Ferrari’s Felipe Massa became Formula One’s second newest winner (after Jenson Button) with a superb lights-to-flag drive in the Turkish Grand Prix. The Brazilian didn’t make any mistakes throughout the weekend after his fantastic pole position in qualifying. His race pace was consistent and fast compared to his team-mate Michael Schumacher, who finished a very close third behind his main title challenger Fernando Alonso.
In fact, in the last few laps, everyone’s attention was focused on the duel between Schumacher and Alonso. The Renault was suffering a tyre wear issue but Alonso was in complete control of the situation despite the pressure of Michael in the faster Ferrari directly behind…
This duel reminded me of the closing stages of the 2005 San Marino Grand Prix at Imola. At that time, Alonso was in the lead and Michael was close behind and was seeking a way through in order to win the race in front of the Tifosi. In both cases, the German was desperate to get past but Alonso absorbed the pressure exceedingly well.
Indeed, Alonso was well comfortable in the tricky situation that he was adjusting the revs of his Renault RS26 engine according to how close Schumacher was… It got a little precarious at times, but Alonso knew Schumacher couldn’t afford to take them both off, since it was he who had a ten point deficit to worry about.
Despite that, going into the tight last corner on the final lap, Fernando protected the inside line just in case. But the Spaniard compromise the exit… And Michael had the momentum… In the end, Alonso just finished ahead of his championship rival by half a car’s length to create a dead heat finish. The time gap splitting the two contenders was less than one-tenth of a second!
By finishing second, this was a crucial boost to Alonso’s title defence, extending his lead from 10 to 12 points with just 40 available over the remaining four Grands Prix.
But the true significance of Alonso’s runner-up finish was to bring about a six point swing in his favour since, had Schumacher been ahead of the Spaniard, he would almost certainly be given the race win and the maximum ten points for victory.
In hindsight, Schumacher’s race was comprised by his errors during qualifying. He should have qualified the Ferrari 248 on pole position as he had the fastest package – chassis and Bridgestone tyres – to win the race. But Massa did a better job and it was a rich reward for the Brazilian after 67 Grands Prix. If Michael did get ahead of Alonso, then Massa would pull aside to let his team leader through to take the win, thereby closing the championship gap significantly… But it all went wrong during the Safety Car period.
Vitantonio Liuzzi spun his Toro Rosso at the first corner and stalled it. Forcing the race director to bring out the Safety Car so that the track marshals can remove Liuzzi’s car. This prompt the Ferrari team to conduct the first round of pitstops for both cars during this period. But Massa was ahead of Michael at that point and it was the Brazilian who was served with fresh fuel and new Bridgestone tyres. Michael was forced to wait behind and this delay cost him the track position and more importantly the race win…
With two Ferraris in the pits, Renault decided to call Alonso in for his first stop at the same time. And with Michael stacked behind Felipe, the Spaniard made the most of the opportunity to get ahead of his title rival.
So a ‘dream result’ for Felipe Massa winning his first Grand Prix for Ferrari. With Alonso in second after admitting he was lucky to finished in the runner-up spot thanks to the Safety Car. Without that, I would reckon he would have finished a distant third… As for Michael, he was frustrated to come away with only third after showing he was the fastest driver thoughout the weekend. But the German is determined to win the next race, the Italian Grand Prix so that he can close the 12 point gap…
As for the others, Jenson Button drove another impeccable race, but in dry conditions his Honda RA106 was no match for the Ferraris and Renaults and he had to make do with fourth. McLaren’s Perdo de la Rosa drove a solid race to fifth despite stopping once for fuel. While Renault’s Giancarlo Fisichella recovered well from his first lap spin at Turn 1 to take sixth.
Toyota’s Ralf Schumacher also recovered well after being involved in the first corner incident. While the last point finisher was Rubens Barrichello in the Honda.
As for the start, there was mayhem at Turn 1. Renault’s Giancarlo Fisichella spun after team-mate Alonso had to brake hard to avoid contact with the two Ferraris. The Spanaird had slipped ahead of his title rival, but was forced to brake as Massa moved across in front to take the lead.
Nick Heidfeld’s BMW Sauber lost its nosecone on the stricken Renault, and behind them there was carnage as Pedro de la Rosa (McLaren) was hit from behind by Ralf Schumacher (Toyota). Then Scott Speed (Toro Rosso) hit the back of Kimi Raikkonen (McLaren), and a sideways Takuma Sato (Super Aguri) was hit by Tiago Monteiro (Midland), who retired on the spot.
While that was happening, Ralf Schumacher swept across the track and collided lightly with his Toyota team-mate Jarno Trulli… R. Schumacher, Fisichella, Heidfeld, Speed, Raikkonen and Sato all pitted at the end of the lap before resuming. A lap later Raikkonen crashed heavily in Turn 4 after running off the road, possibly because of associated problems…
I do feel sorry for Raikkonen as he was trying to avoid the spinning Renault at the start but was hit from behind damaging his car. I really hope he can end his time at McLaren with a high by scoring a final win before joining Ferrari next year (the rumours are that the Finn will definitely drive for them and the announcement should take place during the Italian Grand Prix weekend).
Ferrari will be looking for a strong result at their home Grand Prix in Monza in two weeks time. Michael Schumacher will probably announce his decision whether or not to continue in Formula One next year. But in terms of this year’s championship, he is now 12 points behind Alonso with the Italian team only two points beind the leading constructor, Renault. The battle for the title continues in the remaining four races.