The story of the Spanish Grand Prix was the story of two Finnish drivers and their very different races – a comfortable win for Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, a dangerous crash for McLaren’s Heikki Kovalainen.
Raikkonen was able to translate his pole position into a relatively untroubled victory, with team-mate Felipe Massa in formation behind him to deter any ambitions harboured by McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton and BMW’s Robert Kubica.
By contrast, Kovalainen suffered a sudden and dramatic front tyre deflation on lap 22 that sent him ploughing straight on at the 195kph Campsa Corner, burying his car to its back wheels in the tyre wall.
Remarkably – given the damage to the safety shell of his car – he escaped without serious injuries having sufferered nothing more than a battering. Team bosses believe he is likely to be fit to drive at the next race in Turkey.
Kovalainen and Hamilton had started the race on the third row, behind the Ferraris, Kubica and a Fernando Alonso determined to put on a good show for his home fans. Most observers put his front row qualification time down to low fuel, but in the event he stayed out longer than expected – almost as long as Felipe Massa in the second Ferrari.
He wasn’t able to keep Massa behind him at the start, however, and further back Hamilton was also finding a gap to pass Kubica. After the early action, however, the race at the front settled down, with only Alonso falling back in the pitstops and then retiring, his engine aflame, to the dismay of the crowd.
But if the front of the race was processional, the back and midfield battles were anything but.
First Adrian Sutil attempted an optimistic first-lap overtake on Coulthard, making contact and spinning in a graceful circle until he found himself facing the wrong way down the track and into the eyes of a rapidly-approaching Sebastian Vettel. Contact was inevitable, and the impact put both cars out of the race and brought out the safety car for the first time.
Then, after the race resumed, Nelson Piquet hit Sebastien Bourdais when trying to recover the places he’d lost in an earlier off-road excursion. The Renault driver was an immediate retirement, while the Toro Rosso made it back to the pits before being retired by the team.
And Piquet had claimed another victim without even knowing it, as one of the stones scattered on the track by his antics punctured Anthony Davidson’s radiator and the Englishman was forced to retire from what might turn out to be Super Aguri’s final race.
The race suffered from a high retirement rate, and only 13 cars finished. Nico Rosberg, like Alonso, suffered an engine failure. Rubens Barrichello was running well until he emerged from his pitstop with his car’s front wing already wrecked thanks to accidental contact with Giancarlo Fisichella – retirement soon followed. And, of course, Kovalainen had his spectacular crash.
This brought out the safety car for the second time, and also wrecked Nick Heidfeld’s recovery from his poor qualification position. Running on fumes, he was forced to pit for more fuel while the pitlane was closed. The resulting penalty, taken while the field was bunched up after the safety car period, dropped him to the back of the field.
Others were taking advantage of the turmoil to post better-than-expected performances. Takuma Sato ran as high as ninth for Super Aguri until his second pitstop dropped him back. Fisichella held off Heidfeld’s charge from the back for several laps and posted Force India’s best result to date, finishing 10th.
At the front, the pair of safety cars had stopped the Ferraris building too great a lead and – although Raikkonen and Massa were untroubled in first and second – Hamilton in third and Kubica in fourth were only seconds behind and marginally catching up as the race ended.
Mark Webber grabbed fifth for Red Bull mid-race and clung on to it hard, while Jenson Button’s long second stint saw him score his first points of the season in sixth. Kazuki Nakajima brought his Williams home seventh for two points, but a disconsolate Jarno Trulli only managed eighth after poor communication with his pit crew led to him being brought in for an extra, unnecessary, stop.
The call had been intended for team-mate Timo Glock, who had become the latest driver to discover the folly of trying to overtake David Coulthard when he misjudged the size of the gap available and rammed the Scot from behind.
Glock needed a new nosecone while Coulthard limped back to the pits with a shredded rear tyre and emerged behind Sato in last. His successful battle to overtake him was the only interesting on-track action at the end of the race, as all the other positions were secure.
Afterwards, Coulthard said: “After my pit stop, I took a defensive line into turn four and five to show Glock that I knew he was there, but he hit the rear of my car and punctured a tyre.
“It’s a horrible thing about being down near the end of the grid – you try to keep out of trouble, but it’s never so easy. I got whacked by Sutil going into turn four and picked up some light damage to the side of the car, but after that I was running okay.”
Team boss Christian Horner sympathised: “For David, the nightmare of yesterday’s qualifying session continued. It looked as though he might be able to pick up a couple of points at one stage in the race, but unfortunately things just didn’t go his way today, I’m sure his luck will change soon.”
Anthony Davidson was also bemoaning his luck: “It was a disappointing end to the weekend for me. After Piquet ran wide at the beginning of the race he dragged a lot of gravel on to the track and a stone from that then damaged my water radiator, putting me out of the race.
“I got a good start and felt comfortable in the car up to that point, so it is a shame to have retired so early, but I’d like to thank everyone in the team for their hard work and determination this weekend.”
Lewis Hamilton, by contrast, was happy with his result – although understandably more concerned about the fate of his team-mate.
“First of all I am really happy to hear that Heikki is OK,” he said. “During the race I saw a car had gone into the barriers and was told it was Heikki. As soon as the team knew he was OK, Ron came on the radio and told me which was a great relief.
“With regard to the race it’s good to be back on the podium. After qualifying, we knew it would be a difficult Grand Prix so I am actually pleased to be third.
“I made a good start and was able to get lots of traction and could go to the right alongside Robert almost immediately. I managed to overtake him which is usually not easy as I recall from our battles in Formula 3.
“I pushed extremely hard, particularly in the second and third stints and tried to keep up with the Ferraris. Actually I was pleasantly surprised about how close the competition at the top was which is great for Formula 1.
“We did a good job today, but there are areas where we definitely need to improve, but it’s comforting to know that we are relatively close to Ferrari. I look forward to the Turkish Grand Prix where hopefully Heikki will be back in his usual fine form.”
Jenson Button, despite his strong showing, felt more points had been achieveable and is looking forward to a better performance at the next race in Turkey.
“It was a good race for us today and I’m really pleased to finish in sixth with three points,” he said. “Unfortunately the safety car came out at the wrong time for us, although I am pleased to hear that Heikki is okay. I was on a long first stint so it was bad timing and definitely cost me some places.
“The car was working well with the balance improving lap by lap, particularly on the last stint with harder tyres where I felt very comfortable. The team are doing a really good job and we are benefiting from Ross’ technical management.
“I got a really good feel for the new aero package during the race today and it is definitely an improvement. The good thing is that what we are seeing from the car reflects the information from the wind tunnel.
“This circuit is not the best for our car as it’s a bumpy circuit here and we seem to lack some driveability over the bumps. When we get to the next race in Turkey, I expect the car to perform better than here.”