F1: Round 12 – European GP, Valencia, Spain – Sun Aug 24

The European Grand Prix turned out to be all about Ferrari in various different ways, with Lewis Hamilton limited to little more than a ‘special guest appearance’ role. But that’s not to say that the day went all Ferrari’s way, by any means …

True, Felipe Massa sprang off the lead with a perfect start and disappeared up the road before anyone else noticed. Lewis was too busy fighting off Robert Kubica: after the pole position was switched to the right side of the track (and rightly so – pole position should be the best position, right?) Lewis was left over the dirty left hand side, and struggled to get away cleanly.

Finally he got into turn 1 ahead of Kubica, and offered the Pole a stark choice: back off and let me keep second, or you will lose your nose. Kubica decided discretion was the better part of valour at this point, and Hamilton settled into second spot.

And that’s pretty much how it stayed for the entire race, with Massa much faster and well ahead of Hamilton, and Hamilton never again within touching distance of Kubica. When the chequered flag fell, it was these three – in these positions – standing on the podium.

However, there was a cloud hanging over Ferrari’s head as the podium celebrations went on, as Massa was under threat of a penalty for “unsafe release’ from his pit box in front of Adrian Sutil. Massa bullishly asserted that Sutil, being a lap down, should have slowed up to let him out – a novel interpretation of the rules – but the stewards decided to review the situation after the race rather than impose a drive-thru penalty at the time.

If McLaren were confident that Massa would be demoted and Hamilton awarded the win, however, they were to be disappointed. Massa was reprimanded and Ferrari fined 10,000 euros by the stewards – but the race result stood. Considering that similar situations in GP2 had been given an instant drive-thru penalty, this seemed eyebrow-raisingly odd. But, F1 moves in exceedingly strange ways at times.

But it was a tale of two Ferraris, for while Massa celebrated his win, Kimi Raikkonen’s day started poorly and went downhill. He’s looked curiously unenthusiastic and disinterested in recent weeks, and after yesterday’s mediocre qualifying performance Kimi one again underwhelmed everyone. Even with clear air in front of him, he was a second a lap down on his team mate’s times.

Just as Massa had pit lane dramas today, so did Raikkonen: on his second and last stop, he seemed to pull away fro the pits before the signal was given – and while the refuelling hose was still attached. The violent movement hit and knocked down the mechanic in charge of the rig, who was also run over by the right rear tyre on Kimi’s car. He stayed down, in some pain, and was stretchered away, with foot injuries and complaints of back pain. However, medical reports said that he was not seriously injured.

“There is not much to say. I left (the pits) a bit too early,” Raikkonen told reporters after the race. “It was my fault and unfortunately I ran over the guy who was refuelling. We need to look and see what really happened.”

Raikkonen was still set to finish in the top 6, when on lap 46 his engine took up smoking as it started down the start/finish straight, and it was very bad for the car’s health. Kimi ground to a halt at the end of the pit lane and trudged back to the Ferrari pits. You’d expect the reigning world champion to be spearheading Ferrari’s challenge this year, but instead it’s all on Massa at the moment it seems.

But Raikkonen, believes his championship chances are still good despite his retirement with a blown engine. “I am fine. I was not a nice weekend but it is not the first time,” he said. “We are in a bit of a worse situation in the championship but if we get all the things sorted then I think we still have a chance to come back. We just need to get things as we want and try again.” The world champion did concede he needs to improve his qualifying performance quickly if he is to have a shot at retaining the crown. “We need to get things sorted in qualifying,” he agreed. “We know what the issues have been, but unfortunately we haven’t been able to sort them out. Hopefully now in the next test we can work a bit and try to find the solution for it. If we get the qualifying right it will help a lot.”

Otherwise, the race was less than entirely interesting, the street circuit allowing few overtaking opportunities of any kind. The cars kept out of trouble for the most part, although on the opening lap Williams’ Kazuki Nakajima ran into the back of local hero Fernando Alonso’s Renault. Nakajima lost his front wing and pitted for a replacement, but Alonso’s damage – the rear wing – was far more serious.

“There’s always that danger when you start from the middle of the grid,” Alonso, starting from 12th, said after his retirement. “This time it was Nakajima who crashed into us and that was that.” He added: “Two races in Spain and two retirements. It’s very unlucky although this time it wasn’t a mechanical problem. Let’s hope that we are a bit more lucky at Spa.”

Alonso stayed in his car for a while, hoping to return to the race, but his Renault was too damaged, much to the disappointment of the Spanish fans at Valencia. “We were waiting to check the car,” Alonso added. “They evaluated the damage and, apart from the rear wing, there was also damage to the suspension and the gearbox and that would have taken over an hour to change.”

Also in the wars was David Coulthard (Red Bull) – who was pushed into a spin on the first lap, started to battle his way up through the running order, only to tangle with Sutil and spin again a few laps later after which the Red Bull seemed bereft of pace. Sutil himself retired on lap 42 when he slithered into a tyre barrier and ripped off the right front tyre in an accident all of his own doing.

Stars of the day – apart from Massa of course – include Sebastien Vettel who finished an excellent and thoroughly deserved 6th, not putting  foot wrong all afternoon; and Timo Glock, who plugged away with a single stop strategy and came away with 7th. By contrast, Mark Webber – who also tried a single stopper for Red Bull – ended up back in 12th.

It seemed that Lewis Hamilton was almost content to finish second and let Massa creep 2pts closer, which seemed a rather passive and unconvincing attitude to take to the world championship. But after the race finished, Hamilton revealed that he had been feeling really unwell – so much so that McLaren test driver Pedro de la Rosa had been put on alert to jump into the car in case Hamilton could not race.

The Briton had high fevers and neck problems before Saturday qualifying: “I’ve had a pretty miserable weekend, really,” said Hamilton on Sunday. “I had the ‘flu when I arrived so I had pretty hard fevers pretty much every day, and low energy. I also had quite a big problem with a spasm in my neck which kind of nearly did lead to me not racing this weekend.”

Which explains why, uncharacteristically, Lewis was the invisible man here at Valencia, and why the race was all about the Ferrari boys – for good and for bad.

The European Grand Prix
Valencia, Spain;
57 laps; 310.080km;
Weather: Sunny.

Classified:

Pos  Driver        Team                      Time
 1.  Massa         Ferrari               (B)  1h35:32.339
 2.  Hamilton      McLaren-Mercedes      (B)  +     5.611
 3.  Kubica        BMW Sauber            (B)  +    37.353
 4.  Kovalainen    McLaren-Mercedes      (B)  +    39.703
 5.  Trulli        Toyota                (B)  +    50.684
 6.  Vettel        Toro Rosso-Ferrari    (B)  +    52.625
 7.  Glock         Toyota                (B)  +  1:07.990
 8.  Rosberg       Williams-Toyota       (B)  +  1:11.457
 9.  Heidfeld      BMW Sauber            (B)  +  1:22.177
10.  Bourdais      Toro Rosso-Ferrari    (B)  +  1:29.794
11.  Piquet        Renault               (B)  +  1:32.717
12.  Webber        Red Bull-Renault      (B)  +     1 lap
13.  Button        Honda                 (B)  +     1 lap
14.  Fisichella    Force India-Ferrari   (B)  +     1 lap
15.  Nakajima      Williams-Toyota       (B)  +     1 lap
16.  Barrichello   Honda                 (B)  +     1 lap
17.  Coulthard     Red Bull-Renault      (B)  +     1 lap

Fastest lap: Massa, 1:38.708

Not classified/retirements:

Driver        Team                      On lap
Raikkonen     Ferrari               (B)    46
Sutil         Force India-Ferrari   (B)    42
Alonso        Renault               (B)    1

World Championship standings, round 12:               
Drivers:                    Constructors:            
 1.  Hamilton      70        1.  Ferrari               121
 2.  Massa         64        2.  McLaren-Mercedes      113
 3.  Raikkonen     57        3.  BMW Sauber             96
 4.  Kubica        55        4.  Toyota                 41
 5.  Kovalainen    43        5.  Renault                31
 6.  Heidfeld      41        6.  Red Bull-Renault       24
 7.  Trulli        26        7.  Williams-Toyota        17
 8.  Alonso        18        8.  Honda                  14
 9.  Webber        18        9.  Toro Rosso-Ferrari     11
10.  Glock         15      
11.  Piquet        13      
12.  Barrichello   11      
13.  Vettel         9      
14.  Rosberg        9      
15.  Nakajima       8      
16.  Coulthard      6      
17.  Button         3      
18.  Bourdais       2
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