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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Massa takes lead in championship

Felipe Massa vaults to the lead in the drivers championship as Ferrari take a 1-2 finish in the French Grand Prix.

The Brazilian won ahead of teammate Kimi Raikkonen as the Finn experienced a broken exhaust, leading to a lack of pace.

“A great race, a fantastic result. The win came my way because Kimi had a problem with his car and at the pace he was running,” Massa said. “It would have been hard for me to beat him on the track. I would have been happy with second place but of course, the win makes me even happier.”

Raikkonen was clearly disappointed, but happy the team took full points for the race.

“Unfortunately, the right exhaust pipe broke just before half-distance and the engine lost a lot of power, especially on the straight after the slow corners,” he said. “After a few laps, the situation seemed better, but towards the end of the race, I ran the risk of stopping. This sort of thing can happen in racing and I have to try and look on the bright side: eight points are still a good amount and the one-two finish is a great result for the team.”

It was a race with surprisingly little attrition and just a spot of rain. When the lights went out, it was Raikkonen leading Massa.

Home team favorite Fernando Alonso was beaten off the line by Jarno Trulli and Robert Kubica. Also losing ground early were the Red Bulls.

On the flip side, and aggressive Lewis Hamilton was up three places to 10th and putting heavy pressure on his teammate, Heikki Kovalainen. By lap five he was by the Finn. Unfortunately, the stewards took a dim view to his cutting a chicane to get by Sebestien Vettel earlier in the race, and the Briton was handed a drive through penalty. He re-emerged in 13th behind Nick Heidfeld.

Not surprisingly, Alonso was first to come in for a pit stop on lap 15, it widely expected after qualifying the Spaniard was on a light fuel load.

It was a difficult weekend all around for Honda, Rubens Barrichello finishing 14th and Jenson Button's race coming to an end on lap 18.

“Going out of the race so early is a disappointing end to what has been a tough weekend for us. I got a good start and was alongside Bourdais. I thought he was going to turn in at turn one and close the door so I pulled in behind him and then unfortunately hit him in the rear as everything slowed down for the corner,” Button explained. “I could feel that there was something broken at the front of the car as there was an air coming in from the front, but the car was driveable and I was staying with the back of the pack so I continued. However the front wing must have been loose as a result of the impact, as it dislodged itself when I went over the kerbs in the last chicane and got stuck under the front of the car. We replaced the nose but the bargeboards had been pulled off and the car had become undriveable so I had to retire.”

The first round of pit stops saw Raikkonen come in on lap 21, handing the lead to Massa. Massa pitted on lap 23 and Raikkonen re-assumed the lead. With Trulli in third the Ferraris were building up a huge gap. It clearly looked as if the Flying Finn was on his way to a win.

But by lap 35 Massa started gaining ground on Raikkonen, and the world champion’s Ferrari was sounding a bit of a sour note. Four laps later, Massa overtook his teammate for the lead, Raikkonen’s Ferrari suffering from a broken exhaust the was flapping around and sapping the F2008 of power.

For Raikkonen it became a race of damage control, trying to bring the car home ahead of Trulli, who was suddenly gaining ground. Trulli, though, had his hands full with Kovalainen fighting hard for that final podium spot.

Massa made his second pitstop on lap 54, re-emerging in the lead. The Brazilian looked fairly safe with 12 laps to go, even as rain started to fall.

“It was very difficult over there because sometimes there were some drops and you could feel straight away that the track was not the same anymore, so I was always slowing even more than I needed because I had a very good gap, so I was not risking anything,” Massa said.

And Massa would not be denied as he took the top step of the podium and jumped into the lead in the drivers championship, and Raikkonen defended under trying circumstances to bring his balky Ferrari home in second.

“In one way we are still lucky to finish the race and get eight points as in the last couple of laps the car almost stopped a few times,: Raikkonen commented. “But luckily we went fast enough in the beginning to go away from the others and we had enough of a gap in the end but I expect a few more laps and we would not have finished second.”

But the happiest man on the day had to be Toyota’s Jarno Trulli, who held off a last gasp effort from Kovalainen to take third and deliver Toyota’s first podium since Australia 2006. The Italian dedicated the podium to the late Ove Andersson.

“What a great result and a great weekend by the whole team. We were pushing really hard because we wanted to dedicate this result to Ove Andersson, who has done so much for Toyota Motorsport. Today was a great race, hard and tough,” Trulli said.

Trulli relished the battle with Kovalainen, who finished fourth.

“It was wheel-to-wheel like in go-kart, so it was a dream come true as obviously it is many years since I did such a nice fight. I would love to fight every race to fight like that,” Trulli said.

Canada winner Kubica slipped to second in the drivers standings as he brought the BMW Sauber home in fifth, while steady Mark Webber finished sixth for Red Bull.

“We didn't score as many points as we wanted to here in Magny-Cours. Over the whole weekend we tried to minimize the problems we had, and we knew the race would be decided on the first lap,” Kubica said. “In the end I have to say I am pretty happy. I finished fifth, only 2 seconds away from the podium. We now have to analyse what happened here and see how we can improve for the next race.”

The final surprise of the day saw Fernando Alonso get caught up in traffic on lap 69 and get taken by his embattled teammate Nelson Piquet as the Renaults finished seventh and eighth to round out the points paying positions.

“It’s the first time that everything has gone without any problems for me. The car and the team’s strategy worked well and I was able to score my first couple of points today. I am happy and I hope that we can continue like this for the rest of the season,” Piquet said.

As the championship heads to Silverstone in two weeks time, Massa is the first Brazilian to be leading the World Championship since Ayrton Senna. But he isn’t letting that go to his head.

“I am leading the championship and that's a nice feeling, but I am well aware it means nothing because I am aiming for the title and to do that, there is still a long way to go,” Massa said. “We have to continue working this way, race after race, right to the end of the championship.”
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