6 April 2008
Bahrain 2008: Massa's challenge finally on-track.
Felipe Massa has finally opened his 2008 account by repeating his 2007 Bahrain Grand Prix victory in Sakhir – but the big news of the weekend is how BMW have replaced McLaren-Mercedes as the Scuderia's closest challengers for glory this year, and how Lewis Hamilton's championship bid is threatening to come off the rails only three races into the campaign.
The first time in 21 outings that neither a Ferrari nor McLaren-Mercedes had graced pole position – and on a day with a particularly strong headwind – the 2008 Bahrain Grand Prix promised to be a tough one to call, with arguably any of the first four drivers on the grid in with a shout of winning.
There was drama even before the race got underway, indeed, with front row sitter Massa very late to arrive on the grid after encountering a radio problem on his warm-up lap and Nelsinho Piquet complaining of second gear stubbornly refusing to engage in his Renault on the parade tour. And then when the lights went out, there was further drama still.
Robert Kubica failed to get away well from pole position – allowing Massa to breeze past on the run down to turn one – but that was nothing compared to the woes suffered by Hamilton, who bogged down off the line and slipped back a full seven places to the outer edges of the top ten as the field swept past. There were better fortunes for team-mate Heikki Kovalainen, who not only did well to avoid running into the back of the sister MP4-23, but then went on to run right the way around the outside of countryman Kimi Raikkonen in the first corner.
The Ferrari would get back ahead of the McLaren again before the opening lap was out, with their squabbling allowing the front two to make good their escape. Further back, though, there was more action, as Sebastian Vettel made light contact with Giancarlo Fisichella before being pushed off into the turn four gravel trap by a mystery assailant and out of the race.
Nick Heidfeld re-passed the fast-starting Jarno Trulli to reclaim fifth place, whilst a little further back Hamilton found himself up behind former team-mate – and avowed nemesis – Fernando Alonso. Suddenly the McLaren shot up in the air, as it rear-ended the Renault exiting one of the circuit's slow corners, its front wing flying off in the process.
That left Hamilton to tour back around to the pit-lane with a badly-understeering and skewed-handling Silver Arrow – shooting straight across the gravel trap at one point in evidence of his plight – and he was joined in the 'repair room' by Honda ace Jenson Button with a puncture and Red Bull Racing's David Coulthard, the Scot suffering a shredded right rear tyre in the opening lap fracas.
Those shenanigans also saw Piquet spinning through the gravel before rejoining the fray, whilst Heidfeld's march continued as the German swept past Kovalainen, and up at the front Raikkonen went bravely around the outside of Kubica into second place at the start of lap three. Just over five minutes into the race, and we already had a Ferrari one-two.
As Massa set a new fastest lap – a full 0.8 seconds quicker than his defending world champion team-mate – a great battle was brewing for sixth place between Trulli, Nico Rosberg and Mark Webber. The Toyota and Williams ran side-by-side as they fought out their entertaining, tooth-and-nail scrap, while behind them Alonso – now missing a chunk from his rear wing following the Hamilton contact and reporting vibrations from his R28 – was being hounded by the second Toyota of Timo Glock, with Fisichella an impressive eleventh in the Force India not far in arrears and holding off the challenge of Honda's Rubens Barrichello, who he had also beaten in Malaysia a fortnight ago.
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