French GP 2007 review: Raikkonen’s tactical triumph

Kimi Raikkonen, Felipe Massa, Lewis Hamilton, podium, Magny Cours 2007Smart strategy put Kimi Raikkonen on the top step of the podium. But it came at the expense of team mate Massa in a genuine all-Ferrari battle for the lead the likes of which we haven’t seen for many years.

Lewis Hamilton was on the podium yet again and retains his championship lead. But team mate Alonso struggled to make any headway from 10th on the grid, and despite making several excellent passes finished only seventh.

Lewis Hamilton gave an interview before the race and spelled out his tactics loud and clear for Felipe Massa. He said if he didn’t pass the Brazilian off the start line, he would get ahead on the long run up to Adelaide.

It added extra piquancy to the start as the pair prepared to resume their battles from earlier in the season at Sepang and Bahrain.

The threat of rain also promised to enliven the race. It had drizzled on the morning’s F3, GP2 and Porsche Supercup races and although the track had dried one Porsche had dumped oil all the way from the Imola chicane to Lycee at the end of the lap.

The surface had been treated but it was still slippery enough for Jenson Button to skid on it on his way to the grid.

Spyker ran into trouble before the race even began as Adrian Sutil’s car refused to start. The German dashed off to the pits to start from the spare – his original car was wheeled off the grid as the formation lap began.

Hamilton’s hopes of passing Massa at the start were utterly thwarted – not only did he fail to pass the Ferrari, but Kimi Raikkonen’s easily passed the McLaren before the first corner.

Vitaontio Liuzzi, Anthony Davidson, Magny-Cours, 2007As the other cars funnelled through Anthony Davidson outbraked himself and tagged Vitantonio Liuzzi into a spin. The Toro Rosso snapped back hard into the Super Aguri and both drivers were out.

Fernando Alonso got away well and tried to dive down the inside of Jarno Trulli at the Adelaide hairpin. But as the Toyota driver tried to defend his position he ran into Heikki Kovalainen’s Renault. Both pitted – Kovalainen was able to resume but Trulli was out.

As the first lap ended the Ferraris ran one-two ahead of Hamilton with a gap already opening up to fourth placed Robert Kubica. The Pole making his return to racing was ahead of Giancarlo Fisichella, Nick Heidfeld, Nico Rosberg and Alonso.

Alonso got a better run out of Chateau d’Eau on lap two and passed Rosberg in Lycee. He tried to repeat the move on Heidfeld but the BMW’s traction proved so strong the McLaren – even on the softer compound tyre – couldn’t get past.

Stuck behind Heidfeld, a chasm opened up between leader Massa and seventh placed Alonso. By lap ten they were 18.8s apart.

Hamilton still had Raikkonen in his sights when he pitted on lap 16. But he came back on the track directly behind Nico Rosberg and lost more time until Rosberg pitted on lap 20.

Giancarlo Fisichella, Fernando Alonso, Magny-Cours, 2007Alonso short straight into Hamilton’s recently vacated pit box on the same lap to briefly escape Heidfeld’s rear wing. He came back out behind Fisichella and quickly tried to pass on the outside at Adelaide to no avail.

Next time around Alonso seized the inside with two wheels on the grass at 200 mph and took the place. But his heart must have sank when the next car he caught was Heidfeld, who had pitted on lap 22.

The leading Ferraris of Massa and Raikkonen pitted on laps 19 and 21 respectively. Raikkonen seized the opportunity to set the fastest lap of the race so far – 1’16.207 – but his next lap was a second slower. Had it been quicker he might have been even closer to Massa than the two seconds that separated them after the stop.

Stuck behind Heidfeld again, Alonso got creative with his racing lines in his attempts to pass. He ran very deep into the Adelaide hairpin to try and unsettle Heidfeld, and began attacking 180 from a wider line.

Finally on lap 34 he saw daylight. Heidfeld was slower out of 180 and Alonso threw the McLaren down the inside into Imola without a split-second’s hesitation. Heidfeld dived off the track to avoid a shunt, and Alonso was through.

Up front heavy traffic slowed the Ferraris and Hamilton took a second off their lead on lap 35, and another half second the next time around. Massa headed Raikkonen by 1.2s and Hamilton was 6.1s further back.

As Hamilton approached the same clump of traffic McLaren brought him into the pits on lap 38 to avoid it. He took the harder tyres again which revealed that he would need one further stop.

He returned to the track directly behind Kubica and instantly proved he had the same mettle at wheel-to-wheel racing as his team mate. Kubica left a gap on the inside of Adelaide fractionally wider than a McLaren – and Hamilton smartly dived down it to take the place.

Alonso again pitted straight after Hamilton but took a heavier load of fuel – enough to take him to the end.

Spyker’s refuelling stops did not go so smoothly. Christijan Albers set off before the lollipop had been raised and he tore the hose from the fuel rig, dragging it out of the pit lane. Amazingly there was no fire and there were no injuries – but Albers was out of the race.

Jenson Button, Honda, Magny-Cours, 2007Jenson Button was making the most of Honda’s revised car and hung on until lap 33 to make his first stop, by which time he was running fifth. He resumed ninth in front of his team mate.

Once again Massa stopped before Raikkonen but this time the Finn was that crucial bit closer. When Raikkonen pitted two laps later he came out two seconds ahead of his team mate to take the lead.

Hamilton’s third stint lasted just 13 laps before he came in to switch to soft compound tyres. He resumed 24 seconds behind Massa with 20 laps to go – which rather questioned the wisdom of McLaren’s strategy.

Alonso’s race strategy was also not helping him. He sat seventh behind two drivers he had already overtaken. Once again he found himself behind Fisichella, and unable to prise his former team mate off the inside line for Adelaide.

Button made his second pit stop on lap 51 and got back on track ahead of Rosberg’s Williams. Crucially this meant he was now running in the points and set to break Honda’s excruciating 2007 duck.

There was no respite from the misery at Toro Rosso, though. Scott Speed’s car ground to a halt with gearbox failure at the exit of Adelaide on 58th lap.

As is now customary the race calmed down in the final stages with little danger of any drivers making passes. Least of all Massa, who didn’t seem in the least bit bothered about losing the lead to his team mate through a pit stop.

Raikkonen came home to win for the first time since the Australian Grand Prix – and to give Ferrari their first one-two of the year.

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes, Magny-Cours, 2007But Hamilton, third, retains and extends his championship lead ahead of his first home Grand Prix. Kubica equalled his best result of the season on his return, ahead of team mate Heidfeld.

Fisichella kept Alonso at bay and a relieved Button finally scored Honda’s first point of the season. Rosberg, ninth, was the last driver still on the lead lap.

Race rating

Good to see some passing at Magny-Cours for once – but the refuelling strategies seemed to make it harder for drivers to make up places.

Drivers championship standings

1. Lewis Hamilton 64
2. Fernando Alonso 50
3. Felipe Massa 47
4. Kimi Raikkonen 42
5. Nick Heidfeld 30
6. Robert Kubica 17
7. Giancarlo Fisichella 16
8. Heikki Kovalainen 12
9. Alexander Wurz 8
10. Jarno Trulli 7
11. Nico Rosberg 5
=12. David Coulthard 4
=12. Takuma Sato 4
=14. Ralf Schumacher 2
=14. Mark Webber 2
=16. Sebastian Vettel 1
=16. Jenson Button 1

Constructors championship standings

1. McLaren-Mercedes 114
2. Ferrari 89
3. BMW 48
4. Renault 28
5. Williams-Toyota 13
6. Toyota 9
7. Red Bull-Renault 6
8. Super Aguri-Honda 4
9. Honda 1

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14 comments on French GP 2007 review: Raikkonen’s tactical triumph

  1. Kirk said on 1st July 2007, 15:04

    Hi Keith and all,
    First off, congratulations on maintaining such a superb blog – I’m hooked and have been here at least twice daily since I discovered you when I searched to see if any one else was annoyed with ITV as I was! Very impressed with how quickly such a thorough race report is up, too :-)

    In regard to the race, I was watching ITV and also Live Timing online – really enjoying Jenson’s monumental race, but immensely frustrated that I was only able to see it online… he didn’t get a mention at all until his second stop on TV. What really annoyed me though was with the lateness of his first stop, I was wondering if he was one stopping. If he had been, he was online for a podium – all I needed to know was which tires he’d put on. Very frustrating.

    And yes, Kimi drove superbly, but his attitude (or lack of it) and the fact I’ve never seen him win a race in an interesting fashion – I just can’t like him.

    All in all, feeling quite deflated. 2/5 for race, 1/5 for ITV. 5/5 for Button :-)

  2. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 1st July 2007, 15:09

    Cheers Kirk!

    It was great to see Button come to life – his race pace in the new car was really impressive. He gave an interview a couple of days ago where he was asked how depressing it would be to go to Silverstone next week without having scored a point. Happily now he won’t have to!

  3. Herbert said on 1st July 2007, 16:40

    Kirk, did you not see Chinese GP of 2005? (If I remember correctly) Kimi left from 17th place and won the race. And he got ahead of the last Renault at the last lap. I think you cannot win a race more interestingly.

    Personally, I think Kimi is a refreshingly different than most of these yes-man drivers. The most dullest driver is in my opinion your darling Button. There is 13 such a driver in a dozen. No character at all.

  4. Number 38 said on 1st July 2007, 17:36

    I don’t mean to step on anyone’s toes (Keith) but your first line in the article “Smart strategy put Kimi Raikkonen on the top step” is FAR from the truth.
    Massa set fastest lap 7 of the first 15 laps he built a 4.2 second lead over Kimi, he maintained it until lap 42 when he set FASTEST race lap on fully worn tyres, pitted on 43 and Kimi pitted on 47. The strategy was ……. Massa will win ….. but from lap 43 to 47 he got trapped in traffic, Wurz was a big problem slowing Massa to a high 1:18 lap, this at a time when he should have been maintaining his lead over Kimi, Massa lost the advantage in traffic, it was NOT strategy that put Kimi on the top step! From lap 47 to lap 60 Massa closed on Kimi 2.9 secs down to 1.7 secs. No one will report that. It’s the luck of the game, kudos for Kimi, but Massa was the man of the day!
    The race ended about lap 60, by then everyone realized the margins were too great and they just paraded around doing 1:18s to finish. There was another ‘star’ in the field however, the much maligned Fisichella, did NOT give up, he raced to the finish, recording fastest S2 on the last lap. This is his best year, it’s too bad the Renault has fizzled.
    All in all a boring race but Ferrari needed the 1-2 finish to keep from falling any farther behind McLaren. BMW made a good showing, a pat on the back for them.

  5. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 1st July 2007, 17:57

    I don’t agree. It was Massa’s race to lose… and he lost it.

    He shouldn’t have lost so much time in traffic – backmarkers today are desperately anxious to let drivers past (cf. Coulthard and Hamilton in this race). Raikkonen banged in the quick laps when Massa was in the pits. He very nearly got past Massa at the first round of stops.

    Yes Massa had a whinge about the traffic when he got out of the car – we’ll add that to the list of things he’s whinged about this year (red lights, Silverstone) that it’s his responsibility to deal with.

  6. Robert McKay said on 1st July 2007, 18:10

    It’d have been nice of the race director to pay some attention and show Kimi when he did the laps that made the difference. I never really got a feel for how Kimi won the race since the director was so interested in Alonso. Fair play the guy did pass a few folk but it went a bit OTT and we kind of missed how the lead battle panned out.

  7. I wonder if Massa will take this up with the stewards.If Alonso can get a penalty for blocking Massa even if he is 100 metres down the road,then they should hand out penalties to the backmarkers as well.

  8. Number 38 said on 2nd July 2007, 1:06

    Well, there’s a couple names Massa won’t get Christmas cards from!

    “It was Massa’s race to lose… and he lost it.” Your words are correct but that wasn’t the point of discussion. You made the statement, “Smart strategy put Kimi Raikkonen on the top step” and that’s wrong, there was no strategy, Massa got delayed and Kimi was the benefactor! That’s the luck of the game. Concerning “backmarkers today are desperately anxious to let drivers past…” TOMMY ROT!
    What about all those who held up Mr. Alonso today. I didn’t see anyone “desparately anxious” to let him pass. No race car has an OBLIGATION to give way except when blue flagged while being LAPPED. That’s racing, I’m disappointed Massa made the silly remark but Kimi didn’t win this race on “Strategy”. He just got lucky! ………….or was it ‘team orders’? Hmmmmmmmm?
    Like it or not Massa did build a 4.2 sec lead over Kimi early on and Massa also closed down the deficeit from 2.9 to 1.7 secs between lap 47 and lap 60. Massa also put 18 sec between he and Hamilton in the first 15 laps. He just got UN-lucky and cried about it.
    For this I think he ought to suffer a grid penalty next race, or shall we strip him of some championship points, or how about a fine? MadMax, have you got a rule for this immature infraction of the “Sporting Code”?
    My fingers are flying on the keyboard, I can’t hold mydelf back! HELP !!!

  9. KB said on 2nd July 2007, 4:22

    I cant decide on Kimi, could he be bothered to care enough about the championship, he is so easy-going he is horizontal…will be interesting to see how he progresses…Felippe shouldnt complain to the press, it does nothing for him…I agree he lost it rather than Kimi winning it.

  10. At the post race press conference Massa was not blaming anyone… He was disapointed and he said that the traffic slowed him down and cost him the win. But he also mentioned that the midfield cars were fighting and racing each other at that time and that was it. So yes, he was very disapointed, he did his remark on traffic, but to be fair the traffic did delay him and cost him the win. He did not blame any cars for not letting him pass … At least that is how I understood it. His reputation of always complaining does not help him though …

    Kimi – On the podium he was already thinking how to celebrate without the hangover affecting his Friday free practice :-)

  11. Good to see Kimi win this time since Melbourne.

    But I hope that Hamilton will come back to his winnings at Silverstone because that would be a great win.

  12. M Smith said on 2nd July 2007, 9:51

    On the whole, it was an OK race. No action after the last pit-stops, which is a shame. I’m sure there was more on-track action than the cameras caught.

    Great race by the Ferraris, great drive by Kimi, stealing the race win from Massa. Each driver has now won 2 GPs this season now, but Hamilton has a 14-point lead, shows his consistency.

    Good race by Hamilton, which was basically damage limitation, but the 3-stop strategy ruined any chances of a 2nd place.

    Alonso was really fighty on the track, overtaking several cars, but his overall lack of pace disappointed.

    Great return by Kubica, I think it’s the first time this year that he’s finished higher than Heidfeld without his teammate retiring. Great drive.

    And yes, it’s only for 8th place, but Button has a storming drive. According to the timesheets, he was the 5th fastest driver on the track (I think). If he had a 1-stop, he probably would have finished 5th or 6th, but the tyres might have grained, affecting his pace, so its marginal. Good development by Honda, they’ve gotta keep this up now!

    On the whole, I’d give it a 3/5. Good on-track action, but not enough.

  13. Big-Al said on 2nd July 2007, 17:40

    In awe of him or not, it’s time to admit Lewis Hamilton is the real deal. Raikkonen had a great start and a better second pit stop than Massa for the win. The McLarens had nothing for the Ferraris, just as the reverse was true at the USGP. (C’mon, Bernie- Don’t screw our race up!)

  14. The real deal?Well depends on what the real deal is supposed to be.He has been leading the championship for sometime.

    Funnier moments in the conference.Hamilton says he was slightly quicker than Raikkonen in the early laps.So the question goes to Raikkonen,if Hamilton was “pushing him”.Kimi’s reply:

    “I didn’t even look where he was, really. I knew that we were going to go longer than them so it wasn’t anything… even if he was close but he wasn’t ever close enough to even try.”

    Iceman at work.

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