F1

Raikkonen stamps his seal on Spanish GP and season

Raikkonen stamps his seal on Spanish GP and season

Just as the past seven winners before him, Kimi Raikkonen rolled from pole to checkered flag to claim the Spanish Grand Prix on Sunday in Barcelona. The Finn's Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa followed him after the Brazilian dispatched front-row ...

Just as the past seven winners before him, Kimi Raikkonen rolled from pole to checkered flag to claim the Spanish Grand Prix on Sunday in Barcelona. The Finn's Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa followed him after the Brazilian dispatched front-row qualifier Spaniard Fernando Alonso off the starting line. Alonso's later engine blow-up disappointed a crowd of 132,600 at the 2.889-mile Circuit de Catalunya.

Race winner Kimi Raikkonen.
Photo by xpb.cc.

McLaren rookie Heikki Kovalainen crashed heavily, but without apparent injury; he waved to the crowd as he was stretchered away. Safety crew members needed ten minutes to extract him from the car, which the force of impact lodged in a tire barrier.

Raikkonen became the season's first repeat winner in a second successive Ferrari sweep. Defending world champion Raikkonen banged out fast lap as well. He looked relaxed and happy as he joked with Massa during the official postrace interview.

"I didn't get the perfect start but anyhow it was good enough to stay in front," Raikkonen said. "For sure, if we wanted, we could have gone a bit faster, but there's no point to push it when you don't need. I think so it was more close than we expected, but saying that there was many safety cars so without them maybe it would have been a little bit different. But it was a good day. Everything worked well."

Victory solidified Raikkonen's lead atop the drivers' standings. His 29 points gap the 20 amassed by McLaren Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton, 19 for Massa and 18 for BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica. Ferrari surges past BMW Sauber for the constructors' title lead, 47-35. McLaren follow at 34 points before a drop-off to Williams on 12 points.

"I made a great start and managed to pass Alonso, getting very close to Kimi," Massa said. "I knew I was stopping a lap before my teammate and that therefore it would have been very difficult to get ahead of him. That's why I think that today I did the most I could have done in this situation, bringing home valuable points for myself and for the team."

Third-placer Hamilton benefited from pit stops to pass Alonso then stayed ahead of fourth-qualifier Kubica, whom the Englishman juked with a startling pass from the third row before the first corner. The top four finishers crossed the line closely grouped despite Raikkonen's firm grip on the race.

Hamilton said he was pleased to finish third. "I made a good start and was able to get lots of traction and could go to the right alongside Robert (Kubica) almost immediately. I managed to overtake him, which is usually not easy, as I recall from our battles in Formula Three. I pushed extremely hard, particularly in the second and third stints, and tried to keep up with the Ferraris. Actually, I was pleasantly surprised about how close the competition at the top was, which is great for Formula One."

Kovalainen, who started alongside Hamilton, was leading during the first round of pit stops when he suffered the massive shunt. A suspected rim failure on his left front wheel prevented the car turning and sent him into the Turn 9 tire barrier at speed. The Finn was helicoptered to a nearby hospital as a precautionary measure after suffering concussion.

"He has no broken bones, and CT scans performed at the hospital confirm that he has no head injuries, and the team is optimistic that he will make a full recovery over the next few days," team principal Ron Dennis said. "Subject to the results of an FIA medical examination, we hope that he will be able to compete in the Turkish Grand Prix."

Hamilton expressed relief that his teammate appears to have suffered no serious injury.

"I'm happy that Heikki seems to be OK," Raikkonen said.

Mark Webber finished a clean, if anonymous, fifth as television cameras almost completely ignored the Red Bull RB4. Jenson Button stopped a points drought for Honda with sixth. Williams' rookie Kazuki Nakajima, who has scored five points in four races, finished seventh ahead of Toyota's Jarno Trulli, who lost places in a communications mix-up. Teams' radio signals were affected by security measures taken for the appearance of trophy presenter King Juan Carlos.

Nick Heidfeld and Giancarlo Fisichella rounded out the top 10. Heidfeld, already not pleased with his ninth-place qualifying spot, suffered a stop-and-go penalty when he had to pit during deployment of the safety car for Kovalainen's accident. Fisichella's season-best drive represented solid progress for the legitimacy of the Force India team. He turned laps in the points before pit-stop order and a pass by Heidfeld shuffled him backward.

Timo Glock for Toyota, David Coulthard for Red Bull and Takuma Sato for Super Aguri were the other finishers in an attrition-hit race. All runners from Fisichella on were a lap down. Coulthard got top demolition derby marks; he collided with Adrian Sutil on the first lap then with Glock on Lap 54. Coulthard said he was demonstrating he had the line into Turns 4 and 5 but Glock hit him anyway, smashing his front wing and ending his race. Stewards investigated but found no case to answer by either party. Coulthard called the incident disastrous for what looked to be a points finish; he was following Button at the time.

Nine runners didn't finish. An overeager Sutil's move on Coulthard looped his Force India just after starting. He collected Scuderia Toro Rosso's Sebastian Vettel, putting both out on the first lap and bringing out a safety car. Vettel has yet to finish a race this season. Nelsinho Piquet wound up in the gravel on the lap after restarting. He then surprised Sebastien Bourdais by appearing alongside the Frenchman's Toro Rosso into Turn 10 three laps later. Both wound up out with broken suspensions. Anthony Davidson retired his Super Aguri a lap later with a punctured radiator, courtesy of Piquet's first, gravel-trailing off. Things settled down for a dozen laps before Kovalainen shot off track on Lap 22.

Rubens Barrichello had a bizarre day in his Honda when a pit stop managed to dislodge his front wing. It fell off before he came around again. After that, mere engine failures winnowed the field. Alonso, who fought bravely, lapping faster than Massa ahead of him in second place, dropped to sixth after pit stops and finally pulled over on Lap 35 as the Renault engine decided to hold itself a carbecue. Nico Rosberg's Williams went up in smoke on the long front straight, giving him an easy hop over the wall, where he shrugged his shoulders at his team. The early out ended an inspired drive by the German, who leaped to 11th from 15th at the start and seemed destined to score points.

"This weekend has been both sweet and sour," Alonso said. "The car was very competitive and we were up there with the Ferraris and the BMWs, which is a good first step. I think now we should hopefully start enjoying races again and racing closer to the front. Although I am disappointed not to finish, it was a nice surprise to see that we are more competitive than we thought we would be."

The race might have been the end for Super Aguri, the struggling team that needs an immediate and massive cash infusion to continue. The driver around whom Aguri Suzuki formed the team in late 2005, Takuma Sato, pushed his way up the field, threatening to reach the points positions.

"It was a hard race, but I enjoyed it," Sato said. "The start was reasonably good and I overtook a few cars. Ahead of me, a few cars had a coming together and I could not avoid them and lost part of the nose, which then obviously affected my aero balance. The team said that the car looked OK, so we just fought our way through the rest of the race. At one stage, we were up in the middle, running as high as ninth, and that was a fantastic feeling. The boys did a great job under difficult circumstances this weekend. I am very happy for them and all the people who are supporting us, and I just hope that we can keep the momentum going."

Momentum moves the circus to Turkey in two weeks' time.

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