RÃ„IKKÃ–NEN WINS FOR MICHELIN; SCHUMACHER TAKES TITLE Kimi RÃ¤ikkÃ¶nen (Team McLaren Mercedes/Michelin) scored the second Formula One victory of his career in memorable circumstances as grand prix racing returned to Spa-Francorchamps. The Finn...
RÄIKKÖNEN WINS FOR MICHELIN; SCHUMACHER TAKES TITLE
Kimi Räikkönen (Team McLaren Mercedes/Michelin) scored the second Formula One victory of his career in memorable circumstances as grand prix racing returned to Spa-Francorchamps. The Finn survived a first-corner clash with Sauber driver Felipe Massa to storm through the field from 10th on the grid.
He was running third by lap six. Thereafter he moved up the order as the pace-setting Michelin-shod Renaults ran into trouble. The race was interrupted by three separate Safety Car periods and that allowed world champion-elect Michael Schumacher to challenge Räikkönen in the second half of the race.
The Finn responded in style and left Schumacher trailing as the race restarted for the final time with three laps to go. Second place was enough to secure a seventh world title for the German, however. His team-mate Rubens Barrichello finished third.
While Räikkönen soaked up the plaudits, the remaining Michelin runners were left to rue what might have been. The race got off to a chaotic start and Michelin drivers Takuma Sato (B·A·R-Honda) and Mark Webber (Jaguar) were among four drivers involved in a first-lap pile-up at Eau Rouge. Nobody was injured but the Safety Car had to be deployed for several laps to allow wreckage to be cleared.
The Renaults of Jarno Trulli and Fernando Alonso made storming starts from first and third on the grid to control the early stages, but Alonso spun into retirement on lap 12 and Trulli dropped down the field after spinning at the chicane in the wake of a collision with Juan Pablo Montoya (BMW WilliamsF1 Team/Michelin). He eventually finished ninth. W
ing damage forced Jenson Button (B·A·R-Honda) to make an unscheduled stop during the first Safety Car period and he refuelled. His strategic switch put him on course for a possible podium finish, but he spun off when his right rear tyre deflated on the approach to Les Combes.
David Coulthard (Team McLaren Mercedes/Michelin) ran comfortably in the top four during the opening stages, but he too suffered a damaged tyre and the resultant stop dropped him down the field. A collision with Christian Klien (Jaguar/Michelin) later cost Coulthard his front wing - but the incident prompted another outing for the Safety Car and the Scot was able to recover to finish seventh, hot on Klien's tail. Sixth place marked the Austrian's best GP finish.
Neither Williams driver finished. Both were challenging for top-four finishes, but a damaged tyre accounted for Montoya and Pizzonia pulled off with a technical problem when lying third. It would have been comfortably the best result of his F1 career. There was disappointment, too, for Ricardo Zonta (Toyota/Michelin). A steady drive and the flurry of race incidents shuffled him to fourth before his engine blew with three laps to go. Olivier Panis's eighth place provided Toyota with a consolation point.
Pierre Dupasquier, Michelin motorsport director:
"Pole position, fastest race lap and victory. we couldn't have asked for much more from the Belgian Grand Prix. Our tyres have been competitive all weekend, no matter what the conditions, and Kimi Räikkönen did an exemplary job today. It proved that the combination of McLaren and Michelin is extremely competitive - and several other Michelin partners would have been right up there, too, if hadn't been for an extraordinarily high number of racing incidents."
"We are obviously looking into the three incidents in which David Coulthard, Jenson Button and Juan Pablo Montoya suffered tyre damage. In each case, the right rear was affected - and that suffers the least severe loads around a lap of Spa. What's more, the incidents all occurred at different stages in the tyres' life cycles. In Coulthard's case, there is a clear cut on the inside wall of the carcass."
"In the past, we have seen similar instances where a tyre has been damaged by passing over a kerb's sharp inside edge. It is too early to know for sure if that happened on this occasion, but it is bizarre to have three apparently similar problems and our analysts are already investigating the cause. We will find out the root cause."