After a few races of McLaren domination Ferrari bounced back to score a one-two finish at the French Grand Prix. Kimi Raikkonen, who took second from McLaren's Lewis Hamilton at the start, beat teammate Felipe Massa in the second round of pit...
After a few races of McLaren domination Ferrari bounced back to score a one-two finish at the French Grand Prix. Kimi Raikkonen, who took second from McLaren's Lewis Hamilton at the start, beat teammate Felipe Massa in the second round of pit stops to claim his second victory of the season. Pole sitter Massa led for much of the race and was disappointed to have to settle for second, while Hamilton could not challenge the Ferraris and crossed the line third.
It was dry and fair for race day, and although there was a possibility of rain it never materialized. Spyker's Adrian Sutil had problems with his race car on the grid and had to switch to the spare and there were a couple of casualties on the first lap. Massa led away and Raikkonen got the jump on Hamilton for second, while further back Anthony Davidson's Super Aguri tagged Tonio Liuzzi's Toro Rosso through the first corners.
Both spun off and were forced to retire, then at the hairpin Jarno Trulli's Toyota pushed Heikki Kovalainen's Renault into a spin. Kovalainen managed to continue, albeit right at the back when he recovered, but Trulli headed back to the pits and subsequently retired. Meanwhile, Fernando Alonso, who started 10th due to a gearbox problem in qualifying, had got his McLaren up to eighth and was harassing the Williams of Nico Rosberg.
BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica and the other Renault of Giancarlo Fisichella had held station in fourth and fifth, while Nick Heidfeld's BMW was up a place to sixth thanks to Kovalainen's misfortunes. He soon came under pressure from Alonso, once the Spaniard had dispatched Rosberg for seventh, and the pair went side by side. Alonso just edged in front but went a little wide and Heidfeld kept the place. While they were scrapping Rosberg had closed in.
Honda's Jenson Button had a good start and was up to ninth and teammate Rubens Barrichello was one behind. Ralf Schumacher's Toyota was 11th, then came the Red Bull duo of Mark Webber and David Coulthard in 12th and 13th respectively. Alex Wurz' Williams was 14th, followed by Super Aguri's Takuma Sato, up to 15th from the back, then Scott Speed's Toro Rosso, the Spykers of Christijan Albers and Sutil and Kovalainen was the last runner in 19th.
At the front Massa was pulling out a little bit of a gap from Raikkonen and Hamilton was not making any inroads into the Ferraris. Alonso was still harassing Heidfeld but not finding a way past, a situation that would become quite familiar to the pair of them. Hamilton was first to pit on lap 17 and Alonso was in straight afterwards, so it was not good news for McLaren as Ferrari went a few laps longer. Hamilton rejoined behind Rosberg and Alonso behind Fisichella, then Massa was in two laps later.
That left Raikkonen in the lead, something that's not been seen for a while. A few other pit stops came and went and Raikkonen made his first visit four laps after Massa and rejoined back in second. Alonso was attacking Fisichella and got past him up the inside of the hairpin, only to find himself back behind Heidfeld who had just returned after his first stop. Button was up to fifth but had yet to stop, while Hamilton had lost ground to the Ferraris and was some eight seconds behind.
Alonso set about trying to get past Heidfeld but still the BMW man held him off. Albers was the next retiree when he appeared to exit his pit box before the lollipop man lifted and took the fuel rig with him. Luckily no-one was injured but Albers had to pull off at the pit exit with the fuel hose flapping around his wheels. Alonso was really throwing the McLaren around in his efforts to dispatch Heidfeld and finally hurtled ahead through eight and nine in a very gutsy move.
Hamilton pitted first again in the second round of stops and came out side by side with Kubica. The BMW man wasn't about to yield and they battled for a couple of corners but Hamilton got the upper hand at the hairpin. After all that hard work Alonso also took his second stop and rejoined ninth; both McLarens were pushing very hard and Alonso had a rather wobbly moment but held it together. Evidently Hamilton was on a three-stopper and Alonso was on a two, bit it didn't really work for either of them in the end.
The midfield was running pretty close but there were no real movers, just as the order in the points' positions didn't change that much. Of course, it changed quite a lot as far as Massa was concerned; he lost time in traffic then took his second stop and Raikkonen cranked up the speed to put in a few hot laps before he came in a couple later. The Finn rejoined ahead of Massa fairly comfortably, much to the Brazilian's dismay. Heidfeld pitted and came back out in front of Alonso again.
The Ferraris were going through traffic and Hamilton closed up a little but he still had to stop once more, which he did so shortly afterwards. He held his ground in third but was then over twenty seconds adrift of the leaders. Raikkonen and Massa appeared to be holding station to the flag, Massa always around two seconds behind his teammate. Kovalainen was having a scrap with Wurz and they skipped the chicane in formation, Wurz in front and then Kovalainen dived into the pits.
Speed was a late retiree when his Toro Rosso suffered some kind of gearbox problem and he coasted to a halt in the gravel. Fisichella had pitted and got between Heidfeld and Alonso and try as he might the Spaniard couldn't get past the Renault a second time. Eventually Alonso seemed to give up trying, a very frustrating afternoon for him. And that was pretty much it; Raikkonen took the chequered flag just ahead of Massa to the delight, and probably relief, of Ferrari.
"Finally the start worked for me and helped a lot," said Raikkonen. "I think the car was good all the time, but not exactly perfect but I was very happy with the car. I just tried to push and keep up with Felipe. I knew that he was going to stop a bit later, so just before the first stop I had quite a bit of traffic but then at the second stop I managed to get in front of him. It was a good day for me and the team."
Massa was unhappy about getting held up by traffic. "Unfortunately, I lost the victory because of that, because the car was great during the whole runs," he commented. "Whenever I was alone I was doing very very quick laps, so it was a shame. But anyway, it's very good for the team. I'm very happy to do the first one-two in the championship and also looking at McLaren, that they are still quite a bit in front, it is good to have a weekend like that."
Hamilton was on the podium for the eighth time in eight races but third was the best he could do today. However, although Ferrari seems to have got its act together, Hamilton can't be too disappointed to head to his home race at Silverstone with a 14 point lead in the drivers' standings. Alonso remains second but Massa is now only three points down on the reigning champion, while Raikkonen is a further five points from his teammate. For the moment, Hamilton is happy with his lead.
"It's a great feeling and to be honest today I am not disappointed," he said. "I don't like being overtaken, but that's the same for everyone and this is the first race that I've been overtaken. And it was inevitable at some point, but the fact is that we have finished on the podium again and we are the most consistent team and I think we are doing a better job. And, so, I am extending my lead in the championship, so I couldn't be happier."
Kubica had a strong race to finish fourth, a great performance to come back from a very big crash and equal his best result of the season. Heidfeld spent most of his afternoon fending off Alonso with varying degrees of success and was fifth; BMW is not quite up to McLaren's standards, as Kubica couldn't make any inroads on Hamilton, but is confidently holding on to its place as the best of the rest behind Ferrari and McLaren.
However, Renault is edging forward. Fisichella came home sixth and if not for his early incident it's not unlikely that Kovalainen would have picked up a point or two as well. Button finally claimed Honda's first point of the season in eighth, which means he at least won't go to Silverstone empty handed. Honda has gained a little ground -- the point was scored on merit rather than circumstance -- but the team really needs to do better in qualifying to score much more than one or two.
Rosberg and Schumacher completed the top 10, Barrichello was 11th and the Red Bulls were 12th and 13th, Webber leading Coulthard. Wurz finished 14th, followed by Kovalainen, Sato and Sutil respectively. It wasn't the most exciting of races but there were a few interesting moments, mostly provided by Alonso's charging attacks on whoever happened to be in front of him (usually Heidfeld). Hamilton might have a bit of a cushion at the top but it's by no means safe.
It was good to see Raikkonen back on the top step of the podium, or even on the podium seeing as the last time he was there was Bahrain. Is this the start of Ferrari's resurgence? The team was upbeat after the recent test and so far so good, but you can be sure McLaren will be eager to retaliate on home ground at Silverstone next weekend. Final top eight classification: Raikkonen, Massa, Hamilton, Kubica, Heidfeld, Fisichella, Alonso, Button.