Raikkonen's title hopes doused by Hamilton at Spa

Raikkonen's title hopes doused by Hamilton at Spa

For chaos, add water. The underlying theme of Formula One is borne out in Belgium like nowhere else. But what can one expect when a race takes place on roads`in the rolling Ardennes Forest near a city called Spa? Lewis Hamilton, McLaren...

For chaos, add water. The underlying theme of Formula One is borne out in Belgium like nowhere else. But what can one expect when a race takes place on roads`in the rolling Ardennes Forest near a city called Spa?

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren Mercedes makes a move to overtake Kimi Raikkonen, Scuderia Ferrari, F2008.
Photo by xpb.cc.

After trailing Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari throughout for having lost his lead to what he called a "pathetic" spin on Lap 2, Lewis Hamilton of McLaren Mercedes picked up the lead again with two laps left to win the Belgian Grand Prix on Sunday ahead of Felipe Massa of Ferrari and Nick Heidfeld of BMW Sauber.

Formula One awards nothing for laps led so all those rounds of laboriously holding the lead gained nothing for Raikkonen, whose world driving title retention slammed the wall when the beads of chaos came falling. His fast lap also counts no points, so Raikkonen, who did not finish, drops to fourth on 57 points in the drivers' title chase behind BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica (58). Hamilton adds two points to his lead over Massa, 80-72.

Hamilton began closing on the leader -- both on dry tires -- as water drops appeared with four laps left. When spots became light rain on Lap 42 of 44, Hamilton pressed. Seeing a chance, he tried the outside of Raikkonen through the Bus Stop Chicane only to go off course and pass without using the track. Hamilton made a quick adjustment for Raikkonen to reassume the lead then dived inside, making the pass at La Source. The two battled around the course with its notoriously uneven rain distribution -- the race had started on a wet stretch of pavement as the rest of the course was dry -- until Hamilton began to slide wide at Turn 12, Fagnes, letting Raikkonen slip past only to find an unsuspecting Nico Rosberg pulling his Williams onto the course after a spin. Raikkonen made it around the Stavelot loop only to spin and clout the wall, ending his race, at Blanchimont.

The dicing got sufficiently hairy to prompt a not unexpected stewards' inquiry.

"It was an experience and a half," Hamilton said. "I wanted the rain to come because I knew how to deal with it. The heavens opened a little bit and I saw Kimi back off, brake a little bit earlier than he did normally into Turn 8, and that was really where I knew the fight was on.

"It was incredibly tough."

Hamilton said before rain changed everything, he had conceded victory to Raikkonen, who was on course to match the four consecutive victories of Jim Clark recorded in the 1960s.

"I think three or four laps to the end, I said, 'I can't catch this guy. The fact is I can't catch this guy. Do I save the engine or do I keep pushing?' But then I thought, 'No, what happens if he makes a mistake?' So it's never over until the fat lady sings, until you see the checkered flag."

Second qualifier Massa got a last laugh of sorts on his teammate who had outdragged him down the Kemmel Straight at race's start to take second spot and launch his lead-taking effort on Hamilton. Like Hamilton, Massa had a pit strategy that left him on track quite a while. Neither could make a break for the right tires.

"To be honest, I was lower than I was supposed to be," Massa said. "I saw so many people going off, especially Kimi. Then Lewis was a little in front so I said I don't want to risk, eight points is always eight points. I was quite comfortable going really slow through the corners, especially was really, really damp. I was comfortable in third place the whole race. Suddenly second place came to me.

Sebastian Vettel, Scuderia Toro Rosso, STR02 leads Nick Heidfeld, BMW Sauber F1 Team, F1.08.
Photo by xpb.cc.

"I'm very pleased for the race. We know the championship is still open and we're going to fight, for sure, race by race to close the gap and to maybe pass those guys."

Meantime, the rest of the order scrambled, too. Scuderia Toro Rosso's Sebastien Bourdais, in need of a serious-good result to save his F1 career and driving a blinder in which he had placed as high as second, was on track for third place, leading his teammate Sebastian Vettel to fourth. He chanced it on what quickly became the wrong tires. Runners who changed tires were making up as much as a half-minute on those who didn't. Thus, the podium went to Heidfeld, who had unobtrusively changed to wet tires and reeled in cars tip-toeing their way around. Bourdais wound up seventh, Vettel fifth. Toro Rosso's double points finish, their first, was by far the team's best result and pulled the team level with Williams on 17 points in the constructors championship.

"I had a pretty good getaway, at least better than the row in front of me," Heidfeld said. "(Fernando) Alonso was even a bit better. I decided to go to the outside rather than to the inside. I had a feeling that it could crash there. Then, unfortunately, (Heikki) Kovalainen drove into me and I thought I would spin, our race would be over, the car would be bent. I was just very happy afterwards to feel the car was OK. Of course, I lost a lot of positions, had to overtake some cars but made up some positions in the first stint."

The Heidfeld bump for Kovalainen sent the McLaren driver into a wilderness from which he did not return. He wound up 10th ahead of Red Bull's David Coulthard.

Alonso, who shot his Renault to fourth from sixth as the lights went out to start the race, stayed there most of the day and finished with what he called a good result for important points. "We have missed out on a podium today, but we have shown that we can be the third-strongest team in the championship," he said.

Alonso was followed by Kubica of BMW Sauber, whose team is third-strongest in the championship. Kubica finished ahead of Bourdais. Timo Glock made a tire change to wets that let him nab the eighth-place final point for Toyota by passing Mark Webber's Red Bull in the final corner.

Rosberg ended up in 12th after his late off, ahead of Force India's Adrian Sutil, Williams teammate Kazuki Nakajima, Honda's Jenson Button, Toyota's Jarno Trulli, Force India's Giancarlo Fisichella and Raikkonen.

Sutil was quite pleased with his showing. "It was a strong race for us, with a good performance," he said. "We had quite a lot of fights on the circuit and a lot of overtaking. I caught up with Button and was right behind him, but then there was the rain in the last laps. As there were just a couple of laps left and we were quite quick on the wet conditions with dry tires, we stayed out and I could pass him and some other guys. I am quite happy with this race."

Trulli, who made an electrifying start from 11th into the top six only for Bourdais to smack into him, limped through the race with a less-than-optimal gearbox and finished a lap down.

Nakajima, too, suffered first-lap contact that affected the rest of his race, though a one-stop strategy and late rain didn't help. Fisichella was beneficiary of the Nakajima collision that put the Italian in the pits for a new wing and informed a so-so race.

Rubens Barrichello lost sixth gear in the Honda and did not finish. Nelsinho Piquet gained five places at the start but working on a heavy fuel load in a one-stop strategy he hit a damp patch and went into a barrier that resulted in too much damage to continue.

Victory for McLaren Mercedes came on the 40th anniversary of the team's first victory at the venue. They close the gap to Ferrari from eight points to six, 129-123, in the constructors' championship. BMW Sauber follow on 105 points, Toyota 42, Renault 36, Red Bull 24, Williams and Toro Rosso 17, and Honda 14.

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Giancarlo Fisichella , Jarno Trulli , Jenson Button , Rubens Barrichello , Mark Webber , David Coulthard , Nick Heidfeld , Kimi Raikkonen , Jim Clark , Lewis Hamilton , Felipe Massa , Sébastien Bourdais , Nico Rosberg , Robert Kubica , Timo Glock , Sebastian Vettel , Kazuki Nakajima , Adrian Sutil
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes , Sauber , McLaren , Force India , Toro Rosso , Williams