Heartbreak for Massa, but Lewis would have won, say McLaren.
When Massa is on it, he’s untouchable. And so it was on Sunday that the Brazilian woke up and decided that, despite less than perfect machinery, he was going to have a go at Lewis Hamilton in Hungary, the image of the Briton breezing past him at Hockenheim perhaps still fresh in his memory.
Were it not for a heart-breaking engine failure three laps from the chequered flag, Massa would have been celebrating one of his greatest performances to date; the Ferrari was not the car to be in at Budapest, and Massa found himself in contention for victory when he really shouldn’t have been.
Fair does you might say, after all Hamilton was well poised for victory himself had it not been for his own run-in with lady-luck (a left-front puncture cruelly intervened mid-race and dropped him to fifth at the flag). McLaren insist that their man would have emerged victorious had he been given the opportunity to have a go at Massa in open air before his second pit-stop.
“Lewis’s race was compromised by his losing the lead at the start,” reflected Ron Dennis, “but we fuelled him long for the second stint and therefore believed he was well placed to leapfrog Felipe in his final pitstop.”
“Sadly for him, though, it wasn’t to be: damage to his front-left tyre cost him that victory chance. However, from Lewis’s perspective, as bad days go, it could have been a lot worse.”
But you have to wonder if that would have been the case. Massa had built up a sizeable cushion of around five seconds before Hamilton dropped out of the fray, and the McLaren driver was pushing hard to stop that gap increasing further.
Massa meanwhile was fired up and looking every bit a threat to Hamilton around the Budapest track. The Brazilian said afterwards that he was in total control, and you would have fancied his chances against Hamilton after the final round of pit-stops.
“I was managing the race, because I had a good advantage over second place after Hamilton was delayed with a problem and I was taking no risks whatsoever. I am very frustrated at the moment, because today we had a great car and we had done everything perfectly until just a few kilometres from the finish.
“We had a great car and we had done everything perfectly until just a few kilometres from the finish,” he said after his agonising exit from the grand prix. “Unfortunately, racing can be a cruel sport. We had given it our all, but these things can happen.”
Nonetheless credit must go to Kovalainen, if not for his performance in Hungary, but the races earlier in the season that he could and perhaps would have won had he not fallen victim to his own misfortune on the technical front.
“There have been races this year where I’ve been in a position to challenge for victory but had something go wrong for me,” said the Finn.
“Halfway through this race, things started working for me and I started pushing Felipe hard – and it worked. I feel sorry for Felipe because he drove a great race, but my car felt good and I knew I could push for the victory. This is a great moment for me, something I’ve been targeting for many years. Hopefully, this victory will be the first of many.”
Ron Dennis was the first to congratulate Kovalainen over the team radio, welcoming him to the ‘world of winning’. Later he added: “One of the oldest motor racing phrases ever coined is: ‘To finish first, first you have to finish.'”
“Hackneyed it may be, but it’s true nonetheless. Even so, you have to feel sorry for Felipe, who did a very good job. But Heikki drove superbly, scoring his first grand prix victory in fine style and converting his excellent qualifying pace, which has been apparent all season, into a thoroughly well deserved win.”