Bahrain flashback 2007 - Massa to the fore 01 Apr 2008
This time last year McLaren arrived in Bahrain with high hopes. While Ferrari had floundered in Malaysia, the British team had dominated, and with similarly hot conditions expected in the desert, the silver cars were widely tipped for success. Rookie driver Lewis Hamilton was aiming high too, targeting his maiden Formula One victory, after his third place in Melbourne and second at Sepang.
Despite their tough time at the last event, Ferrari werent feeling too glum either. Kimi Raikkonen had a new engine installed in his F2007, dispelling his reliability concerns, and Felipe Massa was impatient to right the wrong of his sixth-lap mistake in Malaysia, where he had come off worse in a tussle with Hamilton. BMW Sauber and Williams were also in the running and an intensely competitive Grand Prix was on the cards.
On Friday morning, it was Ferrari who looked most on the button, with Raikkonen clocking a time almost a second faster than Hamiltons. In second practice, however, the McLarens upped their game with the young British driver looking especially quick. BMW Saubers Robert Kubica was also optimistic, although the Pole did swap to the T-car after balance issues with his race chassis. The Williams FW29 continued to show strong potential too, with Alexander Wurz finishing sixth.
Ferrari and McLaren continued to dominate during Saturdays final practice. Raikkonen and Hamilton traded fastest laps throughout the hour, the newcomer eventually finishing on top, pipping the Finn by just 0.006s. Fernando Alonso in the second MP4-22, however, looked to be struggling, and could manage no higher than seventh. The competition in the midfield was equally intense, with fifth to 15th positions split by only a second, and during qualifying it got even tighter.
Massa took the fifth pole position of his career, while Hamilton muscled his way into second, splitting the Ferraris. It was the first time the 22 year-old had out-qualified Alonso, who clinched fourth ahead of the two BMW Saubers. The R28s problems, meanwhile, continued to affect Renaults performance, the reigning world champions only mustering seventh (Giancarlo Fisichella) and 12th (Heikki Kovalainen).
If the action had been close during the preceding days, the scene was set for an even closer fight on Sunday, with Bahrains hot, dusty conditions and heavy tyre wear ready to catch out the unaware. For Massa, however, the race turned out to be a pretty straightforward proposition, following up on pole with a fast start and a strong driver to victory. Hamilton didnt allow the Brazilian full rein, though, crossing the line just 2.3 seconds behind the Ferrari to make history as the first driver in history to finish his first three Grands Prix on the podium. In contrast, the duos respective team mates seemed to struggle, with Raikkonen third and Alonso fifth.
Indeed the latters unrewarded efforts to extract equal pace and grip from his MP4-22 as Hamilton quickly became the talk of the paddock. As did Nick Heidfelds superlative performance for BMW Sauber. Heidfeld not only had the audacity to overtake Alonso, he then kept the McLaren behind him for the rest of the race. It was his third consecutive fourth place, and yet more proof that this was a team on the ascendancy.
His team Mate Robert Kubicas sixth place netted further points for the German-Swiss team, allowing them to extend their third-place advantage over Renault in the standings. The reigning champions gleaned just one point thanks to Fisichella, who finished eighth behind Toyotas Jarno Trulli.