Raikkonen eases to victory but Hamilton rediscovers his form

Everything went so smoothly for Kimi Raikkonen yesterday that not even the presence of his former rival Michael Schumacher in the Ferrari pit could put a hex on his performance. On previous occasions the attendance of the former champion has somehow affected the Finn's fortunes, but this time nothing could stand between the reigning world champion and another visit to the top step of the podium.

His only concerns were getting through two safety car periods and the welfare of his compatriot Heikki Kovalainen, whose crash on the 22nd lap triggered the second of them.

"The start is the best place to overtake, because it's very hard to pass here so the best place to win is from the front," Raikkonen said cheerfully after bringing his tally of victories to 17 and stretching his world championship lead over McLaren's Lewis Hamilton to nine points.

The Finn surged into the lead at the start and was immediately protected as his Ferrari team-mate, Felipe Massa, found a way round the outside of the local hero Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard had started from the front row in a Renault so light on fuel that it was only 16 laps before he was headed into the pit lane for replenishment. Behind them, a stupendous start boosted Hamilton into fourth place, after he had overtaken the dangerman Robert Kubica in the BMW Sauber.

"When we qualified fifth we knew it would be difficult to beat Ferrari, so the key was to make a good start and make up as many places as possible," Hamilton said. "It was close with Robert, but we won that. I know from past experience in formula three that he is one of the hardest to overtake and that he is very, very aggressive on the first lap. But the start was quite straightforward: I got good traction, immediately moved to the right, and seemed to be moving at a similar pace to Robert."

He was also close to his team-mate, Kovalainen, as he chopped across the track, but he added: "I think Heikki was quite a bit away from me, I didn't see him at all or feel any problems with my car. I was carrying so much speed that there was no time for Robert to come back. I don't think he hesitated, but I don't think he expected it. It was smooth sailing from there."

Neither the McLaren nor the BMW Sauber had the pace to do more than keep Massa's Ferrari under pressure as Raikkonen, out in front, did as he pleased.

All of them had refuelled when Kovalainen's crash occurred on the 22nd lap as he was turning into Turn Nine at very high speed. The McLaren buried itself in the protective tyre wall on the outside of the corner and such was the gravity of the accident that the safety car was immediately deployed.

At that stage Nick Heidfeld was leading for BMW Sauber, having run longer than anyone else, but now his luck ran out. He did not have enough fuel to keep running behind the safety car and was forced to refuel while the pit lane was closed. It was a double whammy, as he lost places as the field bunched under the safety car and lost more later when he was given a 10-second stop and go penalty. "I had just passed the pit entry when I got the signal to come in," he said. "I then tried to save fuel and delay my pit stop, but in the end it was the choice between running out of fuel on the track or getting a stop and go penalty."

When the racing resumed on the 29th lap Raikkonen merely picked up where he left off, leaving Massa to put up with the efforts of Hamilton and Kubica. Both of them found their cars going better as the race went on, but the Circuit de Catalunya is famous for generating dull races. "Once you get within two seconds of anybody, the aerodynamic effects start to damage your front tyres," Hamilton said. So stalemate became the order of the day.

Mark Webber brought his Red Bull home in fifth and Jenson Button had a decent day with three points for sixth place in the Honda in which he had once hoped to be challenging for the world title. The Williams rookie Kazuki Nakajima brought his car home seventh, Toyota's Jarno Trulli completing the points scorers.

"Today I couldn't ask for more," Raikkonen said. "I had a slight delay during my second pit stop. I did have some massive understeer in Turn Three just before my first stop and nearly got very sideways, but luckily nothing happened. Otherwise everything was OK."

Hamilton was relieved to get his programme back on track and to forget about his display in Bahrain with a convincing return to the podium. "Absolutely," he said, "it's good to be back. Before the race we had the feeling that Fernando was lighter, so that didn't cause us any troubles. In the middle stint I was trying to keep up with Felipe, who I knew was running a lap shorter than me, but the Ferraris again looked after their rear tyres a little bit better than we did. But I was able to keep quite close then and in the last stint I just kept pushing up to the last lap.

"After two bad races to come back to the podium is fantastic."

Details from Barcelona

1 K Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 1hr 38min 19.051sec; 2 F Massa (Bra) Ferrari 1:38:22.251; 3 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren 1:38:23.151; 4 R Kubica (Pol) BMW Sauber 1:38:24.651; 5 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull 1:38:54.951; 6 J Button (GB) Honda 1:39:12.051; 7 K Nakajima (Japan) Williams 1:39:17.251; 8 J Trulli (It) Toyota 1:39:18.451; 9 N Heidfeld (Ger) BMW Sauber 1:39:22.051; 10 G Fisichella (It) Force India +1 lap; 11 T Glock (Ger) Toyota +1 lap; 12 D Coulthard (GB) Red Bull +1 lap; 13 T Sato (Japan) Super Aguri +1 lap. Not Classified: 14 N Rosberg (Ger) Williams 41 laps completed; 15 F Alonso (Sp) Renault 34; 16 R Barrichello (Bra) Honda 34; 17 H Kovalainen (Fin) McLaren 21; 18 A Davidson (GB) Super Aguri 8; 19 S Bourdais (Fr) Scuderia Toro Rosso 7; 20 N Piquet Jnr (Bra) Renault 6; 21 A Sutil (Ger) Force India 0; 22 S Vettel (Ger) Scuderia Toro Rosso 0.

Constructors' standings

1 Ferrari 47 points; 2 BMW Sauber 35; 3 McLaren-Mercedes 34; 4 Williams-Toyota 12; 5 Toyota 9; 6 RedBull-Renault 8; 7 Renault 6; 8 Honda 3; 9 Toro Rosso-Ferrari 2; 10 Force India-Ferrari 0; 11 Super Aguri-Honda 0.

Remaining races

11 May: Turkish GP; 25 May: Monaco; 8 June: Canada; 22 June: France; 6 July: Great Britain; 20 July: Germany; 3 Aug: Hungary; 24 Aug: European (Valencia); 7 Sept: Belgium; 14 Sept: Italy; 28 Sept: Singapore; 12 Oct: Japan; 19 Oct: China; 2 Nov: Brazil.

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