Problem for Raikkonen hands win to Massa

2008 French Grand Prix review

French Grand Prix 2008, Magny-Cours, start, 470150

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.

Advantage Massa

Kimi Raikkonen, Felipe Massa, Ferrari, Magny-Cours, 2008, 470313

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.

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39 comments on Problem for Raikkonen hands win to Massa

  1. Nick said on 24th June 2008, 1:46

    Kimi also had a failure during qualifying in Australia, had Hamilton run into the back of him and now an exhaust failure, as well in Monaco a drive through penalty because his tire nut was stuck on.

  2. Daniel said on 24th June 2008, 3:34

    For sure, I’m not disputing which Ferrari driver was plagued the most, I’m only saying that luck is an unavoidable part of the game

  3. aja said on 24th June 2008, 9:45

    George i agree whole hartedly no indy style drive through (burgers anyone) for F1
    The Stewards should have made Hamilton give the position back, right on the next lap!
    Looks kinda suspicious though, ‘to penalize or not to penalize, what is the verdict?’ kina thing.

  4. Drive through penalties are unfair as no two pit lanes are the same length.

  5. Gman said on 25th June 2008, 1:35

    Another dismal race for McLaren despite getting a car in the points. At Ferrari, I’m wondering how long before the team sees Massa as it’s best bet to win the title this season. Kimi’s second place was through no fault of his own, but if Kubica picks up the pressue, do the men in red give Felipe priority in order to have their best chance at the title.

    Piquet pulled his tale out of the fire a bit, huge weekend for him. But in terms of drivers under pressue, dose anyone here think Heikki isn’t quite performing as good as he was billed as at McLaren? He hasen’t exactly bene bad- and Trulli is no pushover- but woulden’t a McLaren driver be expected to get into third in a race such as this weekend?

  6. Martin said on 25th June 2008, 2:00

    as an admitted tifosi (the t-shirt kind, not the tattoo kind):
    1) agreed on inconsistent actions by the stewards, race to race – several constructors have been affected by this so far this year –
    2) agreed on drive-through penalties – the effect is too variable
    3) agreed Massa is coming into his own, now that he’s not putting the car off all the time :)
    4) re: Kimi: much to be said for him, and some legitimately against him, but wow, how he can drive these cars, and I don’t think his position on the all-time list of fastest laps is irrelevant at all – in any one race, it’s not the point, sure, but overall…

  7. F1Fan said on 25th June 2008, 2:07

    If Kimi doesn’t walk (not just win) Silverstone, there’s something very wrong in F1 this year. He should have easily won in Canada and France. Massa is good on a few tracks (Bahrein, Turkey) but no match for Kimi over an 18-race season. Of the current drivers, only Alonso in a Ferrari could give Kimi a run for his money.

  8. Terry Fabulous said on 25th June 2008, 3:21

    @ Mani

    Gday Mate. Didn’t mean to stir you up! Sorry about that. I guess I look at this year’s title and if every driver has no break downs and drives to their ability in the car they are in, I THINK that Kimi is in the box seat. Just as at the end of last year, if he had no break downs and drove to his ability in the car he was in, it would have been Lewis’s title.

    But no matter, F1 history is full of drivers who have taken a title away from someone who should have got it.
    Have a good one!

  9. james said on 27th June 2008, 20:37

    Re: felipe and his ability to do well sometimes but not necessarily always…one of the national newspaper journos made a good point when he said that Massa was able to do well at circuits where the track wasn’t like the usual F1 tracks, where it had been built so that even if drivers went slightly off line they could maintain their speed (like Malaysia), but on the more usual F1 tracks where doing well is down to superior handling of the car (because going off line costs time), Raikkonen was much better. The journo was saying that was why Raikkonen would do better over the season because he doesn’t have the edge in terms of car control on proper circuits where the skill level needed is just that bit higher.

    Interesting point and it explains why Massa isn’t really being ‘consistent’ with his results so far. He’s done well at the easier tracks and is more inclined to come in second or further down the field – unless, that is, the leader like at France this time has a car that goes kaput.

    Re: Raikkonen’s luck, it’s true that this year he’s had little of this. He’s lost a LOT of points through car failures that are simply nowt to do with him. In the ill-fated Australian GP, he was online to get a few points if his car hadn’t failed. (Thus the Ferrari head’s comment about it being unacceptable that the Ferrari had failed mechanically.) (He was at least online for those points after Massa had made far worse mistakes by the way that left him out of contention – incidentally.)

    I think it was in Malaysia where his gearbox blew after 1 lap in the first practice session, losing him the entire morning – no less than 25% of his preparation time before qualifying, and clearly setting Kimi back as you could tell from his slightly unsettled sounding comments about the event. His race weekend was vitally compromised.

    In Canada he had an excellent chance of victory at the time of Hamilton’s blunder. He’d passed Hamilton in the pit lane (and indeed his car was slightly ahead of Kubiza’s at the track re-entry spot). If not victory, second or third (8 or 6 points) were the likelihood.

    In France as we all know he lost 2 sure points.

    SO – that’s about 12-15 points lost to mechanical error and an extraordinary error by one of his rivals; and that’s without even taking in to account Malaysia where his weekend was compromised.

    Without these non-Kimi-related problems he would be some way ahead of Massa by now then. Massa has simply been the benefactor of Kimi’s mechanical problems, as well as Hamilton’s mistakes.

    The bookies are right to have Raikkonen more likely to win than Massa – there’s pure class there and unless bad luck simply continues then it has to reign in the end.

    But ferrari’s standards have slipped since their team changed a couple of years ago with the departing Schumacher – they make more errors in the pitlane and the parts fail more often. They don’t seem to have noticed the drop in standards either, or at least, they’re trying to pretend they’re not happening.

    And isn’t the difference between down-to-earth, sensible, MODEST Raikk’s comments (in the face of bad luck and being behind at many points over the last two seasons so far) and Hamilton’s posturing attitude and self-comparisons to Senna, rather notable?

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