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Monday, June 23, 2008

Ferrari's Brazilian driver Felipe Massa drives ahead of Renault's Spanish driver Fernando Alonso during the French Formula One Grand Prix at the Magny-Cours racetrack on Sunday. Photo: AFP
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Brazilian Felipe Massa regained the leadership of the Formula One drivers world championship Sunday when he drove to a commanding victory for Ferrari in the French Grand Prix.

Massa, 27, took full advantage of exhaust problems that hindered his team-mate defending champion Finn Kimi Raikkonen's progress to take the lead from him after 39 of the 70 laps and then drive to a comfortable triumph.

Raikkonen, who had started from Ferrari's 200th pole position, followed him home in his wounded Ferrari at 17.984sec to finish ahead of third-placed Italian Jarno Trulli of Toyota who was 28.250sec off the pace.

It was Massa's third win this season and the eighth of his career and hoisted him to 48 points in the drivers' table, two points ahead of Poland's Robert Kubica, who finished fifth.

Two-time world champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso was a disappointing seventh for Renault, after starting third on the grid, and his team-mate Brazilian Nelson Piquet was eighth.

Briton Lewis Hamilton, who started 13th following a penalty for his pit-lane crash in Canada, endured another madcap and controversial contest in which he was penalised again before finishing 10th.

After failing to see a red light in Montreal, this time he drove too aggressively and missed out a chicane as he made a first-lap passing move - for which he was handed a drive-through penalty.

The race, which was expected to be the last held at Magny-Cours, was hardly a thriller, but produced enough action to justify F1 commercial ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone's decision announced in the morning that it was expected to be retained on the calendar in 2009.

From the start, the two Ferraris took control.

On an overcast day, of little sunshine and with an air and track temperature of 25 degrees Celsius, the red cars provided the initial colour as they pulled clear at the front of the field.

By lap 30 they were 26 seconds clear, but Raikkonen was showing problems that affected his speed as his exhaust system began failing.

By lap 35, the half-way point in this long procession, Hamilton was up to 14th again, and Massa was poised to pass his Ferrari team-mate for the lead, a position he held previously for two laps after the Finn's first stop.

Massa duly took first place to lead on lap 39 with Trulli still a distant third and Raikkonen's engine grumbling loudly.

Raikkonen, despite his troubles, continued to race fast enough to remain second ahead of Trulli and the rest, but he could not compete with Massa who pulled 12 seconds clear by lap 50 when the second round of pit-stops began.

These saw a shake-up of the front runners as Alonso fell away and, in the end, after the second round of stops and with rain threatening, Massa led Raikkonen by 13 seconds with Trulli third a further 18 seconds adrift.

The pugnacious Hamilton was 11th, but his teammate Heikki Kovalainen had gained places and was up to fourth ahead of Kubica and Mark Webber as the final laps unfolded under a heavy grey sky.

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