Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa re-asserted Ferrari's supremacy in the French Grand Prix, with the Finn making a return to the podium for the first time in almost three months and belatedly getting his world championship challenge back on-track.

Indeed, not only did the 27-year-old reclaim the top spot for the first time since the curtain-raiser in Melbourne back in March, Magny-Cours also signalled the first time all season a race has been won by a driver not starting from the front row. With the revised Ferrari proving to be at least the equal of the McLaren, and just as importantly far more suited to Raikkonen's driving style, it appears we could just have a world championship on our hands once more.

In possibly Formula 1's last-ever appearance at the circuit, there was drama even before the start of the race with rain threatening, oil and cement dust down on the track at the Imola chicane - catching out Jenson Button as the Honda star made his way around to the grid - a transmission fright for David Coulthard and a Spyker that refused to fire up leaving Adrian Sutil to leap out of it shortly before the parade lap to jump into the spare and begin the race from the pit-lane.

At the start pole man Massa held onto his advantage with, crucially, Ferrari team-mate Raikkonen out-dragging Lewis Hamilton into the first corner for second place. All hell would let loose soon afterwards, though, as Super Aguri ace Anthony Davidson locked up into turn one and rear-ended Scuderia Toro Rosso's Vitantonio Liuzzi, with the pair spinning off the track in opposite directions and into instant retirement.

Just seconds later, there was further confusion into the Adelaide hairpin as cars entered three-abreast. Jarno Trulli left his braking too late and T-boned the unfortunate Heikki Kovalainen, who had equalled his highest-ever grid slot in qualifying despite completing Q2 and Q3 without power steering. While the Finn would make it back round to the pits and was able to resume after repairs - albeit substantially at the back - for the Italian it was game over.

As Massa took advantage of the clear air in front of him to edge away, Raikkonen had his hands full fending off a feisty Hamilton, with Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld fourth and sixth and Giancarlo Fisichella in a BMW sandwich in-between the pair.

Having dispatched Nico Rosberg in quick measure, Fernando Alonso lay seventh - though a gaping ten seconds adrift of the lead after only four laps - with Button and team-mate Rubens Barrichello among the principal beneficiaries of all the opening lap shenanigans as they completed the top ten from twelfth and 13th on the grid, the latter backing up a train comprising Ralf Schumacher, Mark Webber, a grip-less David Coulthard, Takuma Sato and Alex Wurz.

A racy-looking Alonso then set about dealing with Heidfeld ahead of him, though a supremely brave move into Lyc?e hairpin following a mistake from the former at Ch?teau d'Eau would come unstuck when the Spaniard ran wide again on the exit and Heidfeld stole back through.

Hamilton was the first to blink when it came to the initial round of pit-stops, coming in at the end of lap 16, with team-mate Alonso in just seconds afterwards, seeming to confirm Ferrari's superior pace this weekend. Massa was in next, with Raikkonen seizing his opportunity at the head of the field to make hay, setting fastest lap as he endeavoured to close the gap on the Brazilian.

Although he would slip back down to second once more following his own pit-stop, it nevertheless marked Raikkonen's first laps in the lead since Bahrain all the way back in April and cemented Ferrari's dominant position in proceedings.

Fisichella was probably the biggest loser from the first stops, slipping back behind Heidfeld and almost immediately finding his mirrors filled by an extremely aggressive-looking Alonso, who had a jab at getting past around the outside on the run down to Adelaide. Fisichella staunchly braked late and stood his ground, but the world champion was not to be denied as he swept down the inside at the same place next time around and set off in pursuit of Heidfeld once more.

Once he caught back up with the BMW again, though, it was a familiar story of immovable object meets irresistible force, with Alonso trying every which way to find a way past. Although his favoured spot seemed to be Adelaide, ultimately it was a massively committed lunge into the Imola chicane that got the job done, with a stunned Heidfeld having to take to the escape road in avoidance as the silver arrow came barrelling down the inside of him at an almost impossible speed. And with that, Alonso was off after Kubica.

Up at the front, meanwhile, both Raikkonen and Hamilton were starting to close race leader Massa down as the tussle at the top moved towards being a three-way scrap. Button eventually made his first fuel stop having run as high as fifth - a season best for Honda in 2007 - while the same procedure for Christijan Albers almost ended in disaster when the Dutchman pulled out of the Spyker box still with the fuel rig attached. The mistake was quickly realised and Albers parked the car within seconds, but his race was over.

Hamilton was once again the first of the big-hitters to make his second stop, coming in at the end of lap 37 just as he was coming up to a glut of backmarkers all in a line. There was more side-by-side action as the Brit rejoined, going at it hammer-and-tongs with Kubica on the run down to Adelaide. The Pole initially seemed to have retained the place by keeping his foot in and forcing Lewis to try and go the long way round, but Hamilton switched back across before the corner and dived neatly down the inside.

Further back, Alonso pitted on the same lap, with the McLaren mechanics converting the Spaniard over onto a two-stop strategy in an attempt to bring him back into play. Up front, though, there seemed to be no catching the Ferraris, and with two-thirds of the race completed and just over three seconds between the two scarlet machines, it seemed merely to be a question of which one of them would be standing on the top step of the podium. That issue was seemingly resolved following the second round of stops, when Raikkonen ran two laps longer than his team-mate and, courtesy of a lightning fast in-lap and less time spent in the pits, re-emerged in front.

Hamilton was by now effectively out of contention for victory, but seemed a dead cert for the bottom step of the rostrum, while frustratingly for Alonso both Heidfeld and Fisichella had jumped the McLaren once more following their respective second pit-stops, leaving the Spaniard with it all to do yet again. With just over 20 laps to go, Hamilton re-injected some life into proceedings by beginning to lap a second a lap quicker than Massa. His three-stop strategy, however, dashed any hopes he may have had of getting back on terms with the Ferraris.

While Kovalainen, Wurz and Friday practice star Scott Speed all got together around the tight and twisty back section of the circuit - the latter pulling off the track just a lap later on the run down to N?rburgring - further up the order Button had successfully leapfrogged Rosberg to move solidly into the points as he sought to finally break Honda's points duck in 2007.

With just 15 laps left to run, an increasingly ragged-looking Alonso - now on the hard tyres - was again right on the back of Fisichella for sixth place and still leaving his braking desperately late into the Adelaide hairpin, with Heidfeld just a couple of seconds up the road in fifth and the inspired Button behind lapping quicker than all three of them.

Over the remaining laps Massa tracked Raikkonen to the chequered flag, no doubt frustrated at having missed out on the victory that for much of the race had looked to be a sure-fire bet, but on the flipside encouraged by Ferrari's long-awaited return to form.

Hamilton took the flag a distant third, with Kubica a superb fourth on his return, less than ten seconds adrift of the McLaren, team-mate Heidfeld a solid fifth and Fisichella holding off Alonso to the end for sixth. Button's eighth place - after setting the fifth-fastest lap of the race along the way - was almost like a victory for the beleaguered Honda squad, and a welcome boost ahead of his homecoming next weekend.

A disappointed Rosberg would ultimately finish where he had started - ninth - followed by Schumacher, Webber, Coulthard, Wurz, the delayed Kovalainen, Sato and Sutil.

Although Magny-Cours may never echo to the sound of Formula 1 cars again, it can at least lay claim to one honour - re-igniting the 2007 world championship fight. The real Kimi Raikkonen - as requested by Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo after Indianapolis - has finally arrived, and with a Brit leading the standings and Ferrari back on-form, Silverstone looks set to be a thriller.



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