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Massa delighted with podium return

Felipe Massa provides early evidence that he still has the character and the ability that saw him push Lewis Hamilton to within a point of the 2008 championship.

SAKHIR // Felipe Massa, observed zealously by 14 world drivers' champions and chased fruitlessly by a further three, provided early evidence that he still has the character and the ability that saw him push Lewis Hamilton to within a point of the 2008 championship. The Brazilian, in his first competitive appearance since a horrific accident eight months ago, enjoyed his best ever start to a Formula One season yesterday, finishing second at the Bahrain Grand Prix and ensuring a Ferrari one-two behind teammate Fernando Alonso.

The opening race in Bahrain attracted 18 of the 20 living world champions, with four of them competing in the 49-lap race. Only Alonso - a two-time winner with Renault - was faster than Massa, however, as McLaren-Mercedes' Hamilton crossed the line third and seven-time winner Michael Schumacher came sixth, one place ahead of last year's champion, Jenson Button. Yet the modest 29-year-old insisted his second-place finish - his best result in a season-opening race - was fortunate due to fuel problems.

"After what happened last year, it is very nice to finish in this position," said Massa, who started the race from second on the grid, but was immediately overtaken by Alonso. "It was a bit strange for me, because I lost an important position on the first corner to Fernando, but then managed to follow him for the entire time. "Early in the race, I started to have a problem in terms of temperature, so I started to save fuel with 30 laps to go and then there was nothing to do. I was lucky with the problems of Sebastian Vettel [who suffered a broken exhaust while leading] and I was also lucky that Lewis was not so quick at the end. I was able to save fuel and hold the position."

Hamilton was content with third in his McLaren, but knows improvements are needed. "I think overall it was a good day. It's a strong result for myself and the team and it is certainly a lot more than we expected," he said. "We are lacking downforce compared to the Ferraris and Red Bulls." gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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