Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa
re-asserted Ferrari's supremacy in the French Grand Prix, with the Finn making a return to the podium for the first time in almost three months and belatedly getting his world championship challenge back on-track.
Indeed, not only did the 27-year-old reclaim the top spot for the first time since the curtain-raiser in Melbourne back in March, Magny-Cours also signalled the first time all season a race has been won by a driver not starting from the front row. With the revised Ferrari
proving to be at least the equal of the McLaren, and just as importantly far more suited to Raikkonen's driving style, it appears we could just have a world championship on our hands once more.
In possibly Formula 1's last-ever appearance at the circuit, there was drama even before the start of the race with rain threatening, oil and cement dust down on the track at the Imola chicane – catching out Jenson Button
as the Honda star made his way around to the grid – a transmission fright for David Coulthard
and a Spyker that refused to fire up leaving Adrian Sutil
to leap out of it shortly before the parade lap to jump into the spare and begin the race from the pit-lane.
At the start pole man Massa held onto his advantage with, crucially, Ferrari
team-mate Raikkonen out-dragging Lewis Hamilton
into the first corner for second place. All hell would let loose soon afterwards, though, as Super Aguri ace Anthony Davidson
locked up into turn one and rear-ended Scuderia Toro Rosso's Vitantonio Liuzzi, with the pair spinning off the track in opposite directions and into instant retirement.
Just seconds later, there was further confusion into the Adelaide hairpin as cars entered three-abreast. Jarno Trulli
left his braking too late and T-boned the unfortunate Heikki Kovalainen, who had equalled his highest-ever grid slot in qualifying despite completing Q2 and Q3 without power steering. While the Finn would make it back round to the pits and was able to resume after repairs – albeit substantially at the back – for the Italian it was game over.
As Massa took advantage of the clear air in front of him to edge away, Raikkonen had his hands full fending off a feisty Hamilton, with Robert Kubica
and Nick Heidfeld
fourth and sixth and Giancarlo Fisichella
in a BMW
sandwich in-between the pair.
Having dispatched Nico Rosberg
in quick measure, Fernando Alonso
lay seventh – though a gaping ten seconds adrift of the lead after only four laps – with Button and team-mate Rubens Barrichello
among the principal beneficiaries of all the opening lap shenanigans as they completed the top ten from twelfth and 13th on the grid, the latter backing up a train comprising Ralf Schumacher, Mark Webber, a grip-less David Coulthard, Takuma Sato and Alex Wurz.
A racy-looking Alonso then set about dealing with Heidfeld ahead of him, though a supremely brave move into Lycée hairpin following a mistake from the former at Château d'Eau would come unstuck when the Spaniard ran wide again on the exit and Heidfeld stole back through.
Hamilton was the first to blink when it came to the initial round of pit-stops, coming in at the end of lap 16, with team-mate Alonso in just seconds afterwards, seeming to confirm Ferrari's superior pace this weekend. Massa was in next, with Raikkonen seizing his opportunity at the head of the field to make hay, setting fastest lap as he endeavoured to close the gap on the Brazilian.