Monday, March 17, 2008

Felipe Massa wins Bahrain Grand Prix

Felipe Massa proved himself a contender for the drivers' championship with victory in the Bahrain Grand Prix on a day when Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso seemingly resumed their bitter rivalry. The Brazilian took the chequered flag for the first time since last August's Turkey Grand Prix to record the sixth win of his career.

Robert Kubica, of Poland, starting on pole for the first time in his Formula One career was unable to prevent a Ferrari one-two. Kimi Raikkonen captured second to lead the title race by three points from Nick Heidfeld in his BMW Sauber, with the Finn on the podium for the 50th time in his career.

The bulk of the drama, though, unfolded once the five red lights disappeared to signal the start of the 57-lap race at the Sakhir circuit. Hamilton, who came into the race with a three-point cushion in the drivers' standings but now trails Raikkonen by five, appeared to temporarily stall. That forced Heikki Kovalainen, his McLaren team-mate, into a swerving manoeuvre around Hamilton's seemingly stricken car.

But then Hamilton finally pulled away, finding himself amongst the mid-field runners heading into turn one and around the first lap, by the end of which he was running ninth. Immediately ahead of the Briton was Alonso, with no love lost between the duo following their feud last season when they were both at McLaren.

On lap two, Alonso appeared to ease off the accelerator in his Renault for a split second and it was enough for Hamilton to run into the back of two-time world champion, losing his nose cone in the process, while the Spaniard also damaged his rear-end plate.

Hamilton then struggled for the remainder of the lap to return to the pits for a new nose, following which he dropped to 19th. That was due to Sebastian Vettel retiring on the first lap after he was shunted from behind, while in a disastrous day for the Brits, David Coulthard and Jenson Button suffered early punctures.

The Red Bull and Honda duo, running at the back of the field in the wake of their trouble, then came together on lap 19. Button tried to dive down the inside of Coulthard, but succeeded to only remove his front nose cone, forcing him out of the race.

For the remainder of the race, Hamilton was unable to make severe inroads into the field ahead of him and could only finish 13th as it appeared his car had suffered more damage than merely to its nose.

Out in front, the Ferraris were in a class of their own after Massa succeeded in overtaking Kubica on the run down to the first corner. In a wheel-to-wheel battle on lap two, Raikkonen also claimed the Pole, and from that point on it was a relative procession.

But unlike in Malaysia a fortnight ago when Raikkonen took the win as he blasted past Massa in the first round of pit stops, the Finn was unable to make any impression on this occasion. For Massa, it was his second successive victory on this circuit, and after all the speculation about his future in the wake of his poor start to the season, he is up and running.

Kubica held onto third for the remainder of the race from team-mate Heidfeld, and with the 11 points from the pair it means BMW Sauber lead the constructors' championship for the first time in their history. The team hold a one-point lead over Ferrari and two to McLaren, who barely salvaged a miserable day with Kovalainen's fifth place.

Jarno Trulli in his Toyota was sixth, followed by Mark Webber, the Red Bull driver, in seventh, with Williams' Nico Rosberg taking a point for eighth place.

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