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Sunday, June 8, 2008

Kubica takes maiden victory

One year ago, Robert Kubica suffered a horrendous crash at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Today, He won the 2008 Canadian Grand Prix in his return to the track, and with it took the lead in the world championship.

"It is fantastic to win my first race for BMW Sauber which I joined from the beginning. We have grown up together and thanks to the team for providing a good car and we managed to do a first and second. Maybe the pace is still not the best but at this race we were right there," Kubica said. "The first stint I couldn’t match Lewis’ pace as we had some pressure problems but afterwards we changed the pressure and the car felt very good. But it was a fantastic race and fantastic for me, for my country and for the fans. Thanks to them for cheering for me in Canada."

Teammate Nick Heidfeld completed the historic 1-2 for BMW Sauber, and veteran David Coulthard took third for Red Bull in an eventful race at Île Notre-Dame.

"Obviously I am very happy with second position. I am very happy for Robert and for the team - our first-ever one-two. It was a good race for me and a good result in the situation I am in at the moment," Heidfeld said.

But while Kubica’s and BMW’s maiden victory will be talked about in the two weeks leading up to the French Grand Prix, it will be the shocking events in the pitlane, which eliminated Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen, that will have people buzzing.

It all began on lap 15 when Force India’s Adrian Sutil pulled over to a stop on a portion of the track beyond the reach of the cranes. The safety car was soon deployed and the field stacked up waiting for the pit lane to open.

The pits opened on lap 19 and half the field poured in, including race leaders Hamilton, Kubica and Raikkonen.

Raikkonen and Kubica were first to leave their pit stalls and were stopped side by side at the end of the pitlane waiting for the green light when Hamilton slid into Raikkonen at speed, ending both driver’s races.

"As I exited the box, I saw two cars jostling for position ahead of me in the pit lane. Obviously, I didn't want to get involved in their tussle, and was trying not to do so, and then all of a sudden they stopped," Hamilton said. "And by the time they'd come to a halt, it was too late for me to avoid them. It's just unfortunate when stuff like this happens, but I have no argument with the stewards."

Raikkonen was obviously disappointed.

"There's not much I can say. My race was ruined by Hamilton's mistake. Obviously, anyone can make mistakes, as I did two weeks ago in Monaco," Raikkonen said. "But it's one thing to make a mistake at two hundred (miles) per hour but another to hit a car stopped at a red light. I am not angry because that doesn't achieve anything and does not change my result! I am unhappy, because I had a great chance of winning."

Nico Rosberg was also caught up in the ruckus. Though he would continue, the front wing was damaged and would need replacement, ruining a promising weekend.

The event will be investigated after the race.

It was a surprisingly calm day, however, at a circuit known for its safety car periods. Officials spent the night resurfacing the areas of the track which had caused so much trouble in qualifying, but track degradation would be a factor in the race.

All runners made it through the first corner, with Hamilton in the lead and Kubica defending well to keep second out of Raikkonen's hands.

"I started on the dirty side of the track and Kimi Raikkonen was nearly able to pass me, but I just managed to keep him behind," Kubica said.

Rosberg also made a good start, getting past Fernando Alonso for fourth, and Rubens Barrichello and Kazuki Nakajima were also winners when the lights when out. Timo Glock, on the other hand, lost several places and dropped to 14th.

Renault’s Nelson Piquet immediately started moving throught the field, first taking Glock and then squeezing past Jarno Trulli for 13th. It looked as if Piquet was a man on the move before the safety car made it’s appearance.

The safety car was in on lap 21, and the field was significantly shuffled. Nick Heidfeld led, with Barrichello and Nakajima behind him. But the first nine runners had yet to stop, and with tenth place Kubica leading the group who had already pitted, suddenly it became clear the Pole might never have a better opportunity for victory.

On lap 29, Nick Heidfeld pitted, having built up a significant lead on his teammate, and indeed, he came out ahead of Kubica. But Heidfeld, now fueled until the end of the race, couldn’t keep the position and the Pole was past him on lap 31.

"I was lucky that I was quite long on my first stint strategy, so I could build a nice gap and even got out ahead of Robert for the second stint," Heidfeld said. "Then at this stage we decided to convert me to a one stopper with soft tyres which I think was the right choice. But on the soft tyres I struggled. I had seen that yesterday in qualifying and that didn’t make it easy."

While Alonso hounded Heidfeld, Kubica went to work building up his lead. He would need to stop again before the end of the race, so he would need something close to a 20 second gap to come out ahead of his German teammate.

An odd list of drivers would earn P1 in the shuffled procession, including Barrichello, Coulthard, Trulli and Glock, but as they pitted, each would rejoin behind Kubica, Heidfeld and Alonso.

Kubica needed each of those slower drivers to make their pit stops and clear out the traffic holding him up. When the last, Glock, came in on lap 42, Kubica’s crew alerted the Pole he had 10 laps to build up his gap.

Heidfeld continued to have his hands full with Alonso, who repeatedly tried to pass him in the hairpin. In the wake of their clash at the hotel hairpin two weeks ago in Monaco, one has to wonder, what is it with these guys and hairpins?

But Alonso’s challenge would come to an end on lap 44 when the Spaniard lost it at turn seven and went into the wall. With Piquet’s retirement on lap 41, Renault was left with disappointment for a weekend which had promised much.

Williams, also competitive all weekend, was left pointless as well when Kazuki Nakajima rear-ended one of the Hondas and got his wing trapped under the front wheels. With no steering, the Japanese driver straightlined it into a wall near the pit entrance.

Back up front, Kubica was now putting the clean air to good use, building an almost 25 second gap in his 10 lap window. His 7.5 second stop on lap 49 saw him emerge well ahead of Heidfeld, and now it was simply a matter of avoiding mistakes and surviving the last 20 laps on the slippery track.

"The last car went into the pits, I think it was Timo Glock, and then I had eight laps to make 16 or 17 second margin to come back after my pit stop in front of Nick," Kubica said. "That was my seven laps of qualifying. I never struggled so much and I was pushing very hard as I knew I had to make around a 21 second gap and I managed to do 24, so it was a great race."

For others, it was a scramble for the remaining points paying positions, and Massa, in particular, was looking to maximize his result. Siezing an opportunity when McLaren’s Heikki Kovalainen passed Barrichello, the Ferrari driver got both drivers in one shot.

Barrichello’s woes continued as soon both Toyotas had made their was past the Honda.

"I'm pleased with the two points today, particularly as we thought our chances of a points finish were slim when we started the weekend," said Barrichello. "Unfortunately when we switched to the option tyre after my one and only stop and with a heavy fuel load, I was really struggling with a lack of grip. I went off the track on the marbles and lost a couple of positions at turns three and four, which is a shame."

With 10 to go, it was Kubica leading Heidfeld and Coulthard cruising in the top three spots, nut well behind the Scot, the battle was fierce as the Toyotas tried to hold off Massa, and Kovalainen and Rosberg pressured Vettel for an eighth place which must have seemed unreal for the Toro Rosso driver considering he had missed qualifying and started from the pitlane.

Massa was now a man on a mission, first getting Barrichello on lap 62, and then after pressuring Trulli, got past by taking advantage of a Timo Glock mistake which forced the Italian to lift.

"I am happy to have brought home four points at the end of a very difficult race run on a track surface that was in really poor condition," said Massa. "Once I found myself at the back, I tried to climb back up again, but in the end, when I was behind Glock, I could not get past him and also I didn't want to run the risk of ending up off the track after all the trouble I'd been to to get that far."

At the flag it was Kubica earning BMW Sauber’s first win, and teammate Heidfeld made it a 1-2. David Coulthard finally opened his 2008 account with a third place finish.

"I think it is my 62nd podium and I am as delighted to be there as I was in 1994 when I had my first podium. Canada is where I scored my first points in 1994," Coulthard said. "I am in a reflective mood in my career as obviously 15 seasons is a long time for anyone, especially after such an ugly start to the season. It is great to see the younger guys enjoying their first victories. I am very happy for Robert and for BMW. I think they are deserved winners of this grand prix."

Massa would run out of laps before he could get fourth from Glock, but finished a well-earned fifth. Trulli was sixth as both Toyotas finished in the points. Barrichello hung on for seventh and Vettel finished eighth.

Kubica vaults to the lead in the driver’s championship, with Hamilton and Massa tied for second and defending world champion Raikkonen just behind them.

"It has been an incredible year but also a struggling year. Last year I was struggling a lot and I am happy I managed to fix some issues which were not working properly last season. I am doing pretty well this season," said Kubica. "I think this shows how much I was struggling last year. I am very happy being in Canada where I had a big shunt last season. It is something amazing now. The goal was to win a grand prix this season and we have done it. We are leading the Drivers’ championship, so I hope the team will give me 100 per cent support to try and maybe defend it until the last race."

In the constructors championship, BMW Sauber closes to within three points of Ferrari, and has opened up a 17 point gap on McLaren.

The circus moves back to Europe for the French Grand Prix in two weeks time at Magny Cours for round eight of the championship.
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