The see-sawing battle between Ferrari and McLaren went Ferrari’s way in last Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix.
Felipe Massa kept his cool from pole to flag to win, resisting early race pressure from McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton (top and below).
By finishing second, Hamilton made history as the first driver to be on the podium in each of his first three races.
Kimi Raikkonen bought his Ferrari home third after spending the first stint hounding Fernando Alonso’s McLaren.
Raikkonen got ahead of Alonso during the first pitstops and later BMW Sauber’s Nick Heidfeld also got ahead of the world champion to finish fourth. Alonso came home fifth.
At the start, Massa led Hamilton into the first corner and Alonso and Raikkonen battled before Alonso got ahead.
At the restart after a Safety Car period, Massa, Hamilton and Alonso got the jump on Raikkonen.
As the race progressed, Massa and Hamilton opened a six-second gap on Alonso and Raikkonen. They traded fastest laps, Hamilton often faster but not close enough to mount an effective challenge.
Massa pitted a couple of laps after Hamilton and also stayed on the
softer tyre, rejoining in front of the McLaren again. Alonso stayed on the softer tyre when he stopped.
Raikkonen and Heidfeld pitted and the Finn rejoined the track in front of Alonso.
During the middle stint, Hamilton and Alonso fell off the pace of Massa and Raikkonen, and Massa opened a gap of eight seconds on Hamilton. Alonso was lapping half a second off Raikkonen’s pace.
Heidfeld closed on Alonso who held him off for a few corners before the German passed him on the outside in Turn 4.
Massa had moved to 10 seconds ahead of Hamilton who was being pressured by Raikkonen in the second Ferrari.
Massa took the win, and is five points behind Hamilton, Alonso and Raikkonen who lead the drivers’ championship jointly on 22 points.
“I just had some oversteer,” Massa said after winning.
“Then I just managed to change the front wing a little bit and the car became very good.”
The second stint was crucial, so it was just very good, pushing every single lap to open up the gap and then with the gap at ten seconds, it was easier to keep a slower pace on harder tyres and to save the car a little bit for the next race.
“The results in the first two races were not like I expected. I think something was missing, especially in the first race when we had a problem and then what happened in the second race, with mistakes and also something missing. This time we put everything together. But now we need to push even harder because McLaren is quite close.”
Hamilton said it’s “fantastic, obviously, to be equal on points with Fernando and Kimi. I think the team’s done a fantastic job. I think we had a very good pace this weekend, possibly the pace to be on pole but I think Felipe did a fantastic job in qualifying and in the race.
“Usually the Ferraris start to pull away during the stint, but we generally had similar pace, if not quicker in both first and last stints, so I think we’ve made a fantastic step forward and I’m really happy for the team.”
Raikkonen who finished third, made inroads into Hamilton’s margin for a while but once the McLaren was on the harder tyres, there was little he could do.
Having been stuck behind Alonso made it “too difficult to come back and challenge at the front. I got past him but we needed to go a little bit shorter in the middle stint to make sure we got in front of him but then it was too short to challenge Lewis. I came very close at the second stop but it wasn’t enough.”
Behind Massa, Hamilton and Raikkonen, the order was: Heidfeld, Alonso, Robert Kubica (BMW), Jarno Trulli (Toyota), and Giancarlo Fisichella (Renault). McLaren leads the constructors’ series by five points from Ferrari.