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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Massa the man in Turkey again

Felipe Massa took his third consecutive win in Turkey on a crisp but clear day at Istanbul Park.

The Brazilian didn’t put a foot wrong as he led from pole, and held off a three stop strategy from Lewis Hamilton to continue his mastery of the Turkish circuit.

"It is just fantastic. Today was a very difficult race actually and Lewis was pushing me hard a lot for the whole race," Massa said. "Then when I did my pit-stop he was there straight away, so I thought maybe he had put less fuel in or something. I then realised and my team told me straight away he was on three stops."

Kimi Raikkonen was third, despite suffering wing damage from a first corner contact with Heikki Kovalainen. Kovalainen’s race would be ruined as he picked up a puncture, and he would battle all day to finish a distant out of the points.

"I didn't have a very good start. I got to the side of him on the braking. Then I got a little bit squeezed on the inside and I tried to slow down and get behind him, but he just turned in a little bit. The unfortunate thing for both of us is that I broke the front wing and he had a puncture," Raikkonen said.

The BMW Saubers of Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld took fourth and fifth respectively, Fernando Alonso sixth, Mark Webber seventh, and Nico Rosberg rounded out the points paying positions in eighth.

When the lights went out, it was obvious the dirty side of the track was at a disadvantage. Massa, Hamilton and Kubica led the field as Alonso rocketed up to fifth.

Kovalainen came in immediately to replace his tire, but despite the damage sustained by Raikkonen’s car, the Ferrari driver was able to stay out behind Alonso.

"We chose to use the front wing for the whole race because it takes too long to change it and it wasn't too bad," Raikkonen said. "The weekend was a little bit difficult but at least we got some good points and we need to get a better weekend at the next race."

Meanwhile, further back, Giancarlo Fisichella ran over the back of Kazuki Nakajima, ending the Italian’s race. Nakajima was also soon to retire, as he had lost his rear wing and the damage was too extensive to repair.

The accident briefly brought out the safety car, but it was in by lap two and we were off.

By lap three Raikkonen had dusted off Alonso, the Spaniard looking like he was standing still as the Finn went by. Massa was well entrenched in the lead, with Hamilton in hot pursuit.

It was rumored Hamilton was on a light load, and he did not disappoint, being the first to pit on lap 16. He rejoined in sixth after a very short stop, it becoming evident he was on a three stop strategy. The Briton said it was Bridgestone's call.

"The reason we went with a three stopper was due to Bridgestone being concerned as they thought the tyre was going to fail like it did last year," Hamilton said. "Therefore, they made us do a three stop as it was the safest route to go."

Massa was in by lap 19, leaving Raikkonen temporarily in the lead. The Brazilian made it out ahead of Hamilton.

Raikkonen pitted on lap 21 and rejoined ahead of Kubica. After the first round of stops, it was Massa leading from Hamilton, and Raikkonen ahead of Kubica.

The lighter-fueled Hamilton was soon all over the back of Massa, and on lap 24 it paid off, the Briton putting together a marvelous pass to take the lead. But Ferrari knew Hamilton was on a three-stopper at this point, and letting Hamilton by made strategic sense for the Prancing Horse.

"I was trying to go a little bit on the inside but then I saw him going almost on the gravel, so I didn't risk going more to the left as it would not have been fair and maybe we were going to crash," said Massa. "I tried to brake a bit late but he was inside, knowing where I was braking, so it was much easier to try. Then when he tried I saw him on my inside and I said 'okay go' and we will see at the next stop how it is going to be. It was just fine and I was talking with my engineer and he told me the gap should definitely have been okay."

Sebastien Bourdais beached his car on lap 26, and would be the final retirement of the race. The Frenchman later said something broke on the back of the car.

Hamilton pitted early as expected, stopping on lap 33 from the lead, and would rejoin in third. Meanwhile, Hamilton’s teammate was struggling in the back, trying to maximize his result. On lap 35, Kovalainen and Timo Glock swapped places twice before the Finn made it stick. A lap later, he had taken Nelson Piquet and Jenson Button.

On lap 41 Massa was in for his second stop, the Ferrari also switching to the hard compound as required. Kubica was also in, and switched to the soft tire. Massa came out in third, Kubica fifth.

Raikkonen was again in the lead, with Hamilton pursuing. The Finn was in on lap 44 for fuel and hard tires, leaving Hamilton temporarily in front, but the McLaren driver was in on the next lap taking on the soft compound - tires were continuing to be one of the keys to today's race.

Hamilton beat Raikkonen in the pit stops to take second, but how would he perform on tires he hadn’t got a grip on all weekend?

With 10 to go, it was Massa, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Kubica, Heidfeld, Alonso, Webber and Rosberg looking at the points paying positions.

Raikkonen was still pushing Hamilton hard with five to go, but it soon became obvious that only a desperate move would get him past the McLaren driver. Raikkonen instead chose to consolidate his position and take the points.

And that was how it would stay as Massa won his third straight Turkish Grand Prix, Hamilton and Raikkonen in tow. The two BMW Saubers picked up some vital points to maintain its second in the constructors championship.

"Like I said we had a difficult weekend but I am still happy being in third place and we didn't lose too many points," Raikkonen said. "It is early season and we still have good points, so we will see what we can do in the next few races. The next two races last year were very difficult for us so we need to see how strong we can be and hopefully we can challenge for wins and go from there."

Points were also tallied for Renault as Alonso finished sixth. Red Bull just missed out on a double points finish as Mark Webber took seventh and David Coulthard ninth, and Williams found themselves back in the points with Nico Rosberg picking up eighth.

Jarno Trulli finished tenth, Button eleventh. Kovalainen managed twelfth after his unscheduled pit stop, a disappointing end to a weekend which showed such promise. Glock was 13th.

Rubens Barrichello finished 14th in his record 257th race, rounding out a difficult day for both Japanese manufacturers. Piquet, Adrian Sutil and Sebastian Vettel (yes, Vettel!) were the remaining race finishers.

Kimi Raikkonen maintains a seven point edge on Massa and Hamilton, tied for second, in the drivers championship. Ferrari extends its lead to 19 over BMW Sauber, with McLaren third in the constructors.

The teams return to action in two weeks time with the crown jewel of them all, the Monaco Grand Prix. Massa summed up what he looks to achieve in the pricipality.

"Having a good weekend would be definitely a good result, even being on the podium as you always want to score as many points as possible," he said. "We know Monte Carlo is a track which can be very tricky especially without traction control. But I am looking forward to being very strong there as well."
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