F1 » 6 April 2008
Bahrain 2008: Massa's challenge finally on-track.
Down at the back of the field, meanwhile, there was the unusual sight of the four-strong Brit-pack of Anthony Davidson, Hamilton, Coulthard and Button running 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th, with the latter somewhat incongruously setting the race's fastest lap, until Massa blew that effort out of the water shortly afterwards to further extend his 4.5-second advantage over Raikkonen.
Hamilton, indeed, was already over a minute adrift of the two scarlet machines, and lapping some 2.5 seconds off the pace as the legacy of his earlier contact took a heavy toll. Whilst he may have fought back to second place from way down the pack following a spin in GP2 a couple of years ago in Turkey, a repeat performance in Sakhir looked like being an impossible task.
As Trulli began to edge clear of Rosberg, a new fastest lap from Raikkonen showed the Finn was finally starting to peg back his team-mate's pace. Right down at the rear, however, Coulthard and Button's duel for 19th place ended in the inevitable tears when the Honda star got it all sideways and clattered into the side of the Red Bull Racing machine, whose driver had seemed to open the door only to subsequently close it again.
Though both got going again after spinning in opposite directions, Button was missing his front wing and the consequent damage left him with little option but to retire, while Coulthard needed a second replacement nose in less than 20 laps.
Kubica unsurprisingly became the first man to blink on lap 18 – running very wide on his out-lap afterwards – whilst Rosberg's similarly early first pit visit was rather more unexpected given the young German's comparatively lowly qualifying position the previous day. The Williams would slip behind Webber following the first round of stops, with Heidfeld closing the gap on team-mate Kubica and Raikkonen really getting the hammer down as he pitted one lap earlier than Massa on lap 20.
As the Finn continued to pile the pressure on the race leader – getting the gap down to less than four seconds – Kubica and Heidfeld held third and fourth, ahead of Kovalainen, Trulli, Webber and Rosberg. Hamilton, meanwhile, finally found a way past Fisichella after several laps trying, and when he rejoined from his own pit-stop – McLaren having switched the 23-year-old over to a one-stopper – he did so to be immediately lapped by Massa, the man against whom, only twelve months ago, he had raced for victory in the desert kingdom.
McLaren's nightmare continued as, with 25 of the 57 laps remaining, Trulli began to take significant chunks out of Kovalainen for fifth place in a near-repeat of Toyota's Malaysian performance two weeks earlier, while several places further back Alonso and Glock's tussle was rejoined, only now with the Toyota holding the high ground.
Piquet pulled off as the gearbox in his R28 finally gave up the ghost shortly before the second round of pit-stops got underway, with Raikkonen in first this time – just as his team-mate set a new fastest lap. Massa was in next time around for a set of hard rubber, rejoining comfortably still ahead, but in the process promoting Kubica to the head of the field for the first time in a race he had hoped to lead from the start.
It was an academic situation for the Pole, however, as his own stop just a handful of laps later left team-mate Heidfeld in front, and the German's subsequent second pit visit – albeit one that came at the end of a succession of very quick laps – re-established the red sea at the top of the timing screens.
Kovalainen, however, still had yet to pit for a second time with twelve laps to go – allowing him to closely shadow Raikkonen's second place ahead of the two BMWs – but when the Finn finally came in on lap 47 it re-established the erstwhile status quo, whilst at the same time preserving Kovalainen's fifth place ahead of Trulli.
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