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Turkey 2007: Massa wins, Hamilton tyres out

26 August 2007

Felipe Massa did exactly what he had vowed to do in the 2007 Turkish Grand Prix, sealing his second successive Istanbul triumph to launch both himself and Ferrari back into the world championship fight.

As last year when he stormed to his maiden Formula 1 success ahead of Michael Schumacher, the Brazilian was flawless in the Turkish heat, seeing off the challenge of team-mate Kimi Raikkonen to prevail on a day when everything it seemed could go wrong for McLaren did.

With the four championship contenders looking evenly-matched on the front two rows of the grid and the world title fight balanced on a knife-edge with only six races remaining, the race was always going to be a high-drama affair. So it was to prove.

Indeed, David Coulthard was in trouble even before it had got underway, with gearbox issues on the warm-up lap round to the grid, but his woes were nothing as compared to those of the two McLaren drivers when the lights went out, with both suffering from being on the dirty side of the grid.

As Massa led away from pole, Raikkonen from row two sling-shot past Lewis Hamilton into second place but it was Fernando Alonso who really lost out, being passed by both the BMW-Saubers to drop back down to sixth. A little further back, Jarno Trulli got nudged into a spin by the slow-starting Renault of countryman Giancarlo Fisichella heading into turn one, but luckily the rest of the pack somehow managed to avoid the rotating Toyota and Jarno lived to fight another day, albeit now all the way down in last place.

By the end of the opening lap alone Alonso was already a staggering 3.5 seconds down on the leading Ferraris, and clearly determined to get past Nick Heidfeld, as evinced by him coming perilously close to losing it as he pushed just a little too hard on lap three.

The two scarlet machines, meanwhile, were separated by barely a second and continuing to edge clear of Hamilton at the front, with Raikkonen sitting in formation behind his Brazilian team-mate. Further down the order, Heikki Kovalainen, Nico Rosberg and the twin Red Bull Racing cars of Coulthard – betraying none of its earlier gearbox woes – and Mark Webber completed the early top ten.

On lap ten, however, it was Webber and not Coulthard who would encouter problems, running off-piste as a result of a hydraulic problem and touring into the pit-lane at the end of the lap and into inevitable retirement – the fifth of 2007 for the luckless Australian.

Robert Kubica was the first driver to blink when it came round to the proper pit-stops, coming in at the end of lap 13 in a move that perhaps betrayed his true qualifying pace, while team-mate Heidfeld continued to frustrate Alonso's ambitions, the Spaniard at times lapping more than a second slower than the Ferrari duo trapped in the BMW's dirty air.

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.

Alonso came home a distant third in his 100th grand prix at the end of a somewhat lacklustre weekend, with the ever-consistent Heidfeld a strong fourth, Hamilton hanging on for fifth, Kovalainen an inspired sixth, former GP2 title rival Rosberg an equally impressive seventh and Kubica a disappointed eighth.

Fisichella and Coulthard rounded out the top ten at the close of proceedings, followed by Alex Wurz, Ralf Schumacher, Jenson Button, Anthony Davidson, Tonio Liuzzi, Trulli, Rubens Barrichello, Takuma Sato, Sebastian Vettel and the Spykers of Sakon Yamamoto and the delayed Adrian Sutil.

Massa had promised his guest, Brazilian footballing legend Roberto Carlos, pole position and victory this weekend. Having been every bit as good as his word, it's now very much game on.


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