Felipe Massa gave the Formula One world championship its most varied opening for several season by becoming the third different winner in as many events by leading from lights to flag at the Bahrain Grand Prix, but it is the three-way tie for the points lead that will grab most attention.
The Brazilian arrived on the grid with the demons from two disappointing races still haunting him, but made no mistake as the lights went out to get the jump on fellow front row starter Lewis Hamilton. Indeed, it was the Briton who made the poorer getaway, almost dropping into the clutches of both Kimi Raikkonen
and Fernando Alonso, as the leading four runners headed into turn one.
Raikkonen was looking particularly feisty, perhaps because his Ferrari
was also rumoured to have been lightly-fuelled - but held up - in qualifying, but had to make do with third round the opening couple of corners.
While the leading group kept it clean through the tight complex, however, those further back began tripping over themselves, with Jenson Button
and Scott Speed being eliminated in separate incidents just metres apart. Both appeared to have been tipped from behind, but with their engines dead and bodywork shed, neither Honda or Toro Rosso
was going any further. Adrian Sutil
bore all the scars of contact with the latter, the German rookie returning to the Spyker pit for cosmetic attention to the front of his car, rejoining several laps down as a result.
Whilst the melee was going on, Alonso slipped ahead of Raikkonen, further frustrating the Finn, who then only had himself to blame when the ensuing safety car period ended on lap three. Although Alonso had closed in on Massa and Hamilton, Raikkonen was some distance away from the second McLaren
when the field was released, forcing him to push hard to close the gap.
Hamilton, meanwhile, wasted no time in trying to exert pressure on Massa, the rookie taking a look at turn one before being rebuffed. The McLaren
was still exuding the same blue smoke under downchanges that it had in qualifying, but Hamilton's pace remained undimmed.
The rest of the top ten had got away roughly in grid order, with BMW
twins Nick Heidfeld
and Robert Kubica
holding fifth and sixth from Giancarlo Fisichella
and Mark Webber. The Italian's team-mate was among the early movers, however, Heikki Kovalainen
up to ninth from twelfth, displacing Jarno Trulli
and Nico Rosberg. The Williams
pilot had a ragged start to the race, running out of room on more than one occasion and ceding places to David Coulthard
and team-mate Alex Wurz as a result. Coulthard, more than anyone else, was making rapid progress, the Scot up from 21st to eleventh by lap 15.
By that stage, Massa and Hamilton had eased out a cushion over their respective team-mates, with Raikkonen all over Alonso for third. The Spaniard appeared to be struggling for grip on his first set of the softer Bridgestone tyres, and was having to try all he knew to keep the Ferrari
at bay while he waited for the pit-stop window to open.
Although Tonio Liuzzi had been the first unenforced pit-caller when he stopped under the safety car to swap his harder rubber for the more popular option, Coulthard, Wurz and Ralf Schumacher set the ball rolling on lap 17. Hamilton, in line with expectation, was the first of the frontrunners to stop three laps later, leaving Massa with a ten-second advantage over Alonso.