Smart 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.
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.
Alonso 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.
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.
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.
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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