Ferrari narrowly averted the embarrassment of its worst start to a Formula 1 World Championship season in history with Kimi Raikkonen coming home sixth in the Bahrain Grand Prix today – but the Finn was lucky not to exit proceedings at the first corner after being run into by team-mate Felipe Massa.
Having qualified respectively eighth (Massa) and tenth (Raikkonen), the two scarlet machines ran in close proximity down to the first corner – too close, it would transpire. With the field squeezing up as 20 cars all funnelled into turn one at once, Massa suddenly found himself sandwiched between Raikkonen on his outside and Rubens Barrichello in the Brawn on his inside, with the subsequent pincer movement seeing the two Ferraris momentarily come together, breaking the Brazilian's front wing.
A pit-stop to replace it and KERS issues limited the São Paulo native to a lowly 14th position at the chequered flag – enjoying a number of spirited scraps, most notably with Force India veteran Giancarlo Fisichella, along the way – but happily for the Scuderia
, Raikkonen escaped largely unscathed, and on a heavy fuel load even briefly led, before indulging in a late-race scrap with the Toyota of Timo Glock, using his KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) to good effect to blast past his rival on the straight, and then going on to frustrate the German's ambitions all the way to the chequered flag.
“I am happy to have picked up a few points,” the former F1 World Champion reflected afterwards, “but I can't be that pleased with our performance level. I've been around long enough not to get very excited about a sixth place. We are well aware we have to improve.
“In theory, the new package we will have in Barcelona should see us make a good step forward, but we won't know just how big it will be compared to the others until we are on-track in Spain. Today, we got the most out of the F60's current potential, even if I lost a bit of time in my final pit-stop because of a problem with a part of the fairing on the left front wheel which cost me the chance of exiting pit-lane ahead of Barrichello.”
“My race was decided at the start,” rued a disappointed Massa, who saw his unbroken run of glory in Sakhir – stretching back to 2007 – brought to a shattering end. “I was sandwiched between Kimi and Rubens, and the front wing got broken after making contact with my team-mate's rear wheel. At first I didn't realise what had really happened, so I came in after two laps to change the nose. Then, after a good start with a clear track, I found myself in traffic and my hopes of climbing up the order evaporated.
“Throughout the race, my telemetry wasn't working and so my engineers couldn't help me with the management of the car. The KERS did not work perfectly either, especially at the start. A shame, as once again today we lost an opportunity to score points. Now I expect to make a good step forward in performance terms in Barcelona. One thing's for sure – we won't give up, because all of us want to get back up the order.”
With significant aerodynamic updates due to be fitted to the F60 ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix in a fortnight's time – the beginning of the European leg of the campaign – Ferrari knows the only way it can afford to now go is up. With the pressure of getting itself on the scoreboard now removed, the Maranello-based outfit can focus its efforts on restoring credibility and fighting its way back up the grid. Whether it can do so quickly and successfully enough to go on to challenge for the title, however, remains to be seen.
“Today we were aiming to get both cars home in the points,” summarised team principal Stefano Domenicali, “and we got it half right. Unfortunately, Felipe's race was compromised when he collided with his team-mate in the messy moments just after the start, damaging the front wing; he dropped to the back of the pack and was not able to do much, apart from demonstrating a good pace with a heavy fuel load.