Ferrari playing catch-up with McLaren-Mercedes

INDIANAPOLIS -- Ferrari won six of the first seven United States Grand Prix events run at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but the Scuderia had to settle for second best on Sunday.

Make that third and fourth.

Ferrari's Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen were a distant 12 seconds behind the dominant McLaren-Mercedes on the IMS road course, having fought an entertaining intrateam battle during the second half of the race.

It was a far cry from the days when the recently retired Michael Schumacher won Indianapolis races with ease -- or handed them to his teammate.

The Ferraris were consistently three-tenths of a second slower than the McLarens in practice and qualifying and that margin carried into the race. Raikkonen was able to gain a couple of places to move up to fourth, but he was unable to safely pass his teammate.

"It was difficult to fight with [the McLarens]," Massa said. "They had the consistency and the pace to stay in front of us. For us today, third place was a good position.

"We are going to work a lot the next two weeks to try to understand why we couldn't keep up with McLaren. The championship for sure is not so close, compared to drivers points, but we need to keep fighting and improving the car. We have a good team to do that."

Massa said he enjoyed the battle between the two Ferraris, which are now finished in a deep red metal-flake color rather than the fluorescent shade they sported for the past seven years.

"At the end of the race Kimi was very quick and it was difficult to keep him behind me," Massa said. "He had fresher tires, but it was good to finish in front of him."

-- John Oreovicz

Noteworthy debut

Sebastien Vettel joined a select group by scoring a championship point in his Formula One debut. The 19-year-old German finished eighth in the U.S. Grand Prix for the BMW-Sauber team while subbing for the injured Robert Kubica.

Vettel is the youngest driver to score a championship point in his first race, breaking the record set by Jenson Button (age 20) in 2000.

Vettel impressed with his speed throughout the USGP weekend and never put a wheel off course. After qualifying seventh, two places behind teammate Nick Heidfeld, a slow start dropped Vettel out of the top 10. But he took advantage of some late-race attrition to finish in eighth place, the last points-paying position.

"I tried to prepare myself for this task, so in the end I knew it could happen," said Vettel, a Formula 3 graduate who is normally BMW-Sauber's test and reserve driver. "I think it's good to finish my first race and even better to be in the points. As I saw the checkered flag, I let out a cry of relief."

World champions Alain Prost and Jacques Villeneuve are among about a dozen F1 drivers to score points in their first race. The task was made easier four years ago when the series began paying points for the top-eight finishers after more than 50 years when only the top-six scored.

Kubica suffered a sprained ankle in a violent crash during the Canadian Grand Prix, but is expected to be cleared to drive in the French GP in two weeks.

-- John Oreovicz

More woes for Williams

The past two years have been brutal for the Williams F1 team and things didn't get any easier Sunday. Nico Rosberg looked set for a solid sixth-place finish, only to see his Toyota engine go up in flames with just five laps to go.

Rosberg had qualified in the top 10 and used a single-pit-stop strategy to gain places.

"Well, it was a disaster," remarked the 22-year-old son of 1982 F1 champion Keke Rosberg. "The strategy was good and we made a good choice of tire. The race was going well and sixth would have been a great result for us. Then the engine blows up."

In his second season in F1, Rosberg has already established himself as a solid long-term prospect.

"I was able to put down some really good lap times and I was moving up places all the time," he said. "I was really looking forward to a good finish."

-- John Oreovicz

First-lap casualties

Three veteran drivers didn't get through the first turn of the first lap Sunday. David Coulthard, Ralf Schumacher and former U.S. Grand Prix winner Rubens Barrichello were caught in the usual Turn 1 shunt as a pack of cars tried to get through the curve at the same time.

"I really don't know what happened," Barrichello said. "I would like to say it was Ralf's fault, but I'll have to see the video. All I know is he got sideways and hit me, then I hit someone else."

-- Terry Blount