TURKISH GP - SUNDAY - RACE REPORT

Thanksgiving for Massa in Turkey

Felipe Massa, Turkish GP 2006

Felipe Massa, Turkish GP 2006 

 © The Cahier Archive

Formula 1 has a strange way of suddenly coming alive when you least expect it. This year looked like a straight shoot between Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher but in recent weeks we have seen two new Grand Prix winners in the last two races. Variety, so they say, is the spice of life and F1 is looking more and more spicy as we head towards an earthquake in the driver line-ups with Kimi Raikkonen off to Ferrari, Fernando Alonso on his way to McLaren and Michael Schumacher. Well, who knows? If Michael is planning to be an F1 driver for a few more years he is going to have to stop making mistakes. Yes, he has won seven World Championships but in the last month he has given away at least nine points by making mistakes that a man of his experience should not be making. In Hungary he fought battles that did not need to be fought and in Turkey he threw away the chance of a win. He had the fastest car and he did not maximise the potential of it and now he goes into the last four races of the year with a 12 point deficit to Alonso, which means that Fernando need only finish second to Michael in all the races to maintain his advantage.

Things might have been worse. If there had been an early Safety Car in Turkey, as there should have been, the Ferrari strategies might have gone awry and Alonso might even have won the race. We will never know because in the end there was a Safety Car just as the frontrunners were going into the pitstop "windows". The top six runners all headed for the pitlane and as Felipe got there first and Ferrari could not ignore him, Michael had to sit in the pitlane for 12 seconds more than he needed. As a result he emerged behind Alonso. In fact the Safety Car was no great bonus for the Renault driver as it wiped out the gain that he might have made. Michael's car was not as good in the middle stint because the team had given Michael a heavier load of fuel so that he could run for longer and thus make up ground. It was a good strategy but then Michael dropped the ball by running wide on losing four and a half vital seconds. Without that he would have emerged ahead when he pitted again on lap 43. One would be naive to suggest that if he had been running second and Massa had been running ahead that Felipe would have won the race. Things do not happen like that at Ferrari. Michael would have won.

Asked afterwards if it would be fair to say that the mistake had cost him the place, Michael replied: "I think you can say that if you want to, yeah."

Michael also admitted that he had overdriven to make up for the mistake.

"There was nothing else I could do," he said. "I could not sit and wait any longer."

His conclusion was that "it wasn't supposed to be today" and that "that's the way it is".

Is this the Michael Schumacher who could make the impossible happen a few years ago? Or is this a man who is winding down his career, trying for one more World Championship before he retires? Who knows? Perhaps not even the man himself. But what we do know is that you do not win World Championships by frittering away points like this.

Still, one man's mistake is another man's opportunity and Felipe Massa did not look this prancing gift horse in the mouth. With Michael behind Alonso the only logical strategy for the team was to allow Massa to win so as to take points away from Alonso and to drag Ferrari closer to Renault in the Constructors' Championship. Ferrari went home with 16 points but it could have been 18. Massa went home with his first Grand Prix victory and like all young men who finally break through into the F1 big time, he found it a rather overpowering experience. It is always nice to see a new winner, a new flowering of talent.

"I've been working so hard through my whole career to get to this moment," he said. "It's just amazing. Looking back to everything in my life to get to here - I'm really happy and very emotional."

Down in Brazil - where they get pretty excited about this sort of thing - there was no doubt dancing on the streets. It has been a while since a Brazilian won a Grand Prix and this was a man from the new generation. And, let us not forget, that Massa is not one of the plastic GI Joe kind of racing drivers that one sometimes encounters. Felipe is a popular guy. Funny and very human. And people like that.

In the closing laps Michael tried to make up for his mistake a shadowed Alonso but while this may have had the TV commentators shrieking and yelping, the reality was that Michael was not going to get the place unless Fernando was going to make a mistake - and he had no intention of doing that. He drove defensively, managed Michael in the places where the Ferrari needed to be controlled and did a very nice job.

"In the last 15 laps it was very close," he said. "But to be honest I was confident I was playing with the revs in the engine a little bit. It was going up and down depending on the distance I had to Michael. There's only one possibility here, at the end of the straight in Turn 12 and if you do well in Turn 8 and Turn 9 you should keep the advantage. I concentrated on that part of the circuit, maximum revs in that part and minimum revs in the other parts. We ran together and to finish in front by half a car length was enough to be second. It would have been difficult to win because Felipe was away and impossible to catch him, so for sure we need to improve something for the forthcoming race."

The three men at the front slowed down so much in those closing laps that it allowed Jenson Button to get pretty close but that was not really a fair reflection of what the Honda could do. Button admitted that the car is still not good enough to battle with the Ferraris and with Alonso (he did not add Giancarlo Fisichella) and trotted out the usual Honda line about knowing how to solve the problem and needing to work hard to do it.

The figures backed up Button's arguments. The two Ferraris lapped within a tenth of one another. Alonso was a tenth in arrears and Button was just two-tenths adrift. Honda is getting closer and with Barrichello picking up a point as well, it was a good day for the team, even if the likelihood of improving on fourth in the Constructors' Championship is less than slim.

This does not mean that McLaren is doing well because this is clearly not the case at the moment. The team salvaged four points thanks to a solid one-stop drive from Pedro de la Rosa but Kimi Raikkonen was again in the wars, this time being punted off by an errant car at the first corner. The TV coverage of the race was pretty poor and there was much debate after the race over who had actually hit who at the first corner. Drivers often do not know and PRs have a tendency to gloss over matters that are too complicated to figure out. Without good film it can become of a mystery. There was no doubt that the shunting began when the two Ferraris squeezed Alonso as they funneled into the first corner. He swerved to avoid an impact causing Fisichella to take avoiding action. Alas, this resulted in a spin. After that the pinball wizards took over. Fizzy hit Nick Heidfeld and the two cars both damaged their noses. Raikkonen swerved right to avoid Fisichella, aware that in the middle of the track there was a Red Bull with so many smoke trails that it should have had guns mounted on the sidepods. Opinions varied as to whether this was David Coulthard or Christian Klien. Having dodged one out of control Red Bull-sponsored car Kimi came back on to the track and was assaulted by another, Scott Speed smashing into Kimi's left rear, having previously clonked de la Rosa as well. In the middle of all this Ralf Schumacher did one of his "I'm coming through without looking" moves and bashed into his own team mate Jarno Trulli, who reckoned that he had been hit from behind as well. Down at the back Takuma Sato smashed into Speed and Tiago Monteiro slammed into him and that was that.

Heidfeld and Raikkonen went around the track spreading composite shards all over the place and it was amazing. Frightening, in fact, that Race Control did not send out a Safety Car. Was it not the FIA that not long ago made a big fuss about the dangers of composite shards? There were great chunks of carbon all over the place and yet nothing happened. Later, when Tonio Liuzzi spun at the first corner, the Toro Rosso coming to rest in a dangerous place, it seemed to take a long time before the Safety Car was deployed. Once again it was a mystery why it took so long. These are not questions that the sport needs to be addressing. We should know better.

After the mayhem at the start it was really a question of the survival of the fittest and a number of damaged cars trying to get to the end. Fisichella did what he could but managed only to get up to sixth, behind de la Rosa. Raikkonen disappeared straight after his pit stop when his car skated off into the wall, having lost most of its floor on the way to the pits. Ralf Schumacher picked up two points and Barrichello took one. It was another bad day for Williams with Mark Webber fading back from an early fourth to 10th by the end while Nico Rosberg was fifth at one point but retired with a loss of water pressure. The two BMW Saubers were not very quick in the race.

The fight is still on for the World Championship and as Fernando Alonso explained it will be decided by the tyres.

"Every weekend is a new challenge, a new opportunity to increase the gap or a new opportunity to close the gap," he said. "Probably if I hadn't had the problem in Hungary with the tyre, probably we are talking about a lead of 22 points, which is quite good with four races to go to the championship. I think you can increase the gap or you can lose everything very quickly these days so it's not comfortable any more."