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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Massa wins in Valencia (confirmed)

Three weeks ago Felipe Massa dominated the Hungaroring only to have his Ferrari engine let go just laps from the end.

This week on the brand new Valencia street circuit, Massa put all that behind him, leading from pole and winning the European Grand Prix (after confirmation from the stewards following an investigation into his second pitstop -- more below).

“I think it is amazing after such a bad result we come here with a new track which was new for everybody and we did just such a fantastic job from preparing the car on Friday and Saturday morning and choosing the right tyres,” Massa said.

The win put Massa into second in the championship. Points leader Lewis Hamilton, who finished runner up, extended his points lead, however, as Massa’s teammate Kimi Raikkonen’s race ended in an engine failure.

“I cannot complain with second place. We have had quite a strong weekend. I have had a few problems health-wise but still pulled through and had a great team behind me who helped me,” Hamilton said. “It is a nice new circuit and I’ve come here and got some good points and the team have got some good points this weekend, so just overall it was a solid weekend for us.”

BMW Sauber’s Robert Kubica finished third, the Pole’s best finish since his win in Montreal in June.

“We finished third, quite a far way from the top two cars. I think the key for this podium was yesterday in qualifying,” Kubica said. “I was just three tenths off pole with three laps more fuel than Felipe. I think it was an amazing performance yesterday. I think today was our reality, our real pace is a bit far away but we will try to do our best.”

It was a beautiful day for a motor race, if a bit warm. The heat, combined with 25 corners, made it a sure bet brake temperatures were going to be a concern.

Massa led from the start, Hamilton falling short of mounting a challenge off the line. Kubica slotted in behind in third as the drivers got off to a relatively clean start.

“The start was just great. I have been doing great starts this season. I was also very happy to start on the pit side even if you have maybe one or two laps less in terms of fuel load in the car,” Massa said. “Here I think I was very keen to start on the clean side which is always very difficult to predict from qualifying. But we made it and I did a great start. I braked a little bit too early in the first corner looking how they were fighting behind and I managed to go in front.”

The only mishap came well back in the field, but it was a painful one for the home crowd, as Kazuki Nakajima got into the back of Fernando Alonso, dislodging the Spaniard's rear wing.

The blow would prove to be fatal, as the Renault was wheeled into the garage after barely turning a lap.

Up front, it was a repeat of Massa’s dominance in Hungary, as the Brazilian steadily built up a lead on Hamilton. The question would be when Massa would need to pit, and could Hamilton make the gap back up in clean air.

Massa would prove to be the first of the leaders to pit, and Hamilton went to work. As the Briton put in fliers, Massa emerged from his stop in an ideal location -- just ahead of Raikkonen.

The Finn had been pressuring countryman Heikki Kovalainen since the start of the race, so Massa appearing from the pit between the two did little for the reigning world champion’s chances to make up ground.

Hamilton has built something of a reputation lately for making up lost ground when his opponents pit first, but this time he fell short of the mark and emerged behind Raikkonen.

When the first round of stops were said and done, Massa was still in command, Hamilton was still chasing, and Kubica was ready to capitalize on any mistake.

Heat was definitely playing a role, Ferrari choosing to abandon it super secret wheel covers to aid brake cooling.

Most drivers were on a two-stop strategy. One of the notable exceptions was Timo Glock. The German, fresh off so much success in Hungary, found himself on the outside of Q3. Toyota made the choice to fill him up and he was steadily moving up the field.

The second round of stops saw Massa maintain his position over Hamilton, but it proved eventful for the Brazilian, as he was released from his pit box at almost the same instant Sutil was coming down the pitlane. The two drivers rode side by side before Massa gave way as the pitlane narrowed.

“I think it wasn’t very clever from his side as even if he went out in front of me he needed to let me by,” Massa said. “It was a shame to fight with him in the pit lane as we were very close and I needed to back off and I lost a lot of time but fortunately the gap was enough.”

It seemed an odd time to release Massa, and the stewards alerted there would be a post-race investigation. The result was a reprimand and a 10,000 euro fine.

It wasn’t the only adventure for the Ferrari pit crew, as just a couple of laps later Raikkonen tried to leave the box with the fuel hose still attached. One mechanic would leave on a stretcher.

But for all the unknowns, Valencia proved to be a track that wasn’t claiming many victims. Alonso’s early retirement being the only one until Adrian Sutil found the wall on lap 42.

The race claimed its third victim as Raikkonen’s woes continued when his engine gave way in a wall of smoke on lap 46.

Massa would take the checkered flag, Hamilton on pace in second. Kubica finished well behind in third, followed by Kovalainen.

With Raikkonen’s retirement it was Jarno Trulli in fifth and Sebastian Vettel in sixth, turning in a solid drive as the Ferrari-powered Toro Rosso’s seemed to have a definite advantage on their Renault-powered brethren.

Glock finished seventh and Nico Rosberg rounded out the points paying positions in eighth for Williams.

The result keeps both championships tight, with Hamilton maintaining a slight edge on his Ferrari rivals in the drivers championship. Even Kubica is withing a shout of the leaders, just 15 points adrift.

Meanwhile, McLaren keeps chipping away at Ferrari’s lead in the constructors championship, with BMW Sauber in third.

“He (Massa) was in front and it is pretty difficult to overtake here, so I thought ‘keep a certain gap and just try and maintain it,’” said Hamilton. “But towards the end I think he started to stretch it out a little bit. But it was good to know that we were a couple of laps heavier. That shows we have got the pace.”

Now it’s off to Spa in two weeks’ time as the series tackles one of the grand old tracks on the calendar. Massa remains focused on the work ahead as he continues his campaign for the championship at one of the Formula 1 fraternity’s favorite circuits.

“We still need to work very hard as today we had another problem with Kimi and another one in the garage but it is nice that our mechanic is fine,” Massa said. “We need to look forward, we have time to work and have so many important races in front of us. I am just so glad and happy especially after such a disaster in Hungary.”
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