Pole, fastest race lap and well-deserved victory for Felipe Massa, but a messy overall performance by the Ferrari team. The Brazilian, now 6 points behind championship leader Lewis Hamilton, was lucky to escape a post-race stewards' investigation with only a €10,000 fine, after his crew released him from a pitstop into the path of Adrian Sutil's Force India. The operation of the sister car, meanwhile, was a disaster; not only another weak showing by Kimi Raikkonen, but - after Massa's Budapest failure - another blown V8 engine. Before that, the reigning world champion dropped the clutch before his crew had finished refuelling and before he was shown a green light, and his rear wheel struck mechanic Pietro Timpini, who despite a trip to hospital only has a fractured foot.
Despite finishing second to Massa, Hamilton - revealing he has struggled with the 'flu, fever and severe neck spasms all weekend and nearly didn't race at all - actually extended his overall championship lead from 5 points (to Raikkonen before the race) to 6 points (to Massa after the race) at Valencia. "We opted fairly early on to take the championship-strategic option of settling for second place," team boss Ron Dennis said. Over 30 seconds behind the primary MP4-23, Heikki Kovalainen finished fourth, ensuring that - with Raikkonen's failure to finish - McLaren actually also clawed back 3 points to Ferrari's narrowing lead in the constructors' championship.
Half a minute behind Hamilton, Robert Kubica secured the final podium spot, his fifth this season, surviving a fright when a plastic bag got trapped under the car, robbing him of steering at one point. Nick Heidfeld started eighth but dropped back a position and didn't score points. "This was one of the worst races ever for me," said the German, who struggled for pace. "His pace was simply too slow," technical boss Willy Rampf said.
Along with Toro Rosso's Sebastian Vettel, Jarno Trulli was among the stars of the Valencia weekend, finishing fifth from seventh on the grid on Sunday. "This shows how good we are getting and how nice it is to race with a competitive car every weekend," he said. From 13th on the grid and with a heavy cold, Timo Glock climbed to P7 at the flag courtesy of an excellent start and a one-stop strategy. A further testimony to the reigning GP2 champion's input is the fact that, following his struggles on Friday, Trulli only began to resurrect his form after adopting the wholesale setup of Glock's car.
Vettel capped his excellent form throughout the Valencia weekend with a thoroughly-deserved three points for sixth place, although he was lucky to survive the first lap including a knock against Raikkonen's Ferrari. Albeit nearly 40 seconds further behind, Sebastien Bourdais - who for a long time carried front wing damage after a clash with Heidfeld - completed Toro Rosso's impressive weekend with P10.
More than a minute behind the winner, Nico Rosberg secured the final championship point on offer at Valencia -- the team's first since Silverstone. "It shows we are getting back on track," he said. Kazuki Nakajima was just 15th, however, after nearly stalling on the grid and then incurring the wrath of the local crowd by hitting the popular Spaniard Fernando Alonso. "There was a bit of a battle going on in front and I couldn't avoid him," said the Japanese, who had to pit for a new nose while Alonso retired with rear damage.
To the despair of his local supporters, crowd favourite Alonso retired from the second of his two home races this year after Williams' Nakajima crashed into the rear of his Renault. Nelson Piquet carried damage to the front of the sister R28 to 11th place. "It's a weekend to forget," said boss Flavio Briatore.
Beaten comprehensively by the 'junior' team Toro Rosso this weekend, boss Christian Horner admitted Valencia has been "disastrous" for Red Bull. "We've got a lot of analysis to do," said Mark Webber, who finished P12. David Coulthard, dead last at the chequer, was hit from behind at the start and later collided with a Force India as he tried to recover. "Sorry to them for that," he said after nursing his damaged RB4 home.
Amid perhaps the worst weekend performance of his long career, Honda opted to pull Rubens Barrichello's car out of parc ferme overnight - thus requiring him to start from pitlane - and change all his braking components. He finished 16th of the 17 runners at the chequer. Jenson Button has fared better all weekend but was nonetheless still lapped.
An eventful but fruitless race for Sutil, who as well as being involved in the Massa pitlane incident, then exited the race by crashing into the barriers. "Adrian was honest enough to admit he made a mistake," said technical boss Mike Gascoyne. Giancarlo Fisichella crossed the chequer 14th of the 17 finishers. "Our pace was good, it wasn't far off the others," he said.
Valencia Grand Prix qualifying
Felipe Massa followed up his strong-but-doomed performance at Hungary with three dominant qualifying runs Saturday, prompting McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton to say the Brazilian's first-sector times 'destroyed' the rest of the field. Finishing a full two-tenths ahead of the young Briton, Massa's 1:38.989 pole run also put him four tenths ahead of third-place Robert Kubica in the BMW Sauber. Massa's teammate and reigning world champion Kimi Raikkonnen continued his off-pace streak with a disappointing run to fourth in the final round of qualifying, about half a second behind the other Ferrari.
His Budapest engine glitch aside, Felipe Massa is riding the crest of form as he took pole at Valencia from championship leader Lewis Hamilton -- who admitted the Brazilian "destroyed" all comers in the first sector of the lap. Kimi Raikkonen's recent struggle continues in Spain, with poor practice and early qualifying pace, and an ultimate Q3 lap half a second off Massa's pole. "Fourth place is not what I was looking for," the Finn confirmed.
McLaren's has not looked the quickest car all weekend at Valencia so far, and Hamilton indeed failed to match Massa's pace throughout the three qualifying segments. A couple of tenths off the Briton's pace is the occupant of the sister MP4-23, Heikki Kovalainen, so his much slower run in Q3 suggests McLaren is covering the bases by filling the Finn's car with more fuel. "Our strategy should help us to gain positions during the race," said Kovalainen, fifth.
Following the Budapest slump, Robert Kubica resurrected BMW-Sauber's fortunes on Saturday by going quickest in morning practice and then qualifying a highly-competitive third. "There is still a small gap to Ferrari and McLaren," said the Pole, even though his qualifying was clearly and consistently ahead of one rival from each of the two top teams mentioned. Teammate Nick Heidfeld was quicker than Kubica in Q2, before slumping to just P8 in Q3, indicating a likely heavier fuel load. He was also scathing of Timo Glock and Toyota, but - despite a stewards investigation - his countryman escaped penalty for a blocking incident in Q1. "Our team informs us on the radio how many seconds behind us a fast car is, and when we have to let somebody overtake. Apparently this isn't the case in every team," said Heidfeld, who had displayed his middle-finger to Glock on track.
Without any doubt, Valencia is proving the highlight of Toro Rosso's F1 career so far, and Sebastian Vettel has been outstanding; P1 on Friday morning, the fastest man of all in the low-fuel initial qualifying phases, and ultimately an excellent P6 on the grid. "We didn't expect to do this well here," beamed the German, who finally beats his previous best qualifying effort of seventh, when he made his debut in Kubica's BMW-Sauber shoes at Indy last year. Teammate Sebastien Bourdais' P10, his first taste of Q3, completes STR's best qualifying achievement since the team's debut in 2006.
After a difficult Friday, Saturday was a fascinating day for Jarno Trulli, who sat out the entire morning with a problem. Qualifying, therefore, was his first chance to try an all-new car setup -- and it worked to perfection. Along with Vettel, the Italian was the star of qualifying, showing incredible pace in Q1 and Q2 and ultimately securing P7. Timo Glock, suffering with a cold this weekend, lines up P13.
The FW30s had a mighty morning with the second and fourth fastest times, but Kazuki Nakajima couldn't make the Q3 cut, even though P11 is a personal best for the Japanese. Nico Rosberg did get through Q2, however, and he lines up P9 on the grid. "It's been a few races since we managed to get into the top ten, so this is a good result for us," he said.
Disappointed home hero Fernando Alonso looked good on Friday but he didn't feature strongly on day two at Valencia, as both he and teammate Nelson Piquet failed to make the Q3 cut.
Behind both of the so-called 'junior' Toro Rosso cars, which are propelled by more powerful Ferrari engines, Mark Webber and David Coulthard are very much amid the bottom half of the grid. "We don't seem to have the pace we had a few races ago, which is quite frustrating," said Webber.
Rubens Barrichello is having a shocker; disastrously slow in every session, and only saved the ignominy of being dead last on the grid by Force India's Adrian Sutil. Jenson Button also dropped out with the Q1 stragglers, but he was at least a full second faster than his teammate. "We simply chose the wrong tyre for my final run," said the Briton, who had looked quick on Friday.
Giancarlo Fisichella easily outqualified the struggling Barrichello, but Sutil did not, and the German is last. Force India, however - running the new seamless shift gearbox at Valencia - celebrated the fact that the Fisichella's deficit to the fastest qualifying lap time was only 1.3sec.