Kimi Raikkonen did what he had to do at the Belgian Grand Prix: namely, win the race. The McLaren man crossed the line ahead of Renault's championship leader Fernando Alonso, who inherited second place after Raikkonen's teammate Juan Pablo Montoya...
Kimi Raikkonen did what he had to do at the Belgian Grand Prix: namely, win the race. The McLaren man crossed the line ahead of Renault's championship leader Fernando Alonso, who inherited second place after Raikkonen's teammate Juan Pablo Montoya crashed out with only three laps to go. Jenson Button fought hard to bring his BAR home third after two of the best overtaking manoeuvres of the race.
Early rain left misty conditions and a very damp track for the start of the race, with a fair bit of spray being thrown up on the formation lap. Everyone was on intermediate tyres and the Minardis and one of the Jordans opted to start from the pit lane. The top four of pole-sitter Montoya, Raikkonen, Toyota's Jarno Trulli and Alonso held formation off the line.
Behind them Ferrari's Michael Schumacher overtook brother Ralf's Toyota at the Bus Stop on the first lap for fifth, while the BARs of Jenson Button and Takuma Sato went side by side in the fight for sixth, Sato gaining the advantage. By the second lap Montoya was leading Raikkonen by 1.4 seconds, with Trulli three seconds behind in third. Alonso seemed content enough to sit behind the Toyota in fourth.
Both Saubers lost two places at the start, Felipe Massa down to ninth and Jacques Villeneuve to 16th. Ferrari's Rubens Barrichello also dropped a couple of places to 15th. Renault's Giancarlo Fisichella, who had suffered the ten place grid demotion for an engine change, from third to 13th, was on a charge.
He dispatched the Williams of Mark Webber in no uncertain fashion and closed in on the Red Bull of David Coulthard. He disposed of the Scot in swift course at the entry to Eau Rouge. Meanwhile, Ralf was fighting back from his demotion and passed Button to become the filling in a BAR sandwich with Sato ahead.
Fisichella was still charging on, discarding the Sauber of Massa and homing in on Button. But then disaster for the Italian -- the Renault spun through Eau Rouge and hit the tyre wall at Radillion in a big impact. Thankfully Fisichella walked away but the accident bought out the safety car and all manner of confusion followed.
Nearly the whole pack dived into the pits in the safety car period but some got the tyre choice wrong. Alonso got it right and emerged ahead of Trulli for third but BAR and Michael, amongst others, switched to dry tyres. It proved to be the wrong choice as they were back in the pits next lap to revert to inters.
Villeneuve, who opted not to pit, was then up to second behind leader Montoya. A strange strategy from McLaren, as it would have seemed the best option to let Raikkonen take the lead at the start, but perhaps there were too many odd goings on to rely on strategy. Ralf was third and Raikkonen fourth after the pit stop scramble, with Alonso serenely biding his time in fifth.
The safety car went in on lap 12 and Villeneuve locked up at La Source, letting Ralf and Raikkonnen past, while behind them there was more confusion. Sato appeared to rear end Michael's Ferrari at the same corner. They both spun and had another contact as Michael's rear wing departed. Neither were terribly amused.
"I'm not very happy," said Michael. "It's not the first time we've seen him (Sato) involved (in an incident). I was expecting to be competitive but really we were not where we were hoping for."
Sato was not particularly apologetic: "The conditions were very tricky," he remarked. "The front locked up under braking and I just couldn't stop."
Villeneuve finally took his first pit stop and Alonso moved up to fourth behind Raikkonen. On his return Jacques was being harassed by Button, who pulled off an outstanding overtake. Button went round the outside of the Sauber at Rivage but couldn't manage it. Undeterred, Jenson then went round the outside of Villeneuve at Pouhon -- great driving by Button.
Ralf pitted and opted for dry tyres, which proved to be a miscalculation as he spun at Les Combes. He ducked back into the pits to switch to inters. Massa was up to fourth, with Barrichello fifth and Webber homing in on the Ferrari in sixth. Villeneuve was losing ground rapidly to Narain Karthiekyan and the Jordan got past.
Massa pitted and swapped to dry tyres -- everyone else who had switched to dries had spun off! Pay attention Sauber! Massa struggled desperately when he regained the track. A rather strange decision by Sauber; Felipe was in a solid fifth place and they threw it away.
Meanwhile, Raikkonen was leading after Montoya took his second stop and Massa was back in the pits for tyre change. Raikkonen was setting fastest laps, two seconds quicker than anyone else. Button pitted and stayed on inters, while Raikkonen visited the pits and rejoined in the lead. Nice and tidy, let's not scream about team orders.
Trulli went off track in an unseen incident, into the barriers at turn seven, while Massa and Red Bull's Christian Klien were squabbling over 11th, Klien getting the advantage. Button was attacking Barichello and dispatched the Ferrari up the inside of the Bus Stop, another notable move by Jenson.
With four laps to go the question was dry tyres or not? Both Williams drivers went for it (might have well not have bothered) as did Barrichello. Button was closing on Alonso four seconds a lap at the end but it wasn't enough. Three laps to go and Montoya was seemingly nerfed from behind by the Williams of Antonio Pizzonia, who just braked too late and collected the McLaren as his car went out of control.
"I thought he saw me and when he braked really early I thought he was trying to let me by," said Pizzonia. "I put my car next to him but obviously he hadn't seen me because he turned into his normal line and I couldn't avoid the crash. I am sorry for him because I am not here to destroy anyone's race. I destroyed my race too."
Both went off -- disaster for McLaren, no matter who was at fault. Alonso, as always, was there to take advantage and inherited the second step on the podium. The incident between Montoya and Pizzonia is under investigation. So, Raikkonen did what he needed to do and Alonso did likewise. The status quo remains even with Kimi's two point advantage.
"We did what we could today, and I'm thrilled to win here at Spa for the second time in a row," said Raikkonen. "However Juan Pablo's retirement was a real shame and I feel sorry for him and the team as we could have left Spa with so much more as we really deserved a one-two."
Alonso was happy enough: "It was a hard race for everybody this afternoon, with really difficult conditions, but we knew we had a competitive car and that we didn't need to take any big risks. Sometimes, these races can bring some big surprises, so I am pleased to come away with a normal result, which was exactly what I needed."
Button did a fine job. "I was really, really struggling with oversteer on the first stint,"he said. "I didn't even need to turn into the corners, the rear end was coming round! After the first stop we adjusted the wing, went out on slicks which was the wrong choice so we came back in and put intermediates on and the car was working very well. It was nice to catch up on the leaders in the last few laps."
Spa was as unpredictable as ever but the end result saw no real change at the top of the leader board. Fisichella's retirement was leveled out by Montoya's so the impasse between Renault and McLaren remains in place. Final top eight classification: Raikkonen, Alonso, Button, Webber, Barrichello, Villeneuve, R.Schumacher, Monteiro.