No wonder that Felipe Massa loves Istanbul Park. Yesterday the only problem he encountered on his way to a hat-trick of victories here came on the 24th lap when Lewis Hamilton pulled a daring and successful passing move on him going into Turn 12.
Unfortunately for the 23-year-old Englishman, the spectre of last year's tyre failure here, which arguably cost him the world title, obliged McLaren to opt for a three-stop strategy, and that ultimately cost him his chance of victory. But on a day when the team's pre-event computer prediction had forecast nothing better than a fifth place finish, he said he felt that the runner-up spot, ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, counted as his best race ever.
"I saw Lewis coming down the inside so I didn't risk going more to the left because maybe we could crash," Massa said. "I tried to brake a little late but when he kept trying and coming I said, 'Okay, let him go and we see in the next stop how it's going to be'.
"It was a very difficult race. Lewis was pushing me hard the whole way, but I thought he was very light [on fuel] to begin with. When I did my first refuelling stop he was straight away there so I knew he was light, and the team told me straight away that he was on three stops, so that was a little bit of help because he was very strong when he passed me. But I knew I still had a big chance to win the race. All I had to do was to create a reasonable gap to be in the front after my pit stops, and we made it. Otherwise, no problem."
Hamilton was pleased not just with his race, but with that passing move.
"It probably began at the beginning of that lap when I knew I was catching Felipe," he said. "I knew if I could keep close at the beginning of the lap, I could perhaps tow him down back straight. I knew that he was also having a bit of traffic so I got up behind him, I just had to make sure I capitalised on that. I braked late into Turn Nine and got on the power early, and the car was nicely balanced, but the Ferraris were very quick at the end of the straight. Once I pulled out of his slipstream he began to pull away again, but I kept at it and managed to pull it off. If that had happened earlier and I had done a better job in qualifying, I could have won."
McLaren felt obliged to adopt the three-stop strategy that most likely cost Hamilton his shot at victory, when tyre supplier Bridgestone expressed concern on Saturday over the excessive heat build-up on Hamilton's front tyres through the 4.5g Turn Eight left-hander. This is where Hamilton's right front tyre came to grief last year, and they were concerned about a potential repeat failure even though the ambient and track temperatures were a lot lower now that the race was run in May rather than August. Hamilton was working his tyres harder than team-mate Heikki Kovalainen, hence the enforced decision to run him lighter on fuel. That also explained why Hamilton was so disgruntled on Saturday afternoon when, in a lighter car, he had failed to take the pole position that he needed to make the ploy work.
"I'm thrilled to come second with the strategy we were on," he said. "Heikki did a fantastic job yesterday and was able to outqualify me with more fuel, and starting today on the harder compound tyre we knew it would be very tough to challenge the Ferraris and that a finish in the top five would have been good. But the balance of car on those tyres was good and I was able to keep pushing.
"The three-stop thing won't happen anywhere else. We knew that even if we had got the pole we weren't really going to be in line for the win, so for me this was probably the best race I've ever done.
"I had some vibration and was not sure if it was a tyre problem or a flat spot from when I braked really hard earlier, but for sure last year's failure was in the back of my mind and I was always checking the tyre on turn in to Turn Eight. I was just making sure I could report to the team if necessary and come in. There is nothing worse than a tyre blowing at 200mph, and unfortunately that put us on our back foot. Without three stops we'd have had a better chance to win.
"But it doesn't matter whether you win or not, it's whether you drive at 100 per cent and get everything out of car. In the end you ask yourself and the team whether you could have done a better job and I strongly feel that I couldn't have. If not perfect, then I just feel that my race pace is getting stronger and stronger. I feel we did a fantastic job as a team to bring it home second and to split the Ferraris."
Raikkonen had a brush in the first corner with fellow Finn Kovalainen. The McLaren driver lost any chance of points with a pit stop to replace a punctured tyre, while the world champion struggled throughout with a damaged front wing, though he did set fastest lap and took away a seven point lead over Massa and Hamilton, who each have 28 points.
As Hamilton savoured a brilliant job, and Raikkonen muttered away, Massa just kept smiling. "The third time in Turkey is just fantastic, I think maybe I can get a passport here." He too did a fine job, but encouragingly, things are getting tight at the top again.
Race details from Istanbul
1 F Massa (Bra) Ferrari 1hr 26min 49.451sec;
2 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren 1:26:53.151;
3 K Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 1:26:53.651;
4 R Kubica (Pol) BMW Sauber 1:27:11.351;
5 N Heidfeld (Ger) BMW Sauber 1:27:28.151;
6 F Alonso (Spa) Renault 1:27:43.151;
7 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull 1:27:53.651;
8 N Rosberg (Ger) Williams 1:28:00.851;
9 D Coulthard (GB) Red Bull 1:28:04.651;
10 J Trulli (Ita) Toyota 1:28:05.751; 11 J Button (GB) Honda + 1 lap; 12 H Kovalainen (Fin) McLaren + 1 lap;
13 T Glock (Ger) Toyota + 1 lap; 14 R Barrichello (Bra) Honda + 1 lap;
15 N Piquet Jr. (Bra) Renault + 1 lap;
16 A Sutil (Ger) Force India + 1 lap;
17 S Vettel (Ger) Scuderia Toro Rosso + 1 lap;
Not Classified: 18 S Bourdais (Fra) Scuderia Toro Rosso 24;19 K Nakajima (Jpn) Williams 1; 20 G Fisichella (Ita) Force India 0.
1 Ferrari 63pts; 2 BMW Sauber 44; 3 McLaren 42; 4 Williams 13, 5 Red Bull 10; 6 Renault 9; 7 Toyota 9; 8 Honda 3; 9 Scuderia Toro Rosso 2Reuse content