|Felipe Massa celebrates his hat-trick in Turkey [AFP]|
Felipe Massa held off Lewis Hamilton of McLaren to win his third straight Turkish Grand Prix and clinch Ferrari’s fourth consecutive Formula One victory.
Massa finished 3.7 seconds ahead of Hamilton after 58 laps at Istanbul Speed Park circuit to ensure that no driver has ever lost from pole position in Turkey in the four-year history of the race.
Defending world champion Kimi Raikkonen finished 4.2 seconds back in third place as Hamilton denied Ferrari a third successive sweep of the top two
Robert Kubica of BMW Sauber was fourth, ahead of teammate Nick Heidfeld, while Heikki Kovalainen of McLaren finished 12th after starting from second on the grid.
Raikkonen leads the standings with 35 points, seven ahead of Hamilton and Massa.
Kubica is next with 24.
Massa’s seventh career win was his second in three races. The Brazilian has taken 28 of a possible 30 points since retiring from the first two races of the season.
“It’s just fantastic, today was a very difficult race,” Massa said.
“Lewis was pushing me hard the entire race. Three stops was quite a lot optimistic and it opened up a reasonable gap.”
Hamilton’s tactics backfire
Hamilton overtook Massa after 24 laps, but the McLaren driver’s three-pit strategy didn’t leave enough time to pass him again on the less-favored soft tires with Raikkonen bearing down.
“I’m thrilled to come second … on the strategy we were on today,” Hamilton said.
“I lost a bit of time in my middle stint. We started on the harder tire and we knew it was going to be tough to battle the Ferraris, so to finish in the points is great.”
Hamilton said the three-stop strategy was adopted because the safety of his tires couldn’t be guaranteed. Hamilton experienced a tire failure in Turkey last year.
“We had a structural concern on the tires which we had in practice, and we discussed with Michelin and decided to make it a three-pit strategy in the concerns of safety,” McLaren team principal Ron Dennis said.
Kovalainen, who couldn’t catch Massa in practice or in qualifying, couldn’t do it on race day, either.
The 26-year-old Finn punctured a tire as he squeezed Raikkonen out at the start.
After a quick pit stop, he returned to the track in last place before working his way up to finish 12th.
Kovalainen was knocked unconscious and hospitalized for one day with a concussion after his car slammed into a wall at high speed at the Spanish GP two weeks ago.
Renault’s Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber of Red Bull, Nico Rosberg of Williams, Red Bull’s David Coulthard and Jarno Trulli of Toyota round out the top 10.
No driver has won the same race in three consecutive years since Michael Schumacher’s four straight victories at the U.S. GP from 2003-06.
Hamilton overtook Kovalainen at the first turn to sit behind Massa, with Kubica moving up to third as the Finn surrendered his starting advantage.
Sebastian Vettel of Toro Rosso finished the first lap for only the second time in five races, while Giancarlo Fisichella, starting last after earning a grid penalty in practice, flew up and over Kazuki Nakajima’s Williams car to take the two drivers out.
Duel at the front
Hamilton stuck to Massa, while Raikkonen overtook Alonso to move into his starting spot of fourth and trail Kubica.
Twelve laps in and the two leaders were exchanging fastest lap times, with Massa leading by just over one second.
Hamilton overtook with an inside move with Massa too late to close the gap as the two cars nearly touched.
Hamilton was nearly five seconds clear of the Brazilian before pitting again to start the 32nd.
He kept his hard tires on and rejoined in third behind the Ferraris.
Kovalainen worked his way out of a battle with Timo Glock near the tail of the field, the Finn eventually getting past the Toyota driver as well as Honda’s Jenson Button.
Hamilton was quicker but trailing the leading Ferraris with 20 laps to go.
After the Ferraris pitted for the final time, Hamilton went in as well for soft tires with 13 laps left, returning to trail Massa by five seconds.
“At the end it was quite tough, the softer tire was definitely the worst tire,” Hamilton said.
The next stop on the F1 calendar is the 55th Monaco GP at Monte Carlo on May 25.