From pole position through all 65 laps, Felipe Massa has won the 2007 Spanish Grand Prix in true Ferrari style, not wavering in his abilities from lights out to chequered flag. In a dominating and controlled manner, Massa firmly made his authority over Kimi Raikkonen known, and laid down the gauntlet to McLaren chargers Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton. And as the Formula One circus leaves Barcelona, it is the 22 year old rookie Hamilton who leads the championship, demoting Alonso down the table and leaving Raikkonen eight points behind.
Drama on lap zero saw Jarno Trulli stall and force a restart. Trulli’s Toyota was pushed back to the garage and the Italian was forced to start from the end of the pitlane. A fuel pressure problem caused Jarno’s engine to die, and while waiting for the restart had to continuously rev his power unit to keep it alive. The second start saw less drama, but the first corner threw up the usual surprises.
Massa defended his position well from a good start. Alonso didn’t start too badly either, and while Massa jinked right to cover the inside, Alonso went left and attempted a pass around the outside. However, Massa had the corner and Alonso was forced out wide and onto the gravel. When Fernando got his McLaren back on the black stuff, Hamilton (who passed Raikkonen before turn one) and Kimi had passed for position. P4 was all Alonso could do from P2 on the grid.
A little further around lap one Heikki Kovalainen was making ground, darting around other cars and generally driving much better than he had previously. However, as the gaggle that immediately followed the Finn went through the mid-lap, the tail bunched and as everybody flowed through an acceleration zone at a much slower pace, Alex Wurz ploughed into the back of Ralf Schumacher. Put down to a racing incident, both drivers pitted, but only Schumacher could rejoin.
Lap two saw Fernando Alonso desperately trying to regain his track position, knowing that he was on less fuel and had to get himself back up front. However, Raikkonen drove well and defended himself against the local hero, while Massa extended his lead at the front to two full seconds.
Mark Webber pulled into his garage on lap eight to retire his Red Bull, although David Coulthard was enjoying a much better race in the midfield, showing the improved pace of the RBR3 and proving his competitiveness at the previous Grand Prix in Bahrain was not a mere flash-in-the-pan. A lap later Jarno Trulli gave up his Toyota and retired while suffering from the fuel pressure problem. It wasn’t to be a great race for the Japanese team as team mate Ralf Schumacher also retired his car much later in the race. Toyota’s problems continue to plague them, and after the squad had made some improvements, they need to work on reliability if they are to make full use of their car.
On the same lap as Jarno Trulli, Kimi Raikkonen slowed down to a crawl mid-lap. An electrical fault on his Ferrari caused the Finn to retire his car, and any chance of leading the title evaporated as Kimi stormed through the garage and left the circuit with his manager. With so many retirements, a fair amount of debris was strewn over certain parts of the circuit, and as Scott Speed accelerated down the start/finish straight, his left rear tyre failed and forced the Californian to park the Toro Rosso and return to his garage.
Seriously, is anyone going to finish this race? Of course, it has been quite a while since we saw a high attrition rate in Formula One, as most teams have combatted reliability due to changes in regulations. As the rules now demand parts to last longer (engines for two race weekends, for example), it seems that cars are lasting longer and longer. But of course, as soon as we see lots of cars go out for whatever reasons, it seems like we are returning to the good old days of Monaco ’96, when officially there were only three cars touring on the final lap.
On lap twenty, Felipe Massa made his first pit stop, and while everything went well during the stop, he appeared to creep forward slightly even though the fuel nozzle was still attached. As the refueller pulled away, fuel leaked out over the engine cover and ignited due to the heat of the exhaust fumes pumping out the back. Massa pulled away, hesitated, then continued knowing that the fuel will burn away quickly and that will be the end of the drama – everything is safely sealed off. The drama caused a little excitement, but it wasn’t to be the last of the race.
Alonso pitted on the same lap as Massa, and the mechanics slap on a pair of hard compound tyres. With most other drivers choosing the soft compound for the middle stint, it is clear that Alonso is simply trying something a little different, knowing that his chances of winning the race are now very slim. The decision wasn’t a complete disaster, but it wasn’t the best to have come from the Woking squad, and Alonso lost a lot of time to Massa and Hamilton.
On lap 21, and on some kind of monumental charge, David Coulthard pitted and narrowly avoided a slowing Vitantonio Liuzzi, passing the Italian in the narrow pit entry. Jenson Button stopped as well, and as the British driver left the pit lane, he conceded position to his team mate Rubens Barrichello, lost control of his Honda on the kerb of turn one, slid across the track and lost his front wing on the rear of Barrichello’s car. Button pitted on the same lap for a replacement, destroying his already miserable weekend.
Nick Heidfeld, who had been running superbly in the BMW, pitted on lap 24. Again, everything looked good, and all tyre changers indicated they had completed their job. The fuel rig came off and the lollipop went up. As Nick planted the throttle, it was clear the front right wheel nut was not attached, and as the mechanic tried to refit, the air gun followed the car down the pitlane. Nick realised something was wrong pretty quickly and jumped on the brakes. As the Toyota mechanic in the garage next up stopped the wheel nut and wandered over the BMW to give it back, there was a lot of confusion in the BMW camp as to what to do with the car, all the while Heidfeld was patiently sitting in the car, at angle, between his and Toyota’s garage. Not being allowed to reverse at all in the pitlane Nick eventually left and carefully drove a lap of Circuit de Catalunya, pitting again to get the wheel attached properly. This error by BMW effectively ruined a race which would have seen both their men collect valuable points.
Renault also suffered problems with their fuel rig, as Kovalainen was switched to the three stop strategy and Fischella made a final splash-and-dash at the very end of the race. Despite all their problems though, Fisichella had reasonable pace for much of the Grand Prix, and Heikki collected two points for the Anglo-French squad. Not a bad result, but not down to his cooking skills, as indicated by UK commentator James Allen.
Nick Heidfeld retired on lap 48, despite having a brilliant charge in the first stint and slowly recovering from his first pit stop incident. However, team mate Robert Kubica appeared to have turned his luck around as the young Pole picked up five points from fourth place, beating his team mate for the first time this season. Gearbox trouble was blamed for Heidfeld’s retirement, something David Coulthard knows a lot about now. Towards the end of the race, Coulthard was forced to downshift no lower than fourth, as the Scot lost third gear on his ‘Bull. With Nico Rosberg bearing down on him, Coulthard pushed hard, and his efforts were rewarded with a points paying finish. However, Red Bull will need to sort out their reliability issues if they are to seriously compete with BMW this season.
The final point of the race went to an elated Takuma Sato. Yes, really. Sato. In the Super Aguri. You know, the team that 18 months ago didn’t actually exist. The team that are considered to be Honda’s B-squad. The team that is using Honda’s 2006 chassis. How? Probably because the 2006 chassis is better than the 2007 one. And at this point, now Aguri have secured their first ever championship point, you have to ask why Honda haven’t reverted back to the ’06 car and why they are pressing ahead with the current one?
Congratulations to Super Aguri, a point well deserved, even if they do lose it because Spyker are jealous. The decision on this fiasco is still ongoing, by the way.
A race full of anticipation, excitement and ultimately, retirements. Tye Spanish Grand Prix threw up a few more surprises than usual, and on a weekend when the circuit received an extension to its contract until 2016. As the circus leave Barcelona, a new man leads the title fight, two men leave with a bitter taste in their mouth and Massa jumps around having won his second race of the season. A welcome boost in his championship campaign, and a well-timed victory in front of his idol and mentor.