French GP - Sunday - Race Report
In recent races McLaren has been the dominant force in Formula 1 but things quickly change and at the French Grand Prix Ferrari dominated - a situation which caught a lot of people by surprise given the team's problems in recent weeks. British fans, who might have been hoping for a Lewis Hamilton hat-trick of wins, were disappointed as the youngster struggled to stay with the Ferrari. Fernando Alonso had a hectic afternoon, trying to make up places after problems in qualifying, but he ended up only seventh and so Hamilton increased his World Championship lead to 14 points, while Massa and Raikkonen both closed in on Fernando.
There was much talk of the weather being the key deciding factor in this race but the rains disappeared in the late morning and as the field lined up for the start the skies were overcast but there seemed no real chance of rain.
Hamilton's strategy, we discovered later, was a three-stop strategy. That was rather dependent on Lewis making a good start and that did not happen.
"My start was quite poor and I don't really know what happened," he admitted. "I definitely need to look at the data with my engineers, but it didn't go very well and I lost a place to Kimi, who made an exceptional start. Whatever it was, we weren't quick enough off the grid and I lost a bit of pace behind him."
Any realistic hope Hamilton had of victory had gone by the time they reached the first corner, as Raikkonen swept past him and gave chase to Massa. In the first stint Lewis held on but it became clear that his fuel load was very small and thus McLaren really had no hope after he came into the pits after 16 laps. Massa went three laps further . And Raikkonen went three more than Massa.
This all meant that by the time they all rejoined Hamilton had lost touch with the two leading cars, which left us with an interesting showdown between Massa and Raikkonen. They were very close but in the end the matter was settled by the traffic through which the two men had to weave their Ferraris.
When they were all back on the track again Hamilton had lost touch with the Ferraris. From then on it was the two Ferraris against one another. Hamilton had one important moment of danger when he emerged from his second stop behind Robert Kubica. He could not afford to be stuck behind the BMW and promptly dealt with his old karting rival. After that he was always going to be third. The two BMWs could not keep up and the Renaults were not the threat that they had appeared to be in qualifying.
The attention thus turned to the scrap between the two Ferrari drivers and the decisive moment in this fight came during the second stints when Massa lost time in traffic as he tried to work his way through a battling midfield. Kimi went longer and as a result emerged in the lead.
"Traffic was a problem," Massa said. "I lost the victory because of that."
Hamilton held on to the third place all the way, despite a challenge at one point from Robert Kubica. Hamilton found himself behind the Polish driver. That did not last long and once he was ahead Hamilton kept his foot in. Behind him there was plenty of fraught action but very little in the way of actual overtaking.
This was not a classic race. Kubica settled back to take fourth, while Heidfeld came home fifth, ahead of Giancarlo Fisichella, Alonso and Jenson Button, the Honda team finally chalking up its first point of the year.
The only man who was not lapped was Nico Rosberg.
Ralf Schumacher finished 10th - a good result for him - ahead of Rubens Barrichello's Honda and the Red Bulls of Webber and Coulthard.
Much testing promise was fulfilled and the F1 folk then packed up and ended through the night towards England where they will do it all again next weekend.
The big question is how will the cars will suit the track.
Oh, and the English weather...