2008 French Grand Prix review
Felipe Massa took over the lead of the drivers’ championship with a fortunate win at Magny-Cours at the expense of team mate Kimi Raikkonen.
At the track where Raikkonen out-fumbled Massa via the pit stops in 2007, this year Massa capitalised on a broken exhaust on Raikkonen’s car to win.
Apart from Raikkonen’s troubles it was an easy one-two for Ferrari on a weekend where their major rivals self-destructed.
Ferraris in formation as Hamilton fumbles
The talk all weekend long had been about what the weather would do – in the end rain did fall in the morning, but it dried up as the F1 cars took to the track.
The Ferraris romped off into an instant lead as Fernando Alonso blew his start from third on the grid in a very lightly fuelled Renault, falling behind Jarno Trulli and Robert Kubica. He was instantly on the attack however and re-passed Kubica on the exit of the Adelaide hairpin.
From 13th on the grid Lewis Hamilton’s race was destroyed within a couple of corners. Trying to pass Sebastian Vettel at the Nurburgring chicane he ran off the track but chose not to yield the place back to the Toro Rosso driver. Within a few laps he was issued with a drive-through penalty for gaining an illegal advantage.
This split opinion down the middle on the Live Blog but to my eyes it looked inevitable that Hamilton would get a penalty. Ron Dennis’s claim after the race that he’d been forced off-track was plainly inaccurate – Hamilton had just gone in too fast, as he had twice at the same corner during qualifying.
Raikkonen led the opening laps from Massa and Trulli, with Alonso looking every which way to pass his former team mate. Kubica held a watching brief in fifth with Timo Glock up to sixth after a great start.
Then came Mark Webber, Nelson Piquet Jnr and Lewis Hamilton, who first nudged then passed team mate Heikki Kovalainen on lap five. David Coulthard fell four places to 11th at the start, but moved back up to tenth when Hamilton took his penalty on lap 14.
Alonso falls back
One lap later Alonso entered the pits having started with four laps’ less fuel than anyone in the top ten. He came out of the pits shortly in front of Hamilton, and on lap 20 Hamilton flashed past as Alonso ran wide at Estoril. But it was only temporary – Hamilton himself was back in the pits for his stop at the end of the first lap.
Now the pit stops began in earnest, with race leader Raikkonen in on lap 21. Massa ran two laps longer – impressive given that he’d all-but matched Raikkonen’s time in qualifying – but was delayed by the lapped Hamilton, allowing Raikkonen to retain in the lead after Massa’s stop.
Trulli and Kubica both ran to lap 20 and left the pits in the order they arrived, Kubica pushing Alonso one place down the order.
Piquet and Kovalainen were fuelled more heavily and came in on lap 26 from what had become third and fourth. Kovalainen took the place as Piquet hesitated at the pit lane exit was he seemed to fail to disengage his pit lane speed limiter.
After his pit stop Kovalainen now ran seventh behind Alonso and Webber. Webber had passed Alonso via the pit stops but a spin on his first lap out of the pits handed the place back to the Renault driver.
Further back the two drivers who had ten-place grid penalties crossed paths, Hamilton taking 16th off Nico Rosberg on lap 28. Rosberg did a mammoth 40-lap first stint entirely on the soft tyres, but it scarcely helped him rise up through the order.
On lap 36 Raikkonen’s sector times began to fall off by a couple of tenths. This was the first signs of a problem with his car and it soon became clear a portion of the exhaust had worked free and was flailing around the back of the F2008.
Massa was able to take around a second per lap off him and drove past the Finn with little difficulty on lap 39. For a few laps Raikkonen circulated worryingly over a second per lap off the pace. But after the piece of loose exhaust worked free of its own accord (fortunately befre race control summoned him into the pits to have it removed) he began lapping more quickly and stabilised the gap to the chasing Trulli.
Alonso pitted on lap 43 for a long final stint but the strategy clearly wasn’t paying off for him. Once the next flurry of pit stops was over he was still down in seventh. Kovalainen used the final stops to jump ahead of Kubica and now began to draw in on Trulli.
After the second round of pit stops the rain finally came. It was a brief shower, but it at least spiced up the racing for a few laps. Trulli in particularly seemed to struggle and had Kovalainen and Kubica within 0.7s of him at the height of the shower. It never got bad enough to force anyone to pit for wet weather tyres, however.
Kovalainen had one final attempt to pass Trulli on the entry to Imola, but had to cut across the corner after Trulli squeezed him almost unacceptably close.
Win gives Massa championship lead
While that was going on Massa was rounding the final corners to take a fortunate win that puts him on top of the drivers’ championship: the first time for a Brazilian since Ayrton Senna in 1993. Raikkonen did well to bring his ailing Ferrari home second.
Third was a strong result for Toyota on a weekend when the team ran with black bands on their cars, acknowledging the death of former team boss Ove Andersson.
Kovalainen led Kubica home with Webber sixth. Nelson Piquet Jnr capitalised on a late mistake by Alonso to pinch eighth off his team mate, bringing back memories of Trulli in his Renault days losing third place to Rubens Barrichello at the end of the 2004 race.
Coulthard was ninth ahead of Hamilton on a second miserable weekend for the McLaren driver in a row. Next came the three German drivers: Glock falling out of the points but Vettel beating an utterly unimpressive Nick Heidfeld who struggled all weekend.
Rubens Barrichello, Kazuki Nakajima, Rosberg, Sebastien Bourdais, Giancarlo Fisichella and Adrian Sutil were the final finishers. Only Jenson Button failed to make the flag, dropping out on lap 18 having lost his front wing.