2018 will see the return of the French Grand Prix, ten years after the race last took place. The last Grand Prix in France was held at the Circuit de Nevers Magny-Cours, back in 2008. Let’s relive what happened there in what was an eventful race!
Qualifying for the French Grand Prix saw the two Ferrari’s of Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa lock out the front row with Raikkonen taking pole position. Fernando Alonso was 3rd in his Renault with Jarno Trulli 4th. It was an emotional weekend for Toyota as the team’s first team principal Ove Andersson had passed away in the week leading up to the race. The two Ferrari’s got away well at the start, with Trulli and Robert Kubica’s BMW passing Alonso. However, the Spaniard got the BMW driver back at the first hairpin to take back 4th place. Kubica at the time was leading the championship after winning the previous Canadian Grand Prix! Lewis Hamilton had started the race in 13th position thanks to a ten place grid penalty received for smashing into Raikkonen in the pitlane in Canada. His start was scrappy but he passed Sebastian Vettel’s Toro Rosso, cutting the fast chicane at turn 7. He then passed teammate Heikki Kovalainen, but a drive-through penalty beckoned for the McLaren driver, ruining his race.
After the first pitstops of the French Grand Prix, both Ferrari’s were still leading but all was not well. Amid growing tension in the garage, it turned out Raikkonen’s right exhaust pipe had broken, causing his engine to lose power. He duly allowed Massa to take the lead and the team chose not to remove the offending bodywork at Raikkonen’s next pitstop. Doing so would have cost valuable time which the team couldn’t afford to give up. Both drivers needed points for the championship and it was a bitter blow for Raikkonen after being knocked out of the race in Canada where he had a great chance of victory. Now, another win had slipped through his grasp. The woe continued for Hamilton too, his penalty had scuppered any chance of points for him and he failed to make much progress after his drive-through. Ultimately, second place would be as good as it got for the Brit.
“Obviously I am a bit disappointed because I had hoped to win. Unfortunately, the right exhaust pipe broke just before half-distance and the engine lost a lot of power, especially on the straight after the slow corners.”
Trulli on the other hand was having an incredible French Grand Prix. Having got the jump on Alonso at the start, he had continued to push hard and pulled away from the Renault. Later in the race, he came under immense pressure from Kovalainen and Kubica. Kovalainen had a go but Trulli held off the McLaren. – He was not ready to relinquish the podium spot! He held on right until the end and took an immensely emotional podium for Toyota, the team’s first in over two years. It was a great way to honour Ove Andersson, the cars also carrying black armbands to remember Ove. Ahead of him, Massa lead home a Ferrari 1-2 and took the lead of the driver’s championship for the first time in his career.
“What a great result and a great weekend by the whole team. We were pushing really hard because we wanted to dedicate this result to Ove Andersson, who has done so much for Toyota Motorsport. Today was a great race, hard and tough.”
It was a crucial victory for Massa and one that really set him up for a championship challenge. He might not have had the ultimate pace of Raikkonen, but he was there to pick up the pieces when the Finn’s car let him down. Massa would go on to challenge Hamilton for the title and famously lost out by a single point in the last race of the year at Brazil. Massa retired at the end of this year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and now looks set to be coming back to replace Mercedes bound Valtteri Bottas! It’s funny how things turn out isn’t it?
“A great race, a fantastic result. The win came my way because Kimi had a problem with his car and at the pace he was running, it would have been hard for me to beat him on the track.”