Felipe Massa finally ended his long podium drought in coming home third behind the dominant Red Bull Racing duo of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel in the German Grand Prix at the N?rburgring - and then admitted that he had thought a place merely inside the top five would be a tall order.

Following Ferrari's desultory start to the campaign - its worst in almost three decades in F1 - the Brazilian entered the weekend having not ascended the rostrum since his emotional victory in last year's Brazilian Grand Prix finale on home soil at Interlagos.

After qualifying eighth - albeit on a heavy fuel load - the 28-year-old didn't particularly rate his chances of ending that run around the Eifel Mountains circuit either, but he benefitted from Heikki Kovalainen in the McLaren-Mercedes holding up a whole gaggle of cars early on, meaning he was able to leapfrog many of his rivals during the opening pit visits.

A number of laps fending off compatriot Rubens Barrichello followed, before Massa slotted into third place later in the race, getting the better of both Brawn GPs by dint of sticking to a two-stop strategy as the ex-Honda F1 outfit opted for three. Such was his pace, indeed, that the S?o Paulista took the chequered flag less than seven seconds shy of runner-up Vettel - proof indeed that the Scuderia is now firmly on the comeback trail.

"It's been such a long time since I made it to the podium!" the eleven-time grand prix-winner - now up to fifth in the drivers' title standings - acknowledged afterwards. "I really wanted it after a very difficult first half of the season. Little-bit-little, we are improving and we will do all we can to get back to winning ways this season - I want to start hearing the Italian and Brazilian national anthems as soon as possible!

"A great start and the strategy were the keys to this result. In the first 15 laps I was struggling to keep Vettel behind me, but then I think he was struggling a bit with the tyres. Maybe I could have managed to get one place higher, if we had brought the pit-stop forward a bit, because I too was struggling with my tyres, but it's easy to say these things with hindsight.

"Before the race however, I didn't think I'd end up on the podium. A place in the top five already seemed a lot to ask, but then we saw that cars that in theory are quicker than us ended up behind us and we realised we had a good chance. We have to continue in this direction."

There was only disappointment, though, for team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, who on a similar strategy to Massa shadowed the sister scarlet machine for half of the race before colliding with the Force India of Adrian Sutil as the German exited the pit-lane in-between the pair following his first stop. The Finn would depart the fray for good on lap 34, after debris got into the radiator of his F60 and led to a loss of engine cooling fluid from the system.

"Germany definitely doesn't seem to bring me luck," reflected the 2007 F1 World Champion. "I don't know how many times a problem beyond my control has forced me to retire, and this time it was down to debris. A shame, as I think I could have got a good result.

"The car was a bit difficult to drive at the start, but I think it was the same for everyone. Around lap 14, we began to see that something wasn't right and we tried to manage the situation. Then I started to lose a lot of power and the team asked me to pit because there was nothing that could be done anymore. The incident with Sutil? These things happen in racing, we spoke to one another and I think that he also sees it that way, as indeed did the stewards."

Regardless of Raikkonen's failure to add to the score, Massa's points have strengthened Ferrari's fourth spot in the constructors' standings just past the halfway mark of the season, and indeed closed the gap on third-placed Toyota to just 2.5 points with 80 markers still available. The Maranello-based concern's team principal Stefano Domenicali, however, cautioned against expecting such results now on a regular basis.

"It's a nice feeling to be back on the podium," acknowledged the Italian, "and this result for Felipe is a good reward for all the effort put in by him in producing a perfect race and by all the team, at the track and in Maranello. A shame for Kimi, who could have secured a good finish - it was really unlucky.

"Our aim, as we've already said, is to finish third in the constructors' championship, and today's result has helped us make up some ground on the squad ahead of us. However, we have to work very hard to succeed, because this season is still very hard to interpret; once again this weekend we have seen an incredible see-sawing in performance between some of the teams compared to the previous race and within this grand prix itself.

"There are many variables, especially those linked to the behaviour of the tyres which does not seem to be completely under control; getting to grips with this could be very important for the rest of the championship."

"This podium from Felipe is a really great reward for the whole team, who did a great job this weekend and in preparing for this race," echoed chief race engineer Chris Dyer. "However, we are also very disappointed about what happened to Kimi, who could have brought home some important points.

"This result is a great motivation for the rest of the season. We must continue to work with the same intensity to get back to where we want to be. The choice to stick with the softer tyre for the second stint of the race was based on what we had seen in the first stint, where it's true that Felipe had suffered a bit, while Kimi had no problems. We were also concerned about how the harder compound would work in these temperatures."

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