26 August 2007
Turkey 2007: Massa wins, Hamilton tyres out.
A small mistake from Raikkonen seemed to give Massa extra impetus as he set a new fastest lap on lap 14, but the Finn immediately responded with an effort some four tenths of a second quicker still next time around.
To Alonso's intense relief, Heidfeld followed team-mate Kubica into the pits four laps later, at the end of lap 18, leapfrogging the Pole in the process. Raikkonen and Alonso came in next time around, and all eyes were on just where the reigning double world champion would rejoin the fray in relation to the two duelling BMWs. Despite a slower stop, he did indeed pip both the Bavarian machines out of the pit-lane, while Massa's stop a lap later saw the Brazilian maintain his narrow advantage over Raikkonen.
With Hamilton completing the front-running stops at the end of lap 20, that promoted Heikki Kovalainen into the race lead for only the second time in his fledgling grand prix career, with Massa, Raikkonen and Hamilton all breathing down the Finn's neck. Although the Renault would peel off into the pit-lane just a lap later, it was nevertheless an impressive showing and one that made his qualifying run to seventh place the previous day seem all-the-more outstanding. Indeed, as he rejoined he did so in-between the BMWs, having spent the early laps behind both of them.
Fisichella became the last of the top ten to make his first pit-stop, while up at the front it was now a more heavily-fuelled Hamilton applying the pressure on the back of Raikkonen rather than Raikkonen on Massa, with the leading trio blanketed by just four seconds and Alonso a further 15 seconds in arrears.
Running wide through the infamous turn eight did little to aid the Spaniard's cause, while his McLaren team hung out his pit-board with the words 'Hamilton – 14.6' in an effort to spur him on. The gap at the front, meanwhile, was ebbing and flowing, with Hamilton beginning to struggle to hang on to the Ferraris' ferocious pace and Raikkonen in turn inexorably closing the gap on Massa ahead.
With Kovalainen caught in a BMW sandwich and Rosberg not far adrift in eighth place, the tussle over fifth looked like going any one of four ways. Kubica was once again the first of them to pit, coming into his box at the end of lap 37. The Ferraris by this time were now running nose-to-tail, with Raikkonen as much as seven tenths a lap faster and Massa beginning to look just a little bit ragged in an almost mirror-image repeat of Magny-Cours earlier in the season.
When Raikkonen peeled into the pits for his second stop to switch over to the harder compound Bridgestone Potenza tyres the Finn was fortunate not to lose any time as he stopped somewhat short of his marks, and when Massa came in a lap later as before the crowd waited with baited breath. Another excellent pit-stop saw the Brazilian once more rejoin ahead, and for Raikkonen the message was now clear – if he wanted to win the race, he would have to do his talking out on the track.
Then the drama struck. A laminated right front tyre sent Hamilton straight on at turn nine, with the wildly flailing rubber destroying the front wing endplates of his McLaren. The young Briton made it back around to the pits and the offending tyre was replaced, but not before he had lost places to both team-mate Alonso and Heidfeld, and the question with 14 laps remaining was just how much damage limitation he could now achieve.
Kubica was once again the biggest loser of the second round of stops, slipping back behind Rosberg's Williams and barely still inside the points. With status quo resumed at the front, though, it looked like being a Ferrari benefit and second consecutive victory for Massa in the Turkish sun, while the damage to the front wing in particular of Hamilton's MP4-22 saw him struggling to keep pace as the charging Kovalainen closed in.
With eight laps to go and Massa holding a comfortable four-second advantage, Raikkonen appeared to have given up the chase and settled for second place. His team-mate's untroubled cruise to the chequered flag, meanwhile, saw him close the gap on Hamilton at the head of the drivers' championship standings to just 15 points, and with five races remaining, 50 points left up for grabs and just 16 blanketing the four challengers, it is very much all to play for.
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