RÃ„IKKÃ–NEN NETS HIS SIXTH WIN OF THE YEAR AT RAIN-HIT AT SPA - WET OR DRY, BIBENDUM HAS THE ANSWER Kimi RÃ¤ikkÃ¶nen (Team McLaren Mercedes/Michelin) won a tense, rain-affected Belgian Grand Prix to keep his slender world title hopes alive...
RÄIKKÖNEN NETS HIS SIXTH WIN OF THE YEAR AT RAIN-HIT AT SPA - WET OR DRY, BIBENDUM HAS THE ANSWER
Kimi Räikkönen (Team McLaren Mercedes/Michelin) won a tense, rain-affected Belgian Grand Prix to keep his slender world title hopes alive with only three rounds of the world championship remaining. It was the Finn's sixth victory of the season and Michelin's 15th in 16 races - as well as its 90th on aggregate.
All drivers started on intermediate tyres in murky conditions and the Finn ran second initially to pole position-winning team-mate Juan Pablo Montoya. He slipped to third after a Safety Car period - which began on lap 11, when a sizeable accident at Raidillon stemmed Renault driver Giancarlo Fisichella's progress through the field - persuaded drivers to adjust their strategies.
The reshuffle promoted Ralf Schumacher (Toyota/Michelin) to second and Räikkönen had to wait until the German's next scheduled stop, on lap 24, before he got a clear run at Montoya. He gradually narrowed the gap and moved ahead after the final round of tyre stops. Despite the drying conditions, Räikkönen's Michelin intermediates proved their versatility by allowing him to set competitive times in the race's closing stages.
Montoya was denied a second-place finish when he was hit by Williams driver Antonio Pizzonia, who had made a late switch to dry tyres. Both cars were forced to retire after the incident, which gifted second place to world championship leader Fernando Alonso (Renault/Michelin). The Spaniard chose to run a conservative pace from the start and now needs only six points from the final three races to become F1's youngest champion.
"I want to say thank you to Michelin as well: we started the race in wet conditions, and finished with the track nearly dry, but the tyres they gave us were extremely quick all the way through. They have done a really fantastic job."
Although neither world championship is yet decided, Michelin is guaranteed a title double with three grands prix remaining.
Mark Webber (BMW WilliamsF1 Team/Michelin) was one of several drivers to experiment with dry tyres during the Safety Car period, but he quickly changed his mind. He switched again to dries in the closing stages, however, and took a strong fourth place, ahead of Rubens Barrichello (Ferrari), Jacques Villeneuve (Sauber-Petronas/Michelin), Ralf Schumacher (Toyota/Michelin) and Tiago Monteiro (Jordan-Toyota). Schumacher lost time after making a premature switch to dry tyres, but he had a set refitted in the closing stages and netted the race's fastest lap.
Christian Klien (Red Bull Racing, ninth) was best of the remaining Michelin runners, ahead of Felipe Massa (Sauber-Petronas, 10th), Montoya and Pizzonia, the latter of whom were classified 14th and 15th - despite their failure to complete the distance. Jarno Trulli (Toyota) ran third in the early stages, but an untimely gamble on dry tyres dropped him down the field and he eventually crashed out.
David Coulthard (Red Bull Racing) suffered an engine failure - the team's first since last December - and Takuma Sato (B*A*R -Honda) dropped out when he clashed with Michael Schumacher moments after the Safety Car restart. At the time of his accident, Fisichella had risen from 13th - the result of a 10-position grid penalty following an engine change - to seventh.
Nick Shorrock, director of Michelin F1 activities:
"This was the race we have wanted for some time- a chance to see how our latest wet- weather tyres performed in hard racing conditions. It was important to understand how the track might evolve and to identify the appropriate moment to change tyres, but hindsight shows that the decision to use intermediates throughout - in wet and drying conditions - was the best option. We are extremely pleased with this result."
"The Michelins were very competitive in the wet, which gave our partner teams an advantage, and they were able to capitalise on that as our tyres' performance held up in the changing conditions."
Pierre Dupasquier, Michelin motorsport director:
"There were lots of questions to be answered at the start of the race. How might our rivals fare? Would the confidence we have in our latest wets prove to be justified in the wake of so many encouraging tests? I think we can be very satisfied with the answers."
"We knew from our dominant victory in last season's rain-hit Brazilian GP that we had made progress with our wet-weather rubber - and we have continued to build on that. Today's result proved the point in no uncertain terms. We picked up lots of useful data today and this was a very satisfying victory."
Martin Whitmarsh, CEO Formula One, Team McLaren Mercedes:
"Today's conditions were difficult but our Michelin tyres were great for the whole race. Our drivers stayed on intermediates throughout. They proved to be very competitive in the wet and we were able to run a no-risk strategy by staying out on them in the drier conditions at the end, when we were still able to be competitive. The tyres demonstrated great versatility and I'd like to thank Michelin for the part it played in another McLaren victory."