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Massa Takes The Lead In Chase, Ferrari Hangs On

Massa Takes The Lead In Title Chase, Ferrari Hangs On To Manufacturers Lead

Although Ferrari leaves Malaysia still in the lead of the Manufactures’’ title chase and Ferrari driver Felipe Massa takes over the lead in the Driver’s Championship, the Malaysian Grand Prix at the weekend (4 April 2010) was always, in the word’s of Ferrari team manager Chris Dyer, going to be an exercise in damage limitation after the team’s poor qualifying.

And so it turned out to be, with Felipe Massa picking up six points for seventh place, to lead the Drivers’ classification and allow Ferrari to maintain its lead in the Constructors’.

“All things considered, we did a good job in these first three races, as proved by the fact we lead both championships,” said Massa after the race. However, there are still sixteen races to go and we know there is much room for improvement in terms of car performance and in making it totally reliable. Given where we started from, seventh place is probably the best we could hope for. We tried to delay the tyre change as much as possible, also because over the past days it has always rained in the afternoon and if that had happened today; we would have been able to exploit any opportunity.

Unfortunately, for once, the rain did not come. The soft tyres were quicker but probably at the start, the track was not rubbered in enough to get them working at their best, so our strategy was the right one. The duel with Button was very complicated: down the straights, he could always pull away, but when he made a mistake at the final corner, I was able to get close enough to overtake under braking for the first one. Today’s race proves the need to fight on every lap of the championship: we have a lot of work to do, so we must keep focussed and not lessen our efforts.”

Fernando? He too had hauled himself up the order into the points, but was cruelly robbed of them when his engine failed, almost within sight of the chequered flag

“This was a very difficult weekend,” said Alonso. “We made a big mistake in yesterday’s qualifying and today in the race; I had to retire with an engine problem. My race was an uphill climb from the start: I found I had a problem with the gearbox right from the start and I had to drive without a clutch for practically the whole race. Trying to look on the positive side, at least the engine failure only cost me two points: it would have been much worse if I had been in the lead! Seeing what happened in the previous days, it made sense to expect rain and so we made the first stint as long as possible, but unfortunately, it did not happen. Today, we gave Red Bull a little gift: if we had qualified in a normal fashion then we would certainly have given them a hard time. I am not worried about the engine failure, as our engineers have enough experience and ability to resolve this situation. Given everything that happened, we can be proud of what we managed to do in the race and we can look forward with confidence to the next Grand Prix, which we will be trying to win.”

Scuderia Ferrari’s hopes of a strong qualifying session, based on competitive runs during free practice, were literally washed away in the rain, when a heavy downpour hit the track just as the first part of the session began.

Of course, like every other team, the Ferrari strategists were aware of the rain, except that the team’s weather forecast predicted an improvement in track conditions towards the end of Q1, so Fernando and Felipe were kept in the garage. By the time it was clear that the downpour was getting stronger, it was an impossible task to lap quickly enough to set at least a sixteenth fastest time which would have given the drivers a chance to make a better attempt in Q2. The plain facts are that Fernando Alonso were forced to start Malaysian Grand Prix from the tenth row of the grid in nineteenth place, with Felipe Massa right behind him in twenty first place.

There can be no consolation in these situations, but at least two of the team’s main championship rivals, Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton were also caught out and start from seventeenth and twentieth places respectively.

The team that seems to have the fastest car so far this season, Red Bull, made the best of the conditions, getting Mark Webber onto pole position and Sebastian Vettel right behind him in third. Joining the Australian on the front row was Nico Rosberg in the Mercedes. Alongside him was fellow German, Adrian Sutil in the Force India. Row 3 saw the Williams of Nico Hulkenberg in fifth spot, with Robert Kubica next to him in sixth place.

The race was dominated by Red Bull Racing with Sebastian Vettel winning, after getting the jump on his pole-sitting team-mate, Mark Webber who finished second. Joining them on the podium was Nico Rosberg for Mercedes.

The fact that McLaren had also misjudged the weather on Saturday afternoon, relegating Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button to the lower part of the grid certainly added to the spectacle of the race, which was held in totally dry conditions. The Ferrari and McLaren duos were joined in a battle royal for much of the race, carving past slower cars.

At the end of the opening lap, Felipe was behind Hamilton, with Button behind him, followed by Fernando. Hamilton got the best of the slower cars, so that by lap 10 the Englishman was eighth, with Felipe twelfth and Fernando thirteenth

They each moved up a place when Liuzzi retired the Force India and, as others began to pit, they were eighth and ninth on lap 15 and sixth and seventh on lap 25, one lap before Felipe changed tyres onto the softer of the two types, rejoining ninth. Massa had a good duel with Button, around lap 35, one lap before Alonso was the last man to change tyres, which meant the Brazilian was lying eighth ahead of his team-mate.

Having gradually closed on the McLaren man, Felipe finally took Button on lap 43, with the Spaniard right on the gearbox of the Englishman. On lap 46, Fernando actually managed to pull alongside Button, but not past him, while further ahead, Felipe was considerably quicker than Hamilton and cutting the gap lap by lap. With six laps remaining, that gap had come down to 2.1s and Fernando was pushing Button very hard indeed for eighth place. Then with two laps remaining it seemed the pass had been made, but as Fernando’s F10 got ahead, a puff of smoke came out from the back of the car and his race was over.

Robert Kubica finished fourth for Renault, followed by Adrian Sutil in the Force India, Lewis Hamilton, Felipe and Jenson Button eighth. The last two points places were filled by Jaime Alguersuari in the Ferrari-powered Toro Rosso and Nico Hulkenberg in the Williams.

After the first three races of the season, Felipe Massa leads the Drivers’ classification on 39 points, just two ahead of Fernando Alonso, who is second, although equal on points with third placed Sebastian Vettel. In the Constructors’ classification, Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro leads on 76 points, ten ahead of McLaren, with Red Bull Racing a threatening third on 61.

“There’s no way we can be happy with the outcome of this third race weekend of the season,” commented Ferrari Team director Stefano Domenicali. “We came to Malaysia with very different objectives and taking home a mere seven points is a disappointment. Today’s result is down to yesterday’s qualifying: when you start that far back on the grid, it’s difficult to do better. On top of that, we had a few reliability problems which should put us on our guard: if we want to aspire to the title we absolutely have to sort this out. Fernando drove an amazing race, given that right from the formation lap, he had a problem going through the gears. To drive under these conditions is impressive and he was able to stay in the fight for points right to the end. Felipe also drove a really great race, especially in the second part and heading the Drivers’ classification is a just reward for all he has done in this early part of the season. An initial assessment after three races? Positive, because we lead both championships and have shown we are competitive at the highest level. We know where we have to improve – performance and reliability – but we can count on an excellent package – car, drivers, team – all capable of being in the fight for both titles.”

(ends)

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