Massa wins inaugural Valencia GP

Victory for Felipe Massa at the end of a perfect weekend for the Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro driver, who led from pole and was never headed apart from during the run of pit stops to take his fourth victory of the season, the ninth of his career. However, it was a bitter sweet day for the Scuderia, as there were two negative points, with Kimi Raikkonen's race ending in a huge cloud of white smoke that saw him park his F2008 alongside the main straight with a handful of laps remaining. In addition, during the Finn's second pit stop, a member of the pit crew was knocked to the ground as Kimi tried to drive off while the fuel line was still attached. Fortunately, he was not seriously hurt.

In terms of the championships, Felipe now moves up to second place, six points off Lewis Hamilton who brought his McLaren-Mercedes home in second place. Robert Kubica joined these two on the podium, third for BMW-Sauber. Ferrari heads the Constructors' classification, although its lead over the Anglo-German squad has dropped from eleven to eight points.

The first ever Formula 1 race at this interesting new Valencia street circuit got underway with track temperatures nudging the mid 40s and the air a hot and sticky 29. The two F2008s lined up with Felipe Massa having an unimpeded view of the track from pole, while Kimi Raikkonen's line of site had just the McLaren-Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton, both these men on the dirty side of the 5.440 km track. Barrichello in the Honda and Sutil in the Force India started from pit lane and all cars, except Rosberg in the Williams, were on the harder of the two Bridgestone tyres.

At the start, Felipe maintained his lead, but Kimi was passed by the clean side starting Kovalainen thus dropping to fifth. Nakajima and Alonso collided and to the dismay of the Spanish crowd, the two times world champion was in the garage for a replacement rear wing, but the damage was too bad and the local hero was out of his home race. The Japanese driver got a new nose and continued. After three laps, Felipe had a lead of 1.8 over Hamilton, while Kimi was 1.1 behind Kovalainen. After five laps, the order was Felipe, Hamilton, Kubica, Kovalainen, Kimi, Vettel, Trulli, Rosberg, Heidfeld, Glock, Bourdais, Webber, Button, Fisichella, Sutil, Coulthard, Piquet, Barrichello and Nakajima nineteenth and last. On lap 9, Felipe dipped under the 1.40 barrier to record another fastest race lap and extend his lead to 3.6s. Further down the order Coulthard clipped Sutil as the Red Bull tried to pass the Force India: the Scotsman was spun round but continued.

Felipe was the first driver to make a pit stop (9.1) fitting another set of the harder tyres, coming back on track in fourth place just ahead of his Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro team-mate, so Hamilton now led Kubica by 13.1 seconds. The Englishman came in on lap 16 (8.9) and Vettel came in from sixth. When Kubica refuelled Kovalainen, yet to pit was the new leader in the McLaren, ahead of Felipe and Hamilton, with Trulli pitting from fourth on lap 19, (8.8.) After Kimi stopped he dropped to ninth, although Heidfeld and Glock ahead of him had yet to pit. Kovalainen came in on lap 20, so that Felipe was now back in the lead, heading Hamilton by 3.5 seconds. Kimi was up to sixth on lap 22, when Heidfeld pitted. At just over the half distance on lap 29, Felipe had extended his lead over Hamilton to 7.8 seconds, with Kubica a further 16 seconds behind. Kovalainen was fourth, Glock had yet to pit in fifth and Kimi sixth, 34.2 seconds behind his team-mate. The Toyota man finally came in next time round, leaving Kimi to chase a 5.4 gap to fourth placed Kovalainen. By lap 35, he had reduced his deficit to 2.9.

Felipe made his second and final 8.5 second stop on lap 37, but there was a heart stopping moment as Sutil, also in pit lane in the Force India nearly collided with the Ferrari as they exited pit lane. The Brazilian would now tackle the final twenty laps on the softer tyres. The gap between the two Finns had come down to 2.1. At the front, Hamilton now led Massa by 13.4, as the Race Director announced that Felipe was being investigated for "unsafe release from pit." Lap 39 saw Hamilton make his final stop, putting Felipe back in the lead, as Kimi had closed to within 1.3 of his fellow countryman, in their battle for third, as Kubica had pitted the BMW for his second refuelling. Kovalainen and Kimi came down pit lane nose to tail on lap 43 and for a moment it looked as though Kimi would get out first, but he attempted to pull away while the fuel nozzle was still attached, before being released and his right rear wheel hit a member of the pit crew in the back. Kimi now dropped to sixth behind Trulli. But his race ended in a huge cloud of white smoke, as he was forced to park his car at the side of the main straight.

However, out in front, Felipe continued on his majestic way to become the first winner at this track, finishing 5.6 seconds ahead of Hamilton, with Kubica taking the third spot on the podium. The rest of the points went to Kovalainen in fourth, followed by Trulli, Vettel, Glock and Rosberg.    Next week, the Scuderia will be on track at Monza for four days of testing, starting on Tuesday 26th. Andrea Bertolini drives on the first day, followed by Massa (two days) and Raikkonen (one.)

Stefano Domenicali: "Felipe has had an extraordinary weekend. Yesterday he was very quick in qualifying and today he drove in impeccable style, without putting a foot wrong to take what was a very well deserved win after the disappointment of Budapest. I want to compliment him and the whole team who have worked so hard in preparing for this event. Unfortunately, once again, we have suffered with a reliability problem, this time on Kimi's car, which lost us precious points. Now we have to find out what happened in yet another engine failure and then decide how to react.

"Clearly what happened is serious and we will have to do all in our power to make up for the ground we have lost through reliability problems in the coming races. Now we must continue to push to the maximum to develop the car and improve reliability in order to be as well prepared as possible for the forthcoming races. We still have two test sessions, at Monza and then Jerez and a lot of hard days work in the factory. Finally, I want to say a few words about Piero Timpini, our mechanic unfortunately injured in Kimi's second pit stop: his first words were to say sorry, as though the incident was his fault: it is thanks to the passion, dedication and professionalism, that these guys show on a daily basis for Ferrari how special is our team."

Felipe Massa: "It's fantastic having won this race, especially after the disappointment of Budapest. The team did an amazing job in preparing for this Grand Prix and the benefits of that could be seen right from the very first day. Yesterday, I got pole and today the win, with the race fastest lap as the icing on the cake. You cannot ask for more especially at my one hundredth grand prix with every single one of them powered by a Ferrari engine. I got a good start and I pushed to the maximum right from the early laps. In the second part of the race, the car was exceptional, but also in the final stint, when I had the softer tyres, I could do the lap times easily. This is an important moment in my career and I must continue to work in this way. I am sorry for what happened to Kimi: we have to look very carefully at our reliability. I am confident the team knows which countermeasures to take to react to this issue, as it has always done in the past."

Kimi Raikkonen: "Not much to say after a day like this. It was definitely not the weekend I was hoping for but I do not believe that, despite this negative result, I am now out of the running for the title. There are still six races to go and sixty points up for grabs. We have seen that the situation change really quickly, even if I realize things are now more complicated. Today, I lost a place at the start and I was stuck in traffic for all of the first stint. Then, when I had a clear track ahead of me, I was able to push and was doing good lap times. At the second pit stop, I made a mistake and left before I should have done. Fortunately, Pietro (Timpini) is not too badly hurt. I wish him all the best and hope he gets better soon. In any case, it would not have changed anything as then the engine broke. Now we must concentrate on preparing for the next rounds and on improving our qualifying performance."

Luca Baldisserri: "A great performance from Felipe all weekend long. He was fantastic and deserves all our praise. Unfortunately, yet again, we were not reliable, both from a technical point of view and in how we operated on the track, given what happened during Raikkonen's pit stop and then the failure of his engine, which initial investigations seem to point at a similar failure to the one Felipe experienced in Hungary. Fortunately, Pietro Timpini, the mechanic operating the refueling, injured at Kimi's second stop, got away with just a small fracture to the left foot and it is not particularly serious. Today we have seen two sides of the coin. We have a great potential, from both the team and the car, capable of putting us in front of everyone else, but if not all elements are operating at their optimum, then we are throwing away precious points that could cost us dear. We must work to remedy these problems and that's what we will do starting in the days that follow."  

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