Massa victorious, but Hamilton on top of the world
You have to feel for Ferrari. Four pole positions and three victories in the first four races of the gripping 2007 world championship, and still they trail McLaren in both the drivers and constructors tables. Why?
We know that one of the indispensable requirements for winning the championship is reliability, said Jean Todt, who helped mastermind the Scuderias fabled reputation for bullet-proof engineering, and twice now it has been missing this season, today with Kimis (Raikkonen) car.
While eventual winner Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso were busy quarrelling over territory in the first corner, Raikkonen had already lost a place to Lewis Hamilton, and after nine laps his day was through when a problem in the alternator wiring struck down his F2007.
That was a potential eight points down the pan, and a gift to McLaren. But Ferrari did not let victory slip through their fingers. There were times when Hamilton and Alonso were matching Massas lap times, but the Brazilian got the jump on them both in the early laps and established a cushion that, far from being eroded, simply grew by the time the second pit stops were over. Just like Michael Schumacher used to, the Brazilian shrugged off a flaming pit lane exit, and sped home to his second successive 2007 victory.
With a 14-point haul it was hardly time for the flags to fly at half mast at McLaren, and the impeccable reliability of the MP4-22s kept the team at the head of the constructors championship with 58 points to Ferraris 49. Assuredly, this will be a nip and tuck year in which consistency and reliability will reap dividends.
BMW Sauber know that, which is why it was cheering for them when Robert Kubica brought his F1.07 home a good fourth, and galling as Nick Heidfeld first suffered a bungled pit stop and then retired because of transmission gremlins. The problem with the stop was that Heidfeld tried to leave the pit while the tyre gun was still attached to the right front wheel; by the time he got going a Toyota mechanic was retrieving a lost wheel nut from the car. The need to creep round a lap for a replacement damned Heidfeld anyway, but the gearbox problem was tough to take too. Still, the team remain a comfortable third with 23 points, on a day when neither Renault (fourth with 11) nor Toyota (equal fifth with five) scored anything.
The champions were hit by frustrating fuel rig failures which afflicted Heikki Kovalainens first and second stops and Giancarlo Fisichellas second. Neither of them got their full allowance of fuel, and thus had each to make a further stop. The Finn made it home seventh for two points, when four were up for grabs, the Italian was ninth and thus scored nothing. Since both refuelling rigs were affected, the team are currently investigating the cause.
Toyotas race went wrong even before the starting lights went out, as Jarno Trullis TF107 stalled on the grid because of a fuel pressure problem. He took the restart from the pit lane, but only lasted eight laps before the same problem forced retirement. Ralf Schumacher had to make a pit stop at the end of the first lap after Alex Wurz ran into the back of him during some intense midfield fighting on the opening lap, which involved both of them and the duelling Fisichella and Takuma Sato. As the latter slid wide over a kerb, Schumacher had to brake and swerve to avoid him and was hit by a surprised Wurz. Later Schumacher retired with a loose nose.
While one Williams was thus eliminated early, the other was able to race home a competitive sixth, courtesy of Nico Rosberg whose only real problem was the lack of a drinks bottle on a hot afternoon. His three-point haul took Williams up to joint fifth with their engine supplier, Toyota.
Ahead of the German, however, was David Coulthard, who had a salad day in the improving Red Bull RB3. The Scot qualified well and was in the hunt for points all afternoon. He scrapped well with Kovalainen, and managed to bring the car home to open the teams 2007 points account even though he was effectively stuck in fourth gear towards the end when third and fifth went missing. Team mate Mark Webber fared less well, lasting only seven laps before succumbing to a hydraulic failure. The same thing accounted for Tonio Liuzzis Toro Rosso on lap 20, 10 laps after team mate Scott Speeds car had burst its left rear tyre on the pit straight after sustaining a cut in the tread.
With so many retirements, there was a final point going begging, and in the end it fell to the delighted Super Aguri team, whose SA07 cars were right on the pace of Hondas own RA107s. Takuma Sato fought tooth and nail to snatch eighth, ahead of the hamstrung Fisichella, who led home Rubens Barrichello, Anthony Davidson and Jenson Button. The latter lost the drag race to the first corner with Barrichello as he rejoined after a pit stop on the 22nd lap, went up the inside kerb and then slid off it and removed his front wing off on the back of his team mates RA107. That necessitated another pit stop for a new nose.
Both Spykers finished for the second race in succession, with Adrian Sutil finally getting beyond Turn Four on the first lap without incident to claim 13th ahead of team mate Christijan Albers. Both stalled during pit stops, and the Dutchman was awarded a drive-through penalty after failing to observe blue flags.
So Ferrari won the race but lost ground in the title fight, but with the next race looming fast, Spain is already consigned to history as the focus switches to Monaco. This is going to be a great year.