Kimi Raikkonen proved the value of capturing braking energy Sunday when he used Formula One's kinetic energy recovery system (KERS) to pass and then outlast a determined Giancarlo Fisichella for victory of the Belgian Grand Prix. But only just.
Kimi Raikkonen proved the value of capturing braking energy Sunday when he used Formula One's kinetic energy recovery system (KERS) to pass and then outlast a determined Giancarlo Fisichella for victory of the Belgian Grand Prix. But only just. Starting from sixth spot, the Finn needed the usual starting confusion and a gap-closing safety-car intervention on the first lap to make the pass happen, even with KERS.
"I knew we needed to get past him because, more or less, we should be on the same lap coming in, and I probably wouldn't have done it after the safety car," Raikkonen said. "They have too much speed to get it after that. I just made sure I was close enough after the first corner and when behind him, as close as I can, through the Eau Rouge I got quite a bit of understeer and ran a bit wide on top of the hill, but then once I used the KERS I was able to get next to him and just in front of him."
The two pitted together at their final stop, their crews matching stellar efforts, and the duo resumed a 44-lap chase that pulled them together through the twisty middle sector, where Ferrari lacked downforce, and stretched to roughly a second when Raikkonen could lay on the boost of the recycled brake energy.
Fisichella, the second-most experienced F1 runner in the field with well over 200 races, laid on a race more than worthy of the team that has been F1's minnow the past two seasons and only made the leap to midpack a weekend ago. Fisichella had the Finn checking his mirrors, but Raikkonen isn't a world champion for nothing. His canny race craft won the day.
Victory was Ferrari's first this season, Raikkonen's first since Spain last year -- the fourth race of that season -- and the Finn's fourth in five chances at this 4.3-mile Ardennes course. Only Brazilian Ayrton Senna owns more victories at the location, with five. Legend Jim Clark won four times at this course when it was more than twice as long and a killer, and frequently of his friends. Which is why he hated the place.
Raikkonen's currently-sidelined Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa won last year after Raikkonen crashed out while dicing in the rain through the late laps with a badly behaved Lewis Hamilton. Raikkonen won in 2004 and 2005 for McLaren Mercedes. The race was not held in 2006.
Ferrari victory was by the fourth different constructor in as many races; Raikkonen was the sixth victor in six races. So much for Jenson Button's apparent chokehold on the championship. Brawn GP's leading driver who won six of the season's first seven events, was out of Sunday's race before the end of the first lap thanks to the usual race-opening shenanigans -- by Spa standards, minor stuff; four out immediately and two later retirements -- but he lost only two points off an 18-point lead in the drivers' chase.
Grumpy-looking pole holder Fisichella gave second-year operation Force India their first F1 points, the first in the sport for an Indian-owned team. Despite writing team history, the Italian was disappointed. He figured he was faster and should have won.
"Obviously, it's a great result for us," Fisichella said. "Important target for us was to score even (one) point, and to score second and the points at the end of the race is a great day. But, actually, I was quicker than Kimi. I'm a little bit sad for that. I was quicker than him. I was keeping his pace. It's great (that) I finished second, just one second behind the leader, a great result for us. But, actually, we could have won the race."
Fisichella's boss was more fully enthusiastic.
"What a result!" Force India owner Vijay Mallya said. "I am so proud of this race, which will ultimately go down in the history books as India's first-ever world championship points. It's been a fantastic Saturday, fantastic race, and to get our first podium and championship points is just unbelievable. We've worked so very hard to get this with a solid plan of upgrades coming through on the factory. Giancarlo drove a truly outstanding race. We can all be so proud of the entire effort."
Not insignificant to outcome was Mallya's decision last season to end an engine contract with Ferrari a year early in favor of a Mercedes engine-gearbox deal. Commercial director Ian Phillips told BBC Sport the points "are worth squillions to the team." That might mean suppliers will receive more timely payments from a squad said to be tardy on a few bills.
Fisichella neatly deflected a direct question about whether he will race as Raikkonen's teammate next time out, at Monza, Italy, in two weeks. "That's rumor," Fisichella said. Italian television RAI reported the Roman will be drafted to replace Ferrari's veteran test driver Luca Badoer, standing in for Massa. Badoer was Beetle Bomb again, emphatically last among the cars still running for a second consecutive race. Massa's recuperation from head injury suffered in Hungary continues apace.
Red Bull's German wunderkind Sebastian Vettel, who started eighth, took third after a game run at overhauling a five-second gap to Fisichella. Vettel reached podium places after putting a pit pass on BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica. Vettel, too, figured he was faster. He set fast lap.
"Obviously, it was not an easy position to start from, right in the middle of the pack, so I think I had a very good start," Vettel said. "But, unfortunately, on the first lap, probably I was a little bit too conservative when I saw Nick going off the track. You know, usually the cars very easily tend to come back spinning. So I lost a position to Nico (Rosberg). I had to catch up after the restart. I succeeded. After that, I think, we lost too much ground in the first stint to the guys ahead. Second stint, I think the car was fantastic. I had no single mistake. I was pushing every lap like qualifying. In the end, after the checkered flag, it was a pleasure to drive the car. I think we had very strong pace, quicker than the guys in the front."
Vettel moved ahead of teammate Mark Webber on the points table in the four-man race to be world champion. Vettel, with 53, trails Rubens Barrichello by three.
Kubica's fourth was his best this season and only his third visit to the points all year. Teammate Nick Heidfeld finished right behind, in his best since second at Malaysia, the second race of the season.
"At times, we lacked a bit of speed, but, of course, it's good to be fighting for podiums again," Kubica said.
The BMW Saubers were followed by Heikki Kovalainen of McLaren Mercedes in sixth, Brawn GP's Barrichello in seventh, and Williams F1's Rosberg in eighth to complete the points earners. Barrichello, chasing a drivers' championship, pressed Kovalainen hard until his Mercedes engine began chain smoking in the final laps and he had to back off. The Brazilian parked up as a carbecue at race's end.
Renault's Fernando Alonso was on the way to a podium finish when his one scheduled pit stop revisited a wheel-change problem that won the team disqualification from the Grand Prix of Europe, participation in which was restored on appeal. A direct hit to the left front wheel by Force India's Adrian Sutil in first-lap banging bent the rim. Alonso was called back to the pits to retire a lap after the lengthy stop.
Red Bull's Webber lost a chance to add points in the drivers' chase when his team released him into the path of Heidfeld after a pit stop. The Australian took a drive-through penalty and finished ninth.
Toyota's Timo Glock finished 10th, his race and perhaps his team's existence, going out the window when his fuel rig malfunctioned. Teammate Jarno Trulli lost the value of a front-row start when he tapped smart-starting Heidfeld, damaging the Toyota's front wing. Brake issues compounded his misery.
Sutil ended up 11th, right where he started, and it still gave Force India their best team result to date. Scuderia Toro Rosso's Sebastien Buemi was 12th with a dodgy front wing unsettled possibly by debris from the opening slam dancing. For the first in the three applicable races, he outlasted his rookie Jaime Alguersuari, who was caught up and put out on the opening lap. Alguersuari collected McLaren Mercedes world champion Hamilton, who slowed to avoid Button, who tripped over Renault's Romain Grosjean. "Some days, when things go bad, they go bad," Hamilton said.
Williams F1's Kazuki Nakajima came home 13th and Badoer 14th.
Raikkonen, who fulfilled a personal goal to win at least one race this season, was pleased to keep Ferrari third in the constructors' race.
"We had to put a little bit of effort today to get the win," Raikkonen said. "We were probably not the fastest in the lap times, but overall we were fastest, and we managed to keep everybody behind, so that's enough. It's great for the team."
Force India, the only team continuing from last season not to win a point in 30 races, vaults ahead of Scuderia Toro Rosso to ninth place.
The big tent moves to Monza in two weeks. Hard to imagine how this circus could get better. But it probably will.