Massa vindicated in Valencia, stakes claim as Ferrari’s No. 1

Massa ValenciaThere may not have been an appearance from the safety car, but the inaugural European Grand Prix at Valencia was by no means spared from incident and drama as Felipe Massa shook up the world championship with a field-destroying charge to victory.

The Formula One fraternity should have been wallowing in Massa’s sensational drive and it’s ramifications on the world championship as the champagne flowed on the Valencia rostrum. But it was the Scuderia’s actions in the pit-lane that took centre stage after stewards announced they would be investigating the team’s release of Massa into the path of Adrian Sutil. Only later was it announced that the Brazilian had escaped with a fine.

Massa led from pole and, unchallenged by Hamilton into the opening corners, he flew off into the distance with a string of scintillating laps. As he peeled off into the pit-lane behind Force India’s Adrian Sutil for his second stop, the gap to Hamilton who took a conservative approach to the race after battling through most of the weekend with neck spasms and the flu was just under ten seconds. Then it all began to unravel for the Italian outfit.

First came Massa’s pit-lane tussle with Sutil. The Ferrari mechanics released their man right into the path of the Force India driver and Massa was forced to take evasive action.

“I stopped behind him at the pit-stops then we went into together so when he was passing me by I was leaving the garage and we were side by side,” explained Massa. “I think it was not very clever from his side because even if he goes out in front of me he still needs to let me by.”

“So it was a little bit of a shame to fight with him in the pit lane and with the wall coming very close I needed to back off, and for sure I lost a lot of time. Fortunately the gap was not enough not to lose time.”

Almost immediately the race stewards announced they were investigating the incident on the grounds of an “unsafe” release. They later declared they would make their decision after the race leaving the possibility of a time penalty, which could gift Hamilton the victory.

Moments later Kimi Raikkonen in the sister Ferrari was also at the centre of controversy after he floored the gas before receiving the green light on the team’s automated system. The fuel nozzle had not been detached, and as the Finn accelerated he dragged his unfortunate fuel mechanic with him, taking him to the ground in what was a nasty-looking impact with the hose. The mechanic was promptly stretchered to the medical centre

Then, catastrophe for the Finn as he saw his hopes of clinging to the championship leads go up in smokes, his Ferrari V8 giving up on him just as it had Felipe Massa at Hungary before the summer break. The man of whom questions are increasingly being asked had little to say.

“Not much to say after a day like this. It was definitely not the weekend I was hoping for but I do not believe that, despite this negative result, I am now out of the running for the title.”

“I lost a place at the start and I was stuck in traffic for all of the first stint. Then, when I had a clear track ahead of me, I was able to push and was doing good lap times. At the second pit stop, I made a mistake and left before I should have done.”

It should have been a day of celebrations for the Italian team after the way Massa trounched his McLaren rivals. But as it stands, it is Hamilton, who, having adopted a conservative approach throughout much of the race, retains his grip on the world championship.

“I cannot complain with second place,” conceded Hamilton. “We have had quite a strong weekend. I have had a traumatic weekend. I had a few problems health wise but seemed to pull through. I have a great team behind me to help. We got some good points this weekend, so overall a solid weekend for us.”

“At the start obviously I was on the dirty side. I got a reasonably start but nowhere near as quick as Felipe. I had to hold my spot and Robert (Kubica) was pushing quite hard for a couple of corners. I was trying to keep up with Felipe, he was in front and it was pretty hard to overtake here.”

“I thought I’d keep a certain gap but at the end he started to stretch it out. It was good to know we were a couple of laps heavier.”

Robert Kubica was third for BMW Sauber, underlying the step forward in performance that the Hinwil and Munich based outfit have made over the summer break. The Polish star had to spend much of the race nursing his F1.08 around the street circuit after litter got trapped under the left sidepod.

“I saw a white plastic bag flying across the track, but could not avoid it and it went under the car. I couldn t steer for two corners, which was extremely dangerous.”

“Fortunately most of the bag soon flew away, but my confidence was very low over the next sector, and I lost around three seconds. In the end I finished third. Eventually I think my good qualifying result yesterday was crucial for today s result.”

It was a disappointing day for Heikki Kovalainen who never looked like making an impact on the front-runners and pretty much ruined Kimi Raikkonen’s hopes of doing the same after leap-frogging him at the start. The Finn will need to close the gape to team-mate Hamilton in the remaining races if he is to begin 2009 with any serious chance of fighting for the title.

“My start was good, and I was consequently able to overtake Kimi before the first corner.”

“However, I m not really happy with how the race went for me after that, because I had grip problems with the prime tyres in the first and second stints – whereas with the option tyres in the last stint I had much better grip and traction.”

“As a result I could close the gap to Robert Kubica a little. At least I scored five points, but a podium would have been much nicer. Having said that, it s good that the team scored a lot of points with Lewis s second place and my fourth place.”

Jarno Trulli rounded off another impressive performance for Toyota with a one-stopping Timo Glock also finishing in the points in seventh, behind Sebastian Vettel.