Felipe Massa has won the French Grand Prix for Ferrari, leading home his team mate Kimi Raikkonen in a fairly eventful race at Magny Cours. Raikkonen had led from pole position, but a damaged exhaust slowed his pace and Massa eventually passed and led for the remainder of the event. Raikkonen drove admirably to bring his F2008 home, while Jarno Trulli completed the podium with a great drive in his Toyota to honour the passing of former team boss, Ove Andersson.
The start of the race was clean and everyone ran down to the Adelaide hairpin in one piece, although Hamilton came close to clipping the back of his team mate in the excitement. However, Lewis Hamilton was desperate to make up positions from his thirteenth grid-slot attempted to pass Sebastian Vettel going through the fast middle-section of the lap. Hamilton got past the Rosso car but was carrying too much speed and couldn’t keep his McLaren on the road. Hamilton’s MP4-23 ran over the green tarmac as he passed the Scuderia Toro Rosso and the infraction resulted in a drive-thru penalty for the British driver. Lewis came in on lap 13 to serve his penalty despite communication from the Woking team to race control saying it was an unjust punishment.
One of the biggest losers from the start was Fernando Alonso, who struggled off the line and lost his position to Jarno Trulli. From the start the Ferraris continued to extend their lead and Trulli managed to hold a relative good pace in third, despite his usual reputation of creating a Trulli-train.
On lap 16 Raikkonen set his fastest lap of the race, the time of 1m16.630s would stand for the entire race distance. Further behind the Ferraris though a lot happened with Piquet, Kovalainen and Hamilton all battling each other for position, with the Red Bulls thrown in for good measure. After the first round of pitstops Raikkonen still led Massa with a five-second advantage, while Fernando Alonso was having a tough time falling back through the field.
The middle part of the race was all about Kimi Raikkonen and his exhaust. On lap 34 it became very clear that Raikkonen was in trouble, his lap times were tumbling and Massa was gaining. The following lap the reason was known: Raikkonen had a damaged right exhaust on his Ferrari and the part was flapping around. Initial fears were that Raikkonen may not make it to the end of the race. With the exhaust failing to channel the hot fumes away from the car, his bodywork would have been subjected to unusual temperatures. The Finn perservered though and soon controlled his laptimes as he worked around the problem.
Massa eventually glided past the damaged Ferrari of Raikkonen and the Brazilian set about extending his lead over the rest of the pack. Jarno Trulli was still in third, but the Italian was about 20s behind the leading duo. At first it was clear that Trulli could catch Raikkonen and take second, but Kimi stabilised his times and Trulli could not respond.
Elsewhere in the field, Hamilton was darting around slower cars and soon found himself behind 2007 team mate Fernando Alonso. The pair moved around but by lap 47 Alonso couldn’t resist the McLaren any more and Hamilton got past and moved into twelfth. A good strategy from McLaren with Kovalainen meant the Finnish driver was hunting down Trulli in the final stint of the race, holding fourth place and driving quite well.
The final few laps were all about Heikki and Jarno, as the Toyota driver defended his third position from the McLaren. Heikki was all over the gear box of Trulli, and at the final hurdle, Kovalainen pressed the Toyota at the fast Nurburgring corners. However, Trulli was having none of it and squeezed the McLaren right over to the left, causing Heikki to back off the throttle and tuck back in behind.
Fernando Alonso had managed to recover his race to seventh, and surprisingly his team mate Nelson Piquet was right behind in eighth. Alonso was struggling a little though with his tryes and in a moment of running wide, Piquet pounced and took the position from the world champion. I’m sure a few choice Spanish words were uttered inside Alonso’s helmet, but the move was clean and fair.
The French Grand Prix gave Ferrari another one-two and Massa leaves the country in the lead of the drivers title. Raikkonen will be pleased to have scored some points, but will be upset that it wasn’t the maximum that he was so sure of getting. Toyota’s podium drought has ended with a fine drive from Jarno Trulli, and Kovalainen can be happy with a drive from tenth to fourth.
Lewis Hamilton had the race weekend from hell, going from third on the grid to thirteenth, and then to the back of the pack following his drive-thru penalty. The Briton eventually finished in tenth, but will want to put this race meeting firmly in the back of his mind before the British Grand Prix in a fortnight. Previous championship leader Robert Kubica finished in fifth at Magny Cours ahead of Mark Webber and the Renaults.
Only one retirement came from the Nevers circuit; Jenson Button parking his Honda up and ending a disastrous race for the team. Rubens Barrichello spent much of the 70-laps in and around the Force Indias before improving to fourteenth in the final stint. Williams too had a poor outing today, Nico Rosberg nursing his punishment from Canada as well. Kazuki Nakajima brought his FW30 home in fifteenth and just ahead of his team mate.
Nick Heidfeld will need to understand exactly what went wrong for him as well. The German driver has been struggling with tyre temperatures recently, this being the reason for his poor qualifying performances according to the team. In France he lined up twelfth, so one has to ask what his reason was behind finishing in thirteenth. Let’s all remember that two weeks ago the two BMWs came home in first and second.
Scuderia Toro Rosso had a mixed bag as well; Sebastian Vettel generally impressing more than Sebastien Bourdais. Although this was Bourdais’s home race, the Champ Car star couldn’t produce a decent result and finished up in seventeenth, five places behind Vettel.
All in all, the 2008 French Grand Prix wasn’t as bad as most were expecting, and it is always great to see a driver having to nurse a car home. Particularly in this age of super-reliability it is now becoming a treat for the eyes to see a driver struggle with a failing car. Although Ferrari dominated the event, we can’t expect Canadian-esque races everytime, and the ’08 Magny Cours race will go down as an average event in my book.