French GP - Sunday - Race Report
Some very good red
Ferrari had dominated qualifying to an impressive extent so no-one had high expectations on Sunday morning. The weather was not very nice. But it only spat a few drops now and then. There was a decent crowd, despite the weather, and the morning passed slowly enough, without any real VIPs to fall over. The best the race could offer was the French Minister of Sport.
At the start Kimi Raikkonen forged ahead of Felipe Massa and with Jarno Trulli in third the story was all but over. Trulli would hold back all challengers and so the Ferraris ran away with the race. Massa followed around behind until the middle of the race when suddenly Raikkonen's Ferrari began to slow down.
"The engine just lost power," Kimi said. "Sometimes it lost it all, then it came back. I was slow in a straightline and out of the slow corners. It was a little bit like having a bad traction control. Luckily I went fast enough in the beginning to pull away from the others. But a few more laps and we wouldn't have finished the race."
The gap to Massa shrank and on lap 39 Felipe went ahead. He then drove away to win his third victory of the year and to take the lead in the World Championship, ahead of the ever-present Robert Kubica, who picked up more points and is just two points behind.
"Sometimes you need a little bit of luck," he admitted. "Kimi had a very quick pace and it would have been very difficult for me to pass, so that was a nice present. I ran two laps longer on the fuel, but in two laps you can't be three-tenths slower, you need to be within a tenth. So he had great pace, and maybe a little bit better balanced car."
Massa admitted that his only worry was a few spots of rain in the closing laps.
"I was slowing down more than I needed to, as I had a very good gap over Kimi. But it was not raining very heavily, so we certainly weren't thinking of changing the tyres or anything," he said.
Raikkonen was pretty lucky to survive and luckier still that the only man really giving chase was Jarno Trulli. For a while he took a second each lap and was on target to take the place before the end, but when the rains came Jarno stopped making progress.
Kimi was philosophical.
"In one way I was still lucky to finish the race, and I still take the eight points and I'm in a more comfortable position in the championship." he said. "It was just an unlucky situation."
Kubica had a quiet day for a change in fifth place, but points are points and that was decent damage limitation, given that the car was not very good at Magny-Cours.
"We didn't score as many points as we wanted to," he said "Over the whole weekend we tried to minimize the problems we had, and we knew the race would be decided on the first lap. At the start I tried to overtake Jarno Trulli, but did not manage it. I am pretty happy. I finished fifth."
Lewis Hamilton failed to add to his score, for the second race running. It was about as bad as it gets and Lewis had no fun at all. Stuck down in 13th on the grid, he had to go for it. There was no choice. Lewis charged up to ninth in 12 laps but he was then given a controversial drive-through penalty for supposedly gaining an advantage over Sebastian Vettel on the opening lap when he overtook the German's Toro Rosso but missed the chicane.
"I think he was past him." McLaren's Ron Dennis said. "I don't think he got any track position. That's my opinion; obviously it's not an opinion held by other people, but I think he was past. There's really nothing to be gained from saying anything else."
That ruined his race and Lewis was not happy.
"I believe I was ahead on the outside," he said. "I couldn't turn in on the guy from the outside line, I lost the back-end on the marbles and went over the kerb. I continued and I don't believe I overtook by going over the kerb, I don't particularly see that as cheating, but rules are rules."
In the end he finished 10th.
Once Lewis was gone there was not much exciting going on. Magny-Cours tends to produce dull races and this was another one. In the late stages Trulli battled to hold back McLaren's Heikki Kovalainen. The Finn got a run on the Italian on the penultimate lap and was alongside when Trulli took his line for the upcoming curve and they rubbed wheels. Kovalainen ran off rather as Hamilton had earlier, and had to drop back into fourth place.
Dedicating his podium to the late Ove Andersson, who died last week, Trulli said: "I didn't want to lose a position. Everybody knows me, I am hard to pass and fight to the end!"
Whatever the case, it was a boost for the team, which needed a boost. Times have been hard of late and the death of Andersson, although he was no longer involved in the team, hit many team members. It was his team. Others had taken it over and done their own thing with it - some would argue without much success - but the team still belonged to Ove in the minds of many. And Trulli's finish was a tribute to him.
Kovalainen had to be happy with fourth which was not bad after starting 10th place on the grid because of a penalty.
Red Bull finished Mark Webber in sixth and David Coulhard ninth after both cars had bad starts. Webber benefited from Renault's marketing strategy and added more points for Red Bull.
Nelson Piquet did himself no harm with his first finish in the points, in seventh. He held off Hamilton early on, which was good and Fernando Alonso's daft strategy of pitting after just 15 laps meant that the two cars ended up running together at the end. On lap 68, when Piquet had closed in, the former champion ran wide in the Adelaide hairpin while lapping Giancarlo Fisichella and Piquet nipped through.
"It's the first time that everything has gone without any problems for me," Piquet said. "The car and the team's strategy worked well and I was able to score my first couple of points today. I am happy and I hope that we can continue like this for the rest of the season."
Early on, Timo Glock seemed set for a good race as he initially ran sixth behind Kubica and ahead of Webber, but graining on his second set of Bridgestones created horrible understeer that dropped him down the order. In the final laps he had to work very hard to keep ahead of Sebastian Vettel, who was always in the middle of the midfield pack but struggled with some serious tyre graining which he said made his life harder.
The pair of them were comfortably ahead of Nick Heidfeld who had a terrible race, bemoaning his BMW Sauber's balance on his way to 13th place.
The rest, frankly, were not worthy of mention. Jenson Button was the only retirement.
Now it is on to Silverstone where hopefully the other teams will buck up their ideas.