Europe Flashback 2008 - Massa wins, but Ferrari rue mistakes 21 Aug 2009
With a newly-built, bespoke street circuit awaiting them, the Formula One paddock couldnt wait to arrive in Valencia ahead of the tracks inaugural hosting of the European Grand Prix last year. Boasting 25 corners, and located within the Spanish citys marina, it was an exciting proposition, especially after the end of F1 racings traditional three-week summer break.
Fresh from their victory in Hungary, courtesy of Heikki Kovalainen, McLaren and championship leader Lewis Hamilton were keen to get their weekend underway, while Ferrari and BMW Sauber were hoping the new track would bring them a change of fortune after their disappointing showings at the Hungaroring.
The first practice session, however, was dominated by Toro Rossos Sebastian Vettel, who posted the fastest time on the dusty track, ahead of Ferraris Felipe Massa. Hamilton was third, leading Sebastien Bourdais in the second Toro Rosso, Kovalainen, BMW Saubers Robert Kubica, Ferraris Kimi Raikkonen, Williams Kazuki Nakajima, local hero Fernando Alonso in the Renault, and Williams Nico Rosberg.
After lunch, Raikkonen took charge ahead of Alonso, Hondas Jenson Button and Ferrari team mate Massa. Hamilton and Kovalainen finished fifth and sixth respectively, with Toyotas Timo Glock the final runner below 1m 40s. The consensus was that the drivers loved the track, but of all the runners, it was the Ferraris that were leading the way.
But both Massa and Raikkonen kept a low profile during Saturdays final practice, and the top spot was taken instead by Kubica, who became the first man to dip below 1m 39s. Rosberg was second, ahead of Bourdais, Nakajima, Massa, Vettel, Hamilton and BMW Saubers Nick Heidfeld. Although a lot would depend on fuel loads, the overall reckoning was that there was very little to choose between Ferrari, McLaren and BMW Sauber.
Indeed, they were so close during qualifying that at first it seemed Hamilton had scored his third consecutive pole position. But in the end Massas spectacular final run was enough to take P1, ahead of the British driver and Kubica in third. Although the top three set their best times on Bridgestones super soft tyres, Raikkonen went fourth on the harder rubber, ahead of Kovalainen, Vettel, Toyotas Jarno Trulli, Heidfeld, Rosberg and Bourdais. And despite some spots of rain and the twisty nature of the track, there were no significant incidents.
As Sunday dawned, pole-sitter Massa was widely regarded as the favourite. Not only did the Ferrari look strong, but overtaking was still an unknown quantity around the Spanish circuit. Sure enough the Brazilian got the best of starts, keeping Hamilton in second, and controlled the race throughout. However, it wasnt all plain sailing.
Massas second pit stop on Lap 37 was investigated by the stewards after he was deemed to have been released unsafely into the path of Force Indias Adrian Sutil. Although the duo didnt collide, Ferrari were reprimanded and fined and it was a mistake that could have easily marred their winning performance. But to Massas relief, he left the race with another 10 points and second place in the title chase.
Hamilton took a worthy second to add to his leading tally of 70 in the standings, while Kubica put in a strong performance to take third ahead of Kovalainen, Trulli and Vettel. The remaining points went to Glock and Rosberg, who led home Heidfeld, Bourdais and Renaults Nelson Piquet, with Red Bulls Mark Webber, Button, Force Indias Giancarlo Fisichella, Nakajima, Hondas Rubens Barrichello and Red Bulls David Coulthard a lap down.
While Massas pit stop had almost ruined his race, team mate Raikkonen was hit even harder. Pitting on Lap 43, Raikkonen was released before the fuel hose had been removed from his F2008. The resulting melee saw hose man Pietro Timpini take a fall. While he was stretchered to the medical centre with a minor fracture to his left foot, the damage to Raikkonens car proved much more severe and on Lap 46 the Finn pulled of the circuit with an engine failure - the teams second in as many races. The only other non-finishers were Alonso, who to the despair of his home crowd collided with Nakajima on the opening lap and had to retire with a badly damaged R28, and Sutil who crashed on Lap 42.
Massas win may have seen him take second in the drivers championship, but Ferraris lead in the constructors standings had dwindled to single figures, and there were some serious worries to contend with ahead of the next round, not least perfecting their pit stops.