Tom Clarkson's 2008 French Grand Prix race report

Published: 23 June 2008

The only surprise was the order of the red cars. Until half distance in the race, Kimi Raikkonen had been the quicker Ferrari driver all weekend, but a broken right exhaust left him down on power and unable to stop team-mate Felipe Massa taking the win.

As a result, Massa becomes the first Brazilian since Ayrton Senna in 1993 to lead the World Championship. While his title rivals slip up or have technical problems, Felipe seems to cruise serenely on, stacking up points at every race, and it’s time we – or is it just me? – face up to the prospect of him winning this year’s World Championship.

An in-form Raikkonen still has an edge over Massa, but there are so many extenuating circumstances in Formula 1 – Kimi’s crash in the Montreal pitlane and his exhaust problem in France for example – that Felipe could yet steal it. And such a scenario has been played out before: Rosberg was champion in ’82, despite winning only one race, and Prost beat the quicker Williamses of Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell to the title in ’86.

If Massa becomes champion, would I be pleased? For him, yes, because he’s a genuinely nice man, but for the sport, no. The purist in me always wants the best of the best to emerge on top.

For all the dominance of Ferrari at Magny Cours, the driver of the race was undoubtedly Jarno Trulli. He dragged a level of performance from his Toyota TF108 that no-one in the team thought possible and he showed a level of tenacity in the latter stages, when he fiercely defended his third place from Heikki Kovalainen, that laid to rest the ghosts of France 2004, when he rather pathetically let Rubens Barrichello pass him with only two corners of the race remaining.

“Jarno was just brilliant all weekend,” says Toyota engineer Frank Dernie. “He was quick in qualifying and he maximised the performance of his car on every lap of the race, even when it was damp towards the end. He was extremely impressive.”

Trulli’s first podium since Spain 2005 was a fitting tribute to Ove Andersson, the founder of Toyota Motorsport, who died last week in a car crash. Without Ove’s hard work, Toyota would not be in F1.

2008 FRENCH GRAND PRIX

1 Felipe Massa
2 Kimi Raikkonen
3 Jarno Trulli
4 Heikki Kovalainen
5 Robert Kubica
6 Mark Webber
7 Nelson Piquet
8 Fernando Alonso

By Tom Clarkson

F1 correspondent, BBC pitlane man, accesser of all areas, head beans-spiller

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