of Adrian and Sutil and Sakon Yamamoto were just in front of Trulli and Takuma Sato's Super Aguri at the back.
At the front Hamilton had dropped back from the Ferraris and a little and Alonso was stuck behind Heidfeld, a situation not new to him this season. Kubica was the first to pit on lap 13, which was a fair bit earlier than most had expected, while Fisichella got past Liuzzi and Button likewise dispatched Toro Rosso's Sebastian Vettel and Barrichello. Heidfeld was next to pit, along with Coulthard and Rosberg.
Raikkonen was the first Ferrari in, followed by Alonso, then Massa and Hamilton shortly afterwards. The Ferraris stayed on the softer tyres and the McLarens on the hard compound. Heidfeld had cleared teammate Kubica in his stop and Alonso similarly beat Heidfeld to regain his fourth place starting position. Kovalainen led the race until he took his first stop then the top four was Massa, Raikkonen, Hamilton and Alonso.
Heidfeld was up to fifth, followed by Kovalainen who had also got ahead of Kubica during the pit stops. Rosberg rounded off the points positions in eighth. Button had worked his way up to the edge of the top 10 and got past Coulthard but then had to pit and was back into the midfield. Sutil stalled in the pits and got stuck in gear but Spyker managed to send him back out again, albeit a couple of laps down.
There was about five seconds covering the top three and Alonso was some 14 seconds behind Hamilton; Turkey has provided a couple of entertaining races in its short F1 history but this time around it was a fairly static state of affairs. Raikkonen was closing in on Massa in the run up to the second stops and was on his rear wing after his teammate found traffic, but the Finn was again the first of the pair to pit.
He returned to the track on the hard tyre and Massa did likewise when he took his stop a lap later. Hamilton was getting near to his second stop and had a slim chance of getting out in front of Raikkonen as he was on a longer middle stint. However, what looked like a puncture scuppered his chances when his right front failed on the entry to turn nine. Bad luck for Hamilton but at least the car wasn't badly damaged.
He managed to get it back to the pits more or less in one piece and then return to the track. Surprisingly he had only lost two places -- it could have been a whole lot worse. So that put Alonso up to third and Heidfeld to fourth, a position the German has been quite familiar with this year. Hamilton's car had damage to the front wing endplates, and Kovalainen was closing, but he seemed pretty much in control of the situation.
With eight laps to go Kubica was homing in on Rosberg but neither he nor Kovalainen had enough time to do much about their respective rivals. Raikkonen set the fastest lap of the race right at the end; perhaps he was trying to make a point but this one belonged to Massa fair and square. Massa hardly put a foot wrong all afternoon and although Raikkonen was shadowing him all the way he never really looked like a serious threat.
"This is becoming a special place for me!" Massa said. "It is a really great win! I maintained my concentration for the whole race, trying to control the situation. Only towards the end of the second stint did I make a small mistake at Turn 7 which cost me the gap I had over Kimi, who closed right up to me. I made a very good start and the car behaved perfectly even though it has to be said it was a difficult race. Today's result is a great encouragement when looking to the final part of the season."
Raikkonen was not thrilled with second but was pleased for Ferrari. "I got a good start then I had a bit of understeer which went away after a few laps," he commented. "The second set of tyres did not work as well as the first. The quick lap at the end? I was a bit bored with spending the whole race behind another car and so I tried to see how quick I could have been. In Monza I will have to try and do a good qualifying to be in the best possible situation for the race."
Despite Alonso losing out at the start it was highly likely that he would run a longer first stint than the BMWs and regain his fourth place after the pit stops, which he duly did. Hamilton's bad luck gained Alonso a place but for McLaren the end result was the same no matter which way round its drivers were; they could not beat Ferrari today. It's good for the championship, though, as it's closer than ever at the top.
"The start was quite bad and after I found myself sixth on the first lap, I thought the race was over because if you overtake them quite quickly in the first five laps, you still have a possibility but if not, it becomes very difficult," said Alonso. "It was exactly like that. Lap 18, when I pitted, I managed to get in front of Nick and start my race but I was 14 seconds behind the third guy and I pushed, as hard as I could, but the gap always remained the same. I was just cruising a little bit to the end, from lap 30."
Heidfeld had a rather solitary race to cross the line a solid fourth and Hamilton had Kovalainen on his rear wing by the time they finished in fifth and sixth. Rosberg was not far behind in seventh, the two youngsters putting in good performances ahead of their more experienced teammates -- Fisichella was ninth and Wurz 11th. Kubica's strategy was odd but he picked up the last point in eighth.
Coulthard completed the top 10 and Schumacher and Trulli were 11th and 16th, rather less than Toyota had hoped for. Davidson couldn't capitalize on his 11th place grid slot after avoiding Trulli at the start and was 14th, while teammate Sato ended 18th. Liuzzi was the lead Toro Rosso in 15th and Vettel was 19th. Yamamoto was 20th and Sutil classed as 21st despite stopping on the last lap with a fuel pressure gremlin.
At the end of it all, Hamilton's championship lead is down to five points from Alonso and Massa has moved ahead of Raikkonen again by one point, to be 15 behind the leader. With five races to go it's by no means over yet but Ferrari is going to have to keep the pressure on relentlessly to snatch the titles from McLaren. With tracks like Monza and Spa coming up, there's a good chance the Scuderia can close in.
Hamilton and Alonso's battles, real or invented, have been well documented and Massa and Raikkonen have traded third in the standings all season. There's little between the four of them in the way of results -- each has scored three wins this year so with that kind of history it's anyone's guess who will triumph in the end. Final top eight classification: Massa, Raikkonen, Alonso, Heidfeld, Hamilton, Kovalainen, Rosberg, Kubica.