Massa leads Ferrari to dominant 1-2 in France

Massa FranceFelipe Massa romped home to victory in Magny-Cours leading the Scuderia to its third 1-2 of the season after an exhaust problem forced Kimi Raikkonen to relinquish the lead to the Brazilian.

Massa passed Raikkonen on Lap 39 of the French Grand Prix after the Finn’s exhaust broke off his Ferrari, damaging the bodywork in the process. The win, Massa’s third of the season and the eighth of his career, catapults the Ferrari driver into the championship lead, two points clear of Robert Kubica.

Raikkonen dominated the race from the start and had built up a comfortable lead over Massa when his exhaust problem intervened. But the Finn still managed to bring his injured F2008 home to the chequered flag, much to the delight of Ferrari.

McLaren’s abhorrent weekend in the French countrywide rumbled on relentlessly with Lewis Hamilton receiving a drive-through penalty for cutting the Nurburgring chicane on the opening lap and gaining an advantage over Sebastian Vettel.

The Briton had already been clouted with a ten place grid penalty for his pit-lane incident in Canada, and this, allied his second run-in with the stewards dropped the McLaren ace to all but last come the time of his first pit-stop, which he took shortly after his drive-through penalty.

Hamilton climbed his way up to tenth place after losing time behind the Renaults of Nelson Piquet and Fernando Alonso, but his failure to score points for the second race in a row leaves him ten points adrift of the championship leaders.

Things were only slightly better for Heikki Kovalainen who clawed his way up to fourth place having been dealt a grid penalty of his own for impeding Mark Webber in qualifying and starting tenth.

Despite spending most of the opening part of the race tucked up behind the gearbox of Nelson Piquet’s Renault, the Finn ran a longer first stint than most of his rivals and this combined with an impressive overtaking manoeuvre on Mark Webber later in the race put him within touching distance of Jarno Trulli’s Toyota for third place.

With brief showers intervening in the dying laps, Kovalainen closed right on to the gearbox of Trulli. But the Italian veteran held his ground and went on to claim his eighth podium of his career and Toyota’s best result in over two years: a fitting tribute to the late Ove Andersson, former Toyota chief, who died earlier this week.

Robert Kubica, who only a fortnight ago in Canada was wallowing in the champagne that marked his first career victory, had to settle for fourth place in France after BMW Sauber’s abysmal turn of fortunes continued into race day. Team-mate Nick Heidfeld languished down in the wrong half of the field for most of the race and wound up thirteenth overall.

Mark Webber brought his Red Bull home in the points for the sixth time of the season having ran late into the race and leap-frogged Fernando Alonso at the pit-stops. Renault followed their engine customers’ home in seventh and eighth with Nelson Piquet out-racing his double world champion team-mate for the first time this year.

Fernando Alonso was unable to deliver on the promise laid down by his superb third place in qualifying after he pitted early for fuel and lost out to Webber and Piquet who had fuelled longer. But the Spaniard still found time to dice with his old adversary Lewis Hamilton later in the race. Hamilton, trying to make up ground, forced his way past the Renault driver at the Estoril corner, the duo touching wheels but both living for another day.

David Coulthard and Lewis Hamilton rounded out the top ten on what was a dire day for the British drivers. Jenson Button broke his nosecone in an incident on the opening lap and retired with a mechanical problem later in the race.

Barrichello in the sister Honda, who started plum last after taking a gearbox change moments before the start of the race, managed to climb up to fourteenth, ahead of the Williams duo’ who likewise have been struggling with the handling of their cars all weekend.

Toro Rosso’s Sebastian Vettel ran as high as fourth place in the race before dropping back down to twelfth place after his pit-stop. Local boy Sebastien Bourdais couldn’t do much better and had to settle for seventeenth in front of his home crowd.

The Force India pairing of Giancarlo Fissichella and Adrian Sutil brought up the rear; the team acknowledging earlier in the season that they would be putting the bulk of their resources behind next year’s car.