24 August 2008
Europe 2008: Massa stakes title claim in Valencia.
Felipe Massa sent out a clear message to his Ferrari employers that they should start to focus all their efforts on him for the remainder of the 2008 Formula 1 World Championship campaign – after dominating the European Grand Prix from pole position.
Just as he had been in Hungary three weeks earlier, the Ferrari star proved peerless around the winding streets of the all-new, harbour-side Juan Carlos I Marina circuit in Valencia – the only question afterwards was whether he would be allowed to keep the win…
Prior to the race start most teams and drivers were factoring the likelihood of one or several safety car appearances into their strategic calculations, with some starting towards back of the grid chancing their hand with a one-stopper. The safety car would never materialise.
Massa made a textbook getaway when the lights went out, but a tardy Lewis Hamilton had to rebuff a challenge from Robert Kubica through the opening few corners, as behind the pair Heikki Kovalainen significantly vaulted past countryman Kimi Raikkonen into fourth.
Further back, though, there was less decorum, as David Coulthard got spun around from behind – rejoining dead last – and Kazuki Nakajima calamitously clouted the back of home hero Fernando Alonso's Renault as the pack concertina-d up in turns four and five, unceremoniously removing the back of the Spaniard's rear wing and his own nose cone and in one fell blow shattering the hopes of the capacity crowd.
Both were left to tour around to the pits for repairs, but sadly for Alonso – whose weekend had run far from smoothly from the off, from his disproportionate €10,000 fine for crossing the white line on the exit of the pit-lane during practice to his failure to make the top ten in qualifying – it was game over before the first lap had even been completed.
That left Massa to pull out a 1.5 second lead over Hamilton over the course of the opening tour, with Kubica keeping the world championship leader honest in third, Kovalainen fourth and Raikkonen fifth ahead of qualifying stars Sebastian Vettel and Jarno Trulli, with Nico Rosberg – the only driver to begin the grand prix on Bridgestone's super-soft rubber – Nick Heidfeld and a fast-starting Timo Glock rounding out the early top ten.
Further back, Adrian Sutil was getting quite aerated behind Force India team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella – clearly believing he was faster than the Italian veteran, and with Coulthard's recovering Red Bull Racing breathing heavily down his neck – while Hamilton pegged Massa on lap two, before the pole man began to break into his stride rather more and the field steadily spread out.
The gap at the front had been stretched out to three seconds by the end of lap seven, with Raikkonen – finally now coming alive and starting to hound Kubica and Kovalainen ahead – already a full ten seconds in arrears.
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