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Turkey 2006: Massa right on queue

27 August 2006


Felipe Massa's move to Ferrari finally brought its reward, as the Brazilian recorded the first grand prix win of his interrupted career by beating Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher to the line in Turkey.

Massa led from start to finish in another action-packed race but, while the real drama took place in his wake, the 25-year old's success was not assured until the last lap, as Alonso defended for all he was worth to keep Schumacher at bay.

The two title contenders almost came to blows at the start, with Schumacher making a sluggish getaway and Alonso appearing to have got the jump on the Ferrari into turn one. Schumacher fought back, forcing his rival to take avoiding action which prompted team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella to spin and the rest of the field to scatter.

While Massa, Schumacher and Alonso made a break, the order behind them appeared very scrambled at the end of the opening lap, with Mark Webber up to fourth from night, and Williams colleague Nico Rosberg helping the Aussie sandwich Jenson Button having made the leap to sixth from 14th. Not so lucky were Fisichella, who lost his nose as he spun to avoid Alonso, and Nick Heidfeld, who also required cosmetic surgery after being collected in the melee. Tiago Monteiro failed to make it to the end of the lap, while Kimi Raikkonen became the third pit visitor, despite seemingly missing the worst of the mayhem.

The Finn had steered around the spinning Fisichella, only to be collected by Scott Speed, who was also trying to take avoiding action. Raikkonen was pitched into a spin of his own and, despite resuming, quickly realised that his left rear Michelin had been shredded by the American's endplate. Like Fisichella and Heidfeld, the McLaren man made it back to the pits for a replacement, but the stop took longer than expected as his crew struggled to untangle the flailed rubber from the suspension. The delay mattered little, however, for Raikkonen made it only as far as turn eight on lap two, crashing out after running wide at Istanbul Park's signature corner.

At the same time as Raikkonen was departing stage right, Button seized fourth from Webber, while Rosberg came under pressure from Robert Kubica, who had the unlikely train of Christian Klien, Tonio Liuzzi, Pedro de la Rosa and David Coulthard in his wake. Jarno Trulli was the leading Toyota in twelfth, but had survived a tangle with team-mate Ralf Schumacher in the turn one confusion, the German having dropped back to 16th as a result.

de la Rosa and Trulli were soon on the move and, taking their cues from the morning's GP2 encounter, proved that it was possible for F1 cars to overtake around the undulating circuit. Coulthard and Liuzzi quickly fell victim to the charging duo, who then lined up Klien as the next target. Massa, meanwhile, had made the most of a lighter fuel load and a clear track to extend his advantage to three seconds over team-mate Schumacher, with Alonso paying for an early error as he watched the German disappear five seconds down the road.

At this stage, the relative fuel loads of the top three appeared to be the key to the race, with Massa reckoned to be lighter than either man in his mirrors, and therefore needing to open out a sizeable advantage before making his first stop. The opinion in the pit-lane, however, was that the Brazilian would be required to 'move over' for Schumacher in order to maximise the German's title chances, but the Scuderia also needed to ensure that he could slot back in between Schumacher and Alonso for the same reason.

That tactic was taken out of Ross Brawn's hands on lap twelve, as Liuzzi spun his Toro Rosso and lost the engine. As the Italian stepped from his stranded machine, the stewards called for the safety car, throwing a curve ball at the strategists. Ferrari promptly called both its drivers in, figuring that it could stack Schumacher behind Massa and still get the pair out ahead of Alonso when the Spaniard made his stop. Renault's Pat Symonds was wise to the move, however, and hailed the world champion at the same time. The move worked a treat too, as Alonso was able to power past Schumacher while the German was taking his fill, assuming second place, and simultaneously handing Massa the best chance of victory he is likely to get between now and Brazil in October.

Again the focus fell on fuel loads, this time with Alonso and Schumacher appearing to have taken on more than Massa in an attempt to close in on, and then pass, the Brazilian as they ran longer into the race. Schumacher, however, began dropping away from the rear wing of his main adversary, suggesting that he was fuelled even longer than the Renault, but also conceding ground at a vital time.

With the top six runners all pitting under the safety car, the field again took on a shuffled appearance, with the front four all managing to rejoin at the head of the pack but those further back having been usurped by the non-stoppers. Button was now being chased by Rosberg, Klien, de la Rosa and Trulli, with Barrichello and Coulthard also taking advantage of Webber's decision to pit. The Australian still had Kubica for company, however, while Ralf Schumacher and Fisichella took advantage of the controlled pace to begin their recovery drives from the back.

Webber appeared to be in freefall immediately after the field was released, succumbing in quick succession to Kubica, Fisichella and Schumacher Jr, but it was team-mate Rosberg who was next to add his name to the retirement list, the young German's strong drive being thwarted by a loss of water pressure. That freed de la Rosa to chase Button, while Fisichella underlined his comeback by returning to the points positions after 26 laps.

Kubica was the first of the 'safety car stoppers' to make a second call for fuel and tyres on lap 35, but it was another four laps before any of the main protagonists blinked. In that time, both Schumacher and Alonso made errors, opening and closing the gap between them accordingly, while Button kept a watching brief in fourth.

Massa and Alonso pitted in tandem on lap 39 which, in line with expectation, Schumacher continued, inheriting the lead and pushing on in an effort to build enough of a cushion to make his stop and return to the fray in front of his rivals. Another four laps passed before the German came in, not sufficient for him to pull away, and he duly resumed in third place, albeit right with Alonso and enjoying improved handling after a front wing adjustment.

Alonso, meanwhile, was beginning to struggle with his rear tyres which, like team-mate Fisichella's, had developed a ring of blisters that hampered his performance in the slower corners. That allowed Massa to eke out a ten-second lead but, more importantly, brought Schumacher into a more threatening position, the German looking for a way around the Renault on several occasions.

Behind them, Button had settled into an increasingly lonely fourth place, de la Rosa having dropped away during the pit-stops and found himself coming under pressure from Barrichello. When the Brazilian made his final fuel call, Fisichella and Ralf Schumacher took up the pursuit of the lone McLaren, with the Italian latching on to his target for the run to the flag.

Missing from the points battle, however, was the unlikely figure of Christijan Albers, who had made the most of the first lap melee to run above expectation, but then retained a top ten place, climbing to ninth before the Midland-Toyota let him down. A points finish was unlikely given that no-one ahead of him ran into problems in the closing stages, but it was a solid run from plumb last by the Dutchman.

The battle between Alonso and Schumacher quickly turned into one of cat-and-mouse, with the Spaniard struggling in the slower parts, but able to pull away again in the quick stuff. Both men ran some 13 seconds adrift of leader Massa, but the Brazilian was also involved in the scrap, if only because the outcome of his race rested heavily on Schumacher's ability to regain second place. Should the seven-time champion make the most of Alonso's problems, there is little doubt that his team-mate's car would have developed 'a problem' that would have caused it to slow before the finish.....

As it was, Schumacher was unable to make the most of his repeated attempts to find a chink in Alonso's armour, despite both making minor errors and the Spaniard being the first to encounter traffic. After one unscheduled excursion at turn eight, Schumacher dropped back from his rival, but immediately showed what he and the Ferrari were capable of by banging in the fastest lap of the race.

With a couple of laps to run, the pair were back together, Schumacher taking a look into turn seven with a view to setting Alonso up ahead of the favoured overtaking place into the turn eleven chicane. Massa's lead was down to seven seconds by this stage, the Brazilian ostensibly backing off to protect his equipment, but also putting his car within striking distance should Schumacher's pressure pay off.

Alonso, however, was resolute in his defence, holding the appropriate line to frustrate the German as they headed into the final tour. Again, Schumacher took a couple of looks, but saved his greatest pressure for eleven, where he showed Alonso the nose of the Ferrari. The Spaniard again reacted to close the gap, but took a very defensive line through the final complex, slowing his exit and allowing Schumacher to get a run on him. Had the finish line been at the same place as the start, it may have proven costly....

Massa, meanwhile, had been largely overlooked amid the tension, but was suitably emotional as the realisation of a dream sank in on the slowing down lap. The second new grand prix winner in as many races, his success had come in a different way to Jenson Button's in Hungary, but was welcome nonetheless, especially as his future is uncertain for 2007.

A lot, including Massa's destiny, remains hinged on Schumacher's decision to stay or go next season, and the Turkish result did little to settle the issue either way. The circus now moves on to Ferrari's home round, at Monza on 10 September, with announcements regarding its line-up scheduled post-race. Massa's win may have come at just the right time.


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