From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.31 :: NO.33 :: Aug. 16, 2008


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A great moment for Kovalainen

Felipe Massa’s engine blow-up hands Heikki Kovalainen his maiden victory in a dramatic race of changing fortunes. By Alan Henry.

Lewis Hamilton’s hopes of extending his World Championship points lead looked as though they had been dramatically wrecked by tyre problems in a baking Hungarian Grand Prix on August 3, until the race leader, Felipe Massa, suffered a major engine failure with three laps to go to hand a maiden victory to Hamilton’s McLaren team-mate, Heikki Kovalainen.

The Finn recorded the team’s third straight victory in little more than a month. Hamilton finished fifth but, thanks to Massa’s withdrawal, the Briton ended up not just preserving his championship lead but stretching it over his key rivals, the Ferrari drivers, Kimi Raikkonen and Massa.

“Congratulations to my team-mate on his deserved first Grand Prix victory,” said Hamilton. “It (the result for me) was nowhere near as bad as it could have been as we could have had Kimi and Felipe (ahead of us).

“The race could have been better for me. My start was OK but Felipe’s was better and he managed to overtake me. My lap times were good and I kept the gap slightly small. With our strategy we still had the chance to pass him but the damaged tyre destroyed my race. I don’t know why it happened but at least I scored some points, so the result was not too bad for me.”

McLaren sources said initial examination suggested that, although the tyre had been flat spotted when Hamilton had locked up a wheel, the tyre failure itself was caused by grazing a sidewall.

This was a dramatic race of changing fortunes, held in torrid conditions which saw track temperatures soar to 45-degree C at one point. For a long time it looked certain to belong to Massa, who had taken the lead from Hamilton going into the first corner.

The Brazilian drove a perfect race only for his engine to fail in the dying moments of what had been a rather processional contest. This elevated Hamilton to fifth place at the chequered flag that extended his points lead to 62, with Raikkonen moving to second ahead of his team-mate Massa on 57 points, with seven of the season’s 18 races left to run.

Hamilton and Kovalainen had made it an all-McLaren front row in qualifying but at the start Massa came off the starting grid like a dragster, hurtling past on the outside of Hamilton and braking in a cloud of tyre smoke for the first right-hander before running the scarlet Ferrari right round the outside of the silver McLaren to take the lead.

As the Brazilian held on brilliantly at the front of the pack Hamilton was left to sniff his exhaust fumes in the opening stages of the 70-lap battle before his left front Bridgestone failed under hard braking for the tricky downhill turn two as he was running second on lap 41. Hamilton kept control with masterly confidence as the McLaren skidded precariously towards the edge of the abrasive tarmac. Following that, the British driver found himself effectively reduced to launching a damage limitation exercise on his World Championship challenge that had been compromised by this misfortune.

Massa now led confidently, reeling off the laps towards the chequered flag with metronomic consistency, while Hamilton rejoined in 10th place — the McLaren now fuelled up for a non-stop run to the finish — just ahead of David Coulthard’s Red Bull-Renault.

“It is fantastic. It is a great moment,” said Kovalainen of his surprise win in the week he signed up for McLaren for 2009. “It has been a moment I have been targeting for many years now, since I eyed the possibility to be a Formula One driver. I wanted to improve my fitness to try and achieve this goal and to achieve it is pleasing. I am very happy with the win. Hopefully it is the first of many.

“There have been various incidents this season that have happened when I’ve been in a position to fight for a victory. Today Lewis and Massa were fastest in the race. I tried to put pressure on Massa hoping he would have a mechanical failure and it seemed to work.”

Perhaps the most extraordinary performance came from the Toyota driver Timo Glock who had left the race at Hockenheim a fortnight earlier in an ambulance after shunting his car violently into the pit wall. Within a couple of days he was back testing at Jerez, where he also picked up a stomach bug, but he drove superbly to finish second in the Hungarian sunshine, steadfastly refusing to be intimidated by Raikkonen’s Ferrari in his mirrors for the second half of the race.

“It is just unbelievable after the race in Hockenheim and the big crash,” said Glock.

“I could not believe it when I saw Felipe’s engine go and I was second. I was under pressure from Kimi, with soft tyres and I was struggling quite a lot. We knew since that the soft tyres would be difficult.

“I had a really good car. It was perfect until the last stint. Unbelievable, in my first year.”

The result, backed up by Jarno Trulli’s seventh place, allowed Toyota to consolidate its fourth position in the Constructors’ Championship.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2008

* * *

Hamilton wary of Ferrari

Lewis Hamilton has warned that Ferrari will still represent a formidable rival over the seven remaining Grand Prix races if the McLaren driver is to claim his first world title at the end of his second season in Formula One.

The British driver acknowledged that it was satisfying to have extended his championship lead to five points in the Hungarian GP, despite dropping to fifth place after a puncture, but Ferrari “were strong” after Felipe Massa only lost victory with an engine failure three laps from the chequered flag.

“Hungary showed they had some really strong pace, which we already knew they had,” Hamilton told “I think I drove well. I didn’t make any mistakes. I just had a puncture. I brought the car home as safe as possible and scored as many points as I could.

“It’s just unfortunate I was the one to get a puncture. I had it three times last year, and that’s what really lost me the championship. It can be very, costly, but Kimi (Raikkonen) didn’t win, and it actually helps Heikki (Kovalainen) has won and Glock was second. They are taking points off everyone else, so I’m quite happy.”

Hamilton also warned Massa that he would not concede a repeat of his move at the first corner when he ran round the outside of the McLaren to take the lead.

“I had one of my best ever starts, but Felipe had an even better one. It won’t happen again,” he said.

Alan Henry/ © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2008

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