It said everything about the inaugural race around the streets of Valencia that the first significant incident occurred on the 43rd lap and concerned an injury to one of Ferrari's mechanics during Kimi Raikkonen's pit stop. Three laps later the Finn's engine failed. Otherwise, a dull event was all about Felipe Massa's revenge as he made up for his disappointment in Hungary with a win so decisive that even Lewis Hamilton, who had battled with health problems, had to settle for second place in his McLaren-Mercedes.
Not even a post-race €10,000 (£7,990) fine for Ferrari, for releasing Massa from his second pit stop and endangering the passing Adrian Sutil, could dampen the little Brazilian's day.
There had been much trumpeting that the track's width would encourage overtaking, but in reality there was so little that the spectators might have been better entertained had the field circulated behind the safety car. At least they would have been closer together. Ironically, however, though that had been deployed in all of the weekend's previous races and all of the teams came prepared with strategies for a race disrupted by such interventions, only Sutil so much as touched a wall. Certainly, the first-lap removal of Spain's national hero Fernando Alonso – after another misjudgement by the Williams rookie Kazuki Nakajima – left the home crowd bored and restless.
"It's amazing after such a bad result in Hungary," Massa said, referring to the late-race engine failure in Hungary three weeks earlier which cost him victory and the lead of the world championship. "We came here to a new track and did a fantastic job. Choosing the right tyres was pretty difficult, especially in qualifying, but we did a perfect job on that and in making pole position and winning the race and taking the fastest lap. There was nothing more we can ask for."
Hamilton wished he could say the same, but was left feeling lucky to have competed at all after a painful neck spasm on Saturday momentarily put his participation in doubt.
"It's been a pretty miserable weekend," the Englishman said. "I had flu when I arrived, low energy, and then also quite a big problem with a spasm in my neck which almost led to me not racing this weekend. I had it when I woke up very early Saturday, around 5am. It was so bad I was struggling to stand up, and had to have injections and take painkillers."
Hamilton added that his neck was still painful in the race, and did not look his usual calm and collected self afterwards. But eight points for second place to Massa, only 5.6sec adrift, was a solid afternoon's work.
The Brazilian took the lead from the start as Hamilton focused on getting off the dirtier side of the grid without surrendering that crucial second place to Sauber-BMW's Robert Kubica. He achieved that objective, but could never thereafter quite match Massa's pace.
As a stalemate set in, Kubica struggled initially with aberrant handling caused by, of all things, a white plastic bag beneath the front of his car. Once that had become detached in the high-speed corners he was able to consolidate his position ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix winner Heikki Kovalainen in the second McLaren, who kept the apparently somnambulant Raikkonen at bay without noticeable problem. Behind them, the only overtaking moves were performed by the lesser lights at the back of the field.
The procession droned on, but when Raikkonen made his second stop on the 43rd lap there was drama in the Ferrari camp. The Finn tried to leave the pits before the refuelling hose was detached. A mechanic was knocked down and had to be rushed to the medical centre, and by the time he had arrived there Raikkonen was rolling to a halt at the beginning of the 46th lap following Ferrari's second major engine failure in two races.
Ferrari confirmed afterwards that Raikkonen had admitted to leaving before Ferrari's special onboard monitoring system had given him the green light, and television replays endorsed that. The mechanic was later released with foot and back pains.
Massa reeled off the remaining laps, counting down each one and dreading a repeat of his own disaster in Budapest, and was delighted with his fourth win of the season which put him within six points of Hamilton in the title chase.
"I just needed to bring the car home, there was just nothing to do but drive and keep the pace. The car was so perfect that it was even more easy to control the pace. That was just fantastic. Today we had everything perfect to win the race and do a good job. We knew that Lewis was a little bit heavier than me [on fuel load], and I think I needed to be three seconds in front of him when I stopped for the last time. I had more than that."
Ferrari did not tell him his stop was under investigation. "I didn't do anything wrong – I just backed off," he protested. "If it is under investigation, it's more for Adrian [Sutil]. I expected him to back off because I was the leader, but in the end I backed off otherwise one of us crashes into the wall. I don't see any problem. I let him go and passed him afterwards. That was it!"
A Ferrari spokesman said: "We must respect the decision of the stewards." It was generally adjudged that penalising Massa would have been a travesty, given it was the team's mistake and he conceded to Sutil.
Massa's success moved him up to 64 points to Hamilton's 70, while Kubica's first podium since his win in Canada in June moves him within two points of Raikkonen's 57.
Grand Prix of Europe details
1 F Massa (Br) Ferrari 1hr 35min 32.339sec
ave speed 193.983kph (120.54mph)
2 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren-Mercedes 1:35:37.950
3 R Kubica (Pol) Sauber-BMW 1:36:09.692
4 H Kovalainen (Fin) McLaren-Mercedes 1:36:12.042
5 J Trulli (It) Toyota 1:36:23.023
6 S Vettel (Ger) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:36:24.964
7 T Glock (Ger) Toyota 1:36:40.329
8 N Rosberg (Ger) Williams-Toyota 1:36:43.796
9 N Heidfeld (Ger) Sauber-BMW 1:36:54.516; 10 S Bourdais (Fr) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:37:02.133; 11 N Piquet Jnr (Br) Renault 1:37:05.039; 12 M Webber (Aus) RedBull-Renault +1 lap; 13 J Button (GB) Honda +1 lap; 14 G Fisichella (It) Force India-Ferrari +1 lap; 15 K Nakajima (Japan) Williams-Toyota +1 lap; 16 R Barrichello (Br) Honda +1 lap; 17 D Coulthard (GB) RedBull-Renault +1 lap.
Not classified: 18 K Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 45 laps completed; 19 A Sutil (Ger) Force India-Ferrari 41 laps completed; 20 F Alonso (Sp) Renault 0 laps completed.
Fastest lap: Massa 1:38.708, lap 36.
Constructors' standings: 1 Ferrari 121pts; 2 McLaren-Mercedes 113; 3 Sauber-BMW 96; 4 Toyota 41; 5 Renault 31; 6 RedBull-Renault 24; 7 Williams-Toyota 17; 8 Honda 14; 9 Toro Rosso-Ferrari 11; 10 Force India-Ferrari 0; 11 Super Aguri- Honda 0.