Kimi Raikkonen handled the post-race press conference as he always does, unemotionally, and with a complete lack of hyperbole. He doesn’t try to use words to impress: games of intimidation are unnecessary when you are as quick as Raikkonen. In a way, therefore, the flatness of his delivery was the more chilling for his rivals. “For sure,” he said, blearily rubbing his eyes, “we could have gone quite a bit faster, but there’s no point when you don’t need to…”
Later, in response to a slightly different question, he took it a stage further: “We could,” he said, “have gone much faster.” It looked that way.
Had it been a boring afternoon for the Spanish Grand Prix winner? Kimi just smiled and shrugged, leaving us to draw our own conclusions, which were simple enough: Ferrari have a quantifiable advantage at present, and no one with any sense would bet against Raikkonen’s retaining his World Championship, even if we are just four races into an 18-race season.
Starting from the pole, Raikkonen never lost the lead, save momentarily after his first pit stop, and was shadowed, at a certain respectful distance, by team mate Felipe Massa. In the closing laps, Lewis Hamilton moved his McLaren to within a couple of seconds of Massa, but there was never any question of threatening the Ferrari, and Hamilton knew it.
It may be only six weeks since Lewis’s McLaren-Mercedes dominated the opening race, in Melbourne, but it’s beginning to feel like a long time ago. In qualifying at Barcelona, Lewis was happy with his quick laps, commenting afterwards that the car had felt extremely well-balanced. “Actually,” he said, “I’m quite surprised we’re not higher up the grid…” ‘Shocked’ more accurately describes it.
Twenty-four hours on, after the race, Hamilton was not ecstatic, but not despondent, either. “The Ferraris,” he said, “still seem to be easier on their rear tyres than we are, but actually I’m pleased with third place. It’s almost impossible to overtake at this circuit – that was why I knew I had to try and beat Kubica to the first corner. I know from F3 days how difficult Robert is to pass, and I was glad to beat him away from the start.”
Massa was on a similar mission, having failed to join Raikkonen on the front row, thanks to a quite brilliant lap by Fernando Alonso, to this point something of a forgotten man in 2008.
Alonso allowed that the muscular support of his home crowd is always worth ‘a tenth or two’, and that, allied to suspension changes and new aerodynamic pieces (notably a spectacularly finned engine cover) from Renault, made Fernando a competitive proposition for the first time this year.
Momentarily, during the last minute of qualifying, he had the pole, and the fans went momentarily nuts. Within seconds Raikkonen had set a new mark, which tempered their joy, but only slightly. Their man was back, a factor again, and their relief was shared by the race organisers, whose ticket sales had been significantly down earlier in the week..
For all that, Fernando warned against false optimism: “We’ve taken a step forward, no doubt, but honestly I think seventh place is a realistic aim for the race. Of course you never know what can happen, but I don’t think we can make the podium…”
He was right. On pure acceleration, Massa beat him away to the first turn, slotting in behind Raikkonen, but still Fernando ran third to the time of the first stops – which, in his case, came on lap 16. Renault’s rivals had assumed that Fernando had qualified with a light fuel load, and such proved to be the case, but still it was good to see such a great driver figuring seriously again. Ultimately he pulled off with engine failure at half-distance.
Barcelona invariably produces a dull Grand Prix, in part because the circuit might have been designed to prevent overtaking, and in part because the teams test there more than anywhere else, and simply know too much about it. About the only unpredictable element is the crosswinds which routinely afflict the place, but on Sunday they were in uncharacteristically benign mood.
On lap 22, though, there occurred an incident to give everyone pause. Having run in the top six since the start, Heikki Kovalainen moved up progressively as those ahead of him made their first stops, and when both Hamilton and Kubica came in, Kovalainen briefly took over the lead.
Very briefly. At turn nine, a fifth-gear right-hander, his left front tyre disintegrated, whereupon the car instantly ceased to turn, instead running straight on. The run-off area at that point is not generous, and at close to 150mph the McLaren hit a tyre barrier, and partly disappeared under it.
It took some time to rescue Kovalainen from his cockpit, and stretcher him away. At the track medical facility, he appeared to be suffering ‘only’ from concussion, but this is never something to be treated lightly, and later he was helicoptered to hospital in Barcelona. A bulletin confirmed he was essentially OK, and McLaren are hopeful he will be fit to drive at Istanbul in two weeks’ time.
Later Ron Dennis stressed that the accident had not been caused by a tyre failure – rather, it was the wheel rim itself which had fractured.
Behind Raikkonen, Massa and Hamilton, Kubica maintained his third place in the championship with another five points, Webber’s run of good finishes continued (fifth this time), Button scored his first points of the season, Nakajima took seventh for Williams, and Trulli deserved better than eighth, after a ‘communications error’ led to his being mistakenly called into the pits late in the race, when he was running sixth.
Not a memorable race, this, by any means, but then we don’t expect such things at Barcelona. In the paddock there was a Grand Prix to be run, and, as in Bahrain, there was but one topic of conversation in the paddock: the future – or not – of Max Mosley. If anything, opinions seemed to have hardened further, and at a team principals’ meeting on Saturday seven signed a petition that the disgraced FIA president be replaced as soon as possible, which is June 3, of course, when the General Assembly convenes in Paris to vote on the matter.
The jokes didn’t stop, of course, but at the same time anger was plainly growing: the ‘Mosley affair’ is proving extremely bad for business, and these people don’t like it when you get into their pockets.
To no one’s surprise, Ferrari declined to sign the petition to remove Max, although one or two of those present said they sensed that the well-liked new team principal, Stefano Domenicali, would like to have done the right thing, but clearly could not.
When it came to the Spanish Grand Prix, Ferrari clearly felt on surer ground.
|5.||Webber||Red Bull||+35.9 secs||7||4|
|10.||Fisichella||F India||+1 Lap||19|
|12.||Coulthard||Red Bull||+1 Lap||17|
|13.||Sato||S Aguri||+1 Lap||22|
|Ret||Davidson||S Aguri||Radiator damage||21|