F1

Mistake-free Massa claims Bahrain

Mistake-free Massa claims Bahrain

Ferrari's Felipe Massa made a comprehensive defense of his Bahrain Grand Prix title Sunday despite not starting from pole. The Brazilian who came to the Persian Gulf island kingdom under fire for having made a hash of his first two races of the ...

Ferrari's Felipe Massa made a comprehensive defense of his Bahrain Grand Prix title Sunday despite not starting from pole. The Brazilian who came to the Persian Gulf island kingdom under fire for having made a hash of his first two races of the season, both DNFs, put criticism and the field behind him in storming to an error-free victory.

Race winner Felipe Massa celebrates.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Massa led teammate Kimi Raikkonen to the checkered flag ahead of BMW Sauber teammates Robert Kubica, who Saturday claimed the German-Swiss marque's first-ever pole, and Nick Heidfeld. They were followed by Heikki Kovalainen, the only points getter for McLaren Mercedes after world driving points leader Lewis Hamilton put in as bad a day as Massa showed good. The remaining points earners were Jarno Trulli for Toyota, Mark Webber for Red Bull, and Nico Rosberg for Williams. Kovalainen ended the race with fast lap, 1 minute, 33.193 seconds, after pushing to clear his wake of Trulli.

Hamilton lost his championship points lead to Raikkonen, and BMW Sauber took top constructors spot from McLaren. Hamilton lies third in driver points behind Raikkonen and Heidfeld. The Englishman is level on points with Kubica and McLaren teammate Kovalainen. The constructors race features the German-Swiss team ahead of Ferrari by one point, 30-29, the Italians ahead of McLaren by another point, 29-28.

"For sure, I had not very easy weeks," Massa said of his season start. "But that's life and not the first time, won't be the last one as well. You always have some bad days in your life. I had two bad days in the first two races. But I know we are quick. When you have mistake and you are behind, means something's wrong. When you have a mistake and you are fighting for victory, that's better. For sure, the race was pretty difficult because I didn't want to make any mistakes. I just didn't push so much as well, just tried to bring the car home, controlling the pace as well. But, for sure, I had all the time in my mind what happened in the last race. That's pretty normal. Now it's passed and what is in the past is one victory and that helps the next race as well."

New driving points leader Raikkonen called the race difficult despite trading fast laps with Massa. He said he couldn't find consistency in his F2008. "One lap is good, next lap is different," he said. He indicated his dislike for the desert circuit is as complete as Massa's affection for the sand-strewn place. Yet the Finn who improved a spot on his three previous finishes in Bahrain remained philosophical.

"The whole weekend has been pretty difficult," Raikkonen said. "One of those things that we cannot really get the car right as we want. Anyhow, we look at one of those bad weekends and we can still finish second so I don't mind. We're leading the championship, that's the main thing. We know we have the speed once we get everything right, but it's not the easiest weekend, for sure."

Raikkonen might have been expected to overhaul Massa once the Finn passed Kubica, but the Brazilian kept firm hold of a gap he widened to five seconds and Raikkonen's runner-up status didn't change.

He reached the podium for a second successive race, but the highlight of Kubica's race was earning pole Saturday. Massa shot ahead of him as the lights went out. Raikkonen passed him on Lap 2. The Pole stopped early among the first scheduled stops, indicating his pole lap was helped by a light fuel load. But he held on to make sure he beat his more experienced teammate.

"We had some problems already from the formation lap," Kubica said. "On the race start I had a lot of wheel spin and overall it looks like only Felipe makes a pretty better start than me. Then, unfortunately, second lap I didn't know about oil, and there was oil from Corner 4 until Corner 10, even 11," Kubica said. "And I took some debris in the Corner 1 so thought I punctured a tire."

Tire degradation bothered his second stint, Kubica said. But he judged the overall outcome a good one because his team moved to the top of the constructors table.

The mental agonizing now falls to Hamilton.

Hamilton made his slowest F1 career getaway from a grid, collided with the Renault of former teammate Fernando Alonso on the second lap while in 10th, which necessitated a stop for a new nose for the MP4-23. Despite starting third, Hamilton found himself 18th and lapped before he fought back to finish 13th.

"I am really disappointed and feel like I let the team down today as I always am the first to blame myself." Hamilton said. "I messed up at the start as I didn't hit the switch early enough and, therefore, had not engaged the correct engine setting, and the anti-stall kicked in. I lost a lot of places, but things were still salvageable at that point. Then I had the incident with Fernando. I was behind him, and I moved to the right, and he moved to the right and that was it, a racing incident I guess.

"I am confident that we have the pace to be fighting at the front so the confidence is still there. I have had such a good run in Formula One until now, and it was almost inevitable that at some point things would go wrong. However there is a long way to go in the championship, and I intend to win it."

Trulli, fourth in Malaysia, followed Kovalainen in a show of consistency that indicates the Japanese constructor might have found the way. "I'm delighted with another finish in the top six today, both for myself and for the team who worked very well and did a good job," Trulli said. "We finished right behind the top three teams so that is the most we could expect from this weekend."

Trulli's teammate Timo Glock finished just out of the points, in ninth, ahead of Renault's Alonso, who started in 10th and finished there. The Spaniard finished ahead of Rubens Barrichello of Honda, the final runner on the lead lap.

Webber followed Trulli in the points, taking advantage of others' early misfortunes to make his way through the field. He chased Trulli most of the race. His Red Bull teammate David Coulthard had a coming together with fellow Briton Jenson Button. Button pushed his Honda into a corner Coulthard reached first, lost the Honda's nose cone, and was forced out of the race on Lap 19. Coulthard was circulating 18th at the end, ahead of final runner Adrian Sutil of Force India.

Rosberg said he didn't feel satisfied despite earning a point. "We should have done better," he said. "However, it was very difficult out there, the tire performance was very changeable and the wind conditions were different to Friday when we set our gear ratios, and in the end the car was just not good enough."

Finishing a lap down were Force India's Giancarlo Fisichella, who was 12th, followed by Hamilton, Williams's Kaxuki Nakajima, Toro Rosso's Sebastien Bourdais, Super Aguri driver Anthony Davidson, who got the better of teammate Takuma Sato, and Coulthard.

The low-attrition race put out only Button, Scuderia Toro Rosso's Sebastian Vettel, who hit then was hit, ending his race on the first lap, and Nelsinho Piquet, who pulled his Renault into the garage on Lap 43.

The circus next stops in Barcelona, Spain, the weekend of April 27.

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