Turkish delight for Massa

Felipe Massa scored a hat-trick of Turkish Grand Prix victories following a fascinating tactical battle with Lewis Hamilton.

Three of Massa’s seven career wins have now come at the Istanbul Park circuit, propelling the Brazilian to within seven points of current championship leader and Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen.

The Finn was forced to settle for third as Hamilton managed to hold off the reigning world champion over the closing laps to claim the runner-up spot in his McLaren.

Hamilton is now level on points with Massa and has at least taken two points out of Raikkonen's lead at the top heading into Monaco and Montreal - favoured tracks for the Woking-based team.

Massa eventually finished 3.7secs clear of Hamilton as McLaren opted to run a three-stop strategy due to tyre concerns on the track, with Raikkonen a further 0.4secs adrift.

McLaren team boss Ron Dennis revealed: “With Lewis we had a structural concern with his tyres, so we took a decision with Bridgestone to run three stops.

“We didn’t want to have any tyre failure, and although we could have run two stops, we put the safety of the driver first.

“Lewis did a great job and we can now look forward to Monaco and Montreal.”

The BMW Saubers of Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld were fourth and fifth, with Renault’s Fernando Alonso sixth, the Red Bull of Mark Webber seventh, while Williams’ Nico Rosberg claimed a point.

For Hamilton’s team-mate Heikki Kovalainen, it was a sad return to race action a fortnight after the Finn had suffered a 150mph smash in the Spanish Grand Prix.

Kovalainen had performed brilliantly to clinch a front-row-of-the grid place for the first time in his career, slotting behind pole man Massa.

But off the grid, Kovalainen was slow away, allowing Hamilton to pass on the run down to turn one where countryman Raikkonen clipped his left-rear tyre.

Kovalainen, though, had to wait for two laps before he could pit for fresh rubber due to a slow puncture as a safety car had been deployed due to an accident within seconds of the start.

Giancarlo Fisichella, starting at the back of the field due to a three-place grid penalty imposed following a practice infringement, ran into the back of Williams’ Kazuki Nakajima.

Fisichella, who momentarily was airborne before landing in the gravel, was out of the race.

Although Nakajima managed to limp back to the pits, his race was also run as the damage to his rear wing was too much for his team to repair.

With Kovalainen scrabbling around at the back, although he endured many a scrap on his way to 12th, it left Hamilton to fight with Massa at the head of affairs, and a battle royal duly unfolded.

The duo traded fastest laps early on, with Hamilton fairing the better as he reeled in the Brazilian and was within 0.5secs when he pitted at the end of lap 16.

However, it was virtually a ’splash-and-dash’ stop for the Briton as he was in and out in just 6.4secs, and again he opted to use the harder compound tyre, as opposed to the Ferraris who were running on softer rubber.

When Massa pitted three laps later, he managed to stay in front of Hamilton, despite a 9.3secs stop.

But with Hamilton lighter on fuel, he again managed to eat into his friend and rival’s lead before finally pulling off a superb overtaking manoeuvre on lap 24.

Heading down one of the straights the duo ran side by side, wheel to wheel, but as Hamilton had the inside line into the hairpin turn 12, it was enough as Massa had to yield.

With clear air in front of him, and with Hamilton in the faster car, he then started to pull away, to such an extent that at one point he was running a second faster than any of his rivals.

But on lap 32 Hamilton was in again, and it was then clear his team were running a three-stop strategy, running for as long as possible on their favoured harder tyre.

Massa and Raikkonen made their second and final stops on laps 40 and 43, handing the lead back to Hamilton.

When the 23-year-old made his third lightning stop two laps later – taking just 5.9secs – his pit crew at least crucially managed to get him ahead of Raikkonen, but just over five seconds down on Massa.

All three of the leading drivers, though, were now on their least favoured rubber, with Hamilton on the soft option and the Ferraris using the harder compound.

It soon became apparent Hamilton could not make any inroads into Massa, instead his main concern being Raikkonen over the closing stages, although he managed to hold him off to claim second.

After scoring his 200th point for Ferrari, Massa said: ``That was just fantastic.

“It was a very difficult race, with Lewis pushing me hard, but I thought he was light (on fuel) at the start.

“Then when he pitted ahead of me, my team told me straight away he was on three stops. That was a help because he was very strong and I couldn’t hold him.

“I knew I had a chance because three stops is optimistic, so it was difficult, but we made it.

“Three wins is great here, and I think I can get a passport here now!”

Hamilton, who had embraced his pit crew at the end of the race – and with good reason – remarked: “I’m thrilled to have come second from third.

“We knew it was going to be tough to challenge the Ferraris. We were hoping to get some points and finishing in the top five was good.

“But the balance of the car was good and I kept pushing and pushing, so I’m happy.”

Confirming the tyre problem, Hamilton added: “Bridgestone were concerned the tyre would fail, as it did last year (in Turkey).

“But the team did a great job through all the pit stops.”

Raikkonen, following his first corner incident with Kovalainen, said: “I didn’t make a good start.

“Unfortunately for both us he had a puncture and I broke my front wing.

“We chose not to change it because it takes too long, but we got some points and we need to have a better weekend at the next race.”

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