Finally, after what has been a difficult season for McLaren to say the least, Kimi Raikkonen took a superb victory at the Belgian Grand Prix. In a chaotic, incident strewn battle at Spa-Francorchamps, Raikkonen kept his cool to cross the line...
Finally, after what has been a difficult season for McLaren to say the least, Kimi Raikkonen took a superb victory at the Belgian Grand Prix. In a chaotic, incident strewn battle at Spa-Francorchamps, Raikkonen kept his cool to cross the line ahead of Michael Schumacher. The Ferrari man, as expected, claimed the 2004 drivers' championship and his fifth consecutive title.
Crashes, safety cars, exploding tyres, overtaking, Spa was Formula One at full steam ahead. Rubens Barrichello had a first corner incident and had to pit for a new rear wing, but still came home third. Sauber's Felipe Massa also had two pit stops in succession after the start with a problem at the rear of the car but fought back to finish fourth.
It was dry and sunny at Spa and Fernando Alonso had his usual leap off the line, clearing second placed Schumacher by the first corner to slot in behind pole man, and Renault teammate, Jarno Trulli. David Coulthard also had a good start and inched past Schumacher round the inside at La Source.
Behind them the first bit of confusion gathered momentum. It was hard to tell who hit what -- Raikkonen had contact with Massa but the Finn escaped unscathed. It was a further blow from one of the BARs that damaged Massa's Sauber, probably Jenson Button, who had tangled with the other Sauber of Giancarlo Fisichella.
Mark Webber braked late in to La Source and clouted the back of Barrichello's Ferrari. The Jaguar had damage at the front and went wide going towards Eau Rouge and BAR's Takuma Sato took evasive action, as did the Williams of Juan Pablo Montoya. Montoya made it past but Sato and Webber collided.
Sato spun across the track and Webber went off -- the Minardi of Gianmaria Bruni had to swerve but was hit from behind by teammate Zsolt Baumgartner and went nose first into the tyre barrier and Giorgio Pantano's Jordan went into the back of him and the rear of the Minardi burst into flames. At least I think that's how it all happened! It was a real mess.
"I got a good start and had a crack at Fisichella," said Webber about the first incident that kicked off the wreckage. "But I braked a little bit too late and couldn't miss Barrichello. It was my fault."
Button had to pit for a new nose cone after the clash with Fisichella and the safety car came out. After the confusion the race order at the front was Trulli, Alonso, Coulthard, Schumacher, Raikkonen, Montoya, Fisichella and Williams' Antonio Pizzonia.
A few cars took advantage of the safety car period and shot into the pits, including Barrichello and Massa twice. The Ferrari needed a new rear wing and the Sauber had damage at the rear but they both rejoined the race, although a lap down. The safety car went in after four laps and off they went again.
Raikkonen flew past Schumacher after the restart as if the Ferrari was standing still and Button got past Toyota's Ricardo Zonta. Montoya was on Schumacher's rear wing, harassing with intent, and went round the outside into the Bus Stop to take the Ferrari for fifth. Raikkonen, meanwhile, was homing in on Coulthard and despatched his teammate in equally efficient fashion for third.
Jaguar's Christian Klien was the first to pit stop on lap ten and Trulli followed on the next lap, leaving Alonso in the lead. Unfortunately it was not to be for the Spaniard -- the Renault's rear end swung out when he cornered and went over the grass. Alonso wrestled it back on track but the same thing happened at the next corner.
"We had a problem with the car," Fernando said afterwards. "We'll have to investigate what it was but it seems like there was an oil leak from the engine and it was going onto the rear tyres."
Shortly afterwards, Coutlhard suffered a right rear tyre deflation, although whether it was a failure or caused by track debris is uncertain. He managed to get back to the pits for a change and back out on track. Montoya took his first stop and came out alongside Massa. The pair went side-by-side in the charge to Eau Rouge but Massa was on the racing line and Montoya had to lift.
Now it was Pizzonia in the lead and Schumacher rejoined ahead of Montoya, who was stuck behind Massa, after his pit stop. Fisichella took a trip over the grass and bits of bodywork flew off everywhere but he kept going. Massa dived into the pits and freed Montoya to attack Trulli.
He tried the same move on the Italian at the Bus Stop as he did on Schumacher but this time it went a little wrong. The Williams poked the Renault into a spin and Pizzonia shot past the pair of them. Montoya and Trulli were investigated after the race in regard to the incident but no action was taken by the stewards.
Barrichello was by then harassing Fisichella and got past without too much trouble, Button following suit at La Source on the next lap. The race order was changing all the time but Raikkonen was still leading ahead of Schumacher and Pizzonia at the second round of pit stops.
Button was the next casualty, his right rear tyre failing at around 200 mph going into Les Combes. It was unlucky for Baumgartner but extremely lucky for Button that the Minardi he was lapping was there. Had the BAR not hit Baumgartner, Button would have gone careering into a wall at very high speed. As it was, he thumped the Minardi and they both went off but neither was injured.
"It was very lucky in one way," said Button about hitting the Minardi. "It could have been horrific. I've never had that much luck in an accident before. There's a bump on the straight and after that it just went."
Again, it was uncertain if it was a tyre failure or debris damage. "It's obviously a very high speed part of the circuit," said BAR boss David Richards. "He (Button) got away very lightly, I'd say. It's hard to say what happened, if it was debris or something else."
So, safety car out again and relative calm was restored. Unfortunately for Raikkonen, the safety car period made his lead of around 12 seconds over Schumacher disappear in an instant. Pizzonia was even more unlucky -- running third, the Williams gearbox gave up.
"I came to Spa aiming for my first Formula One podium," said the obviously disappointed Brazilian. "I think I proved that I could do it but then I lost all my gears."
With 11 laps to go the race was restarted and Raikkonen shot off with Schumacher and Montoya in hot pursuit. Klien nipped past Panis in a tidy little move at La Source to take eighth and homed in on the Saubers. Coulthard closed in on Panis next and swooped at Les Combes for ninth.
Disaster struck Williams again almost immediately, Montoya suffering a right rear trye deflation. He managed to nurse it back to the pits but got out of the car once there. "What can you do?" He shrugged philosophically. "That's racing and it's not the first time it's happened. I don't think it was a puncture, it wasn't just the tyre, the rear suspension went as well."
Coulthard, who was having a busy race, was next to come to grief, for the second time. Homing in on Klien, he hit the back of the Jaguar at the top of Radillon and went charging towards the wall. He managed to hold on to the car and missed an impact, although his front wing ended up sitting on his rear wing.
Once again he wrestled the McLaren back to the pits, this time for a new nose cone and yet again the safety car was deployed due to the debris. Klien appeared unscathed by the incident and although he had moved across the track just as the McLaren was behind him, he was on the racing line and not deliberatley trying to block Coulthard.
Whatever next? The safety car went back in with just four laps to go and Schumacher really booted it after Raikkonen. But the Finn not only held his ground but shot away with fierce determination. By now, what with all the chaos, Barrichello was up to third and Schumacher could not risk his teammate getting past.
In amongst all the madness, Zonta was having a very good, if quiet, race and was up to fourth. But tragically the Toyota engine gave up with only three laps to go. Coulthard overtook Trulli for eighth, back into the points despite all his troubles. What happened to Trulli, pole man and leader early on, is a mystery. Even without the trouble with Montoya he was not in the running for the win after his first stop.
Three laps to go and Raikkonen blasted out a new lap record as his and McLaren's first victory of the season was rocketing to meet him. Panis was next to fall to the on-a-charge Coulthard and the Scot was then behind Klien again -- careful! Presumably he decided not to take the chance of tangling with the Jaguar again and stayed put.
And there it was, the chequered flag, and Raikkonen punched both fists in the air as he took it. A superb drive by Kimi to defeat Schumacher fair and square on track -- it seems unbelievable that it's only Raikkonen's second win of his F1 career. Not only that, he spent most of the race struggling with a reluctant gearbox. It was a very well deserved victory and McLaren, unsurprisingly, was jubilant.
"I must say I'm very happy because we won the race and we’ve been working hard," said Raikkonen. "And congratulations to Michael on winning the championship and hopefully we can challenge him or whoever it is next year. But for the whole team it was a very good day: starting from tenth and finishing first. Maybe many people didn't believe that we could do that, but we had a strong car already on Friday and even in the wet conditions it wasn't bad, but I made a small mistake yesterday which cost me some places, so there will definitely be some good partying today."
Schumacher also drove an excellent race to claim his seventh drivers' title, but in the celebrations of Raikkonen's win the German seemed a little subdued. Still, his fifth consecutive title with Ferrari will no doubt be a cause for some partying. Barrichello took an amazing third, which was pretty incredible after all his troubles at the start.
"It was an eventfully day, honestly, with all the safety cars and the conditions we had at that moment," said Schumacher. "It was a tough one and considering where I had dropped back to, and where I finished now, I think I should only be happy, anyway. We clinched the championship, we had a tough fight, Kimi drove a superb race. I think all three of us can be very happy to be here at the moment, if you imagined what happened to Rubens and still he managed to come back to third position, so it’s a great day for all of us and I’m just so delighted and happy."
Equally amazing was Massa coming home fourth. He matched Barrichello's problems at the start but kept it all together to finish one place ahead teammate Fisichella. Great result for Sauber; the Swiss team is sixth and now 19 points clear of Jaguar in the constructors' standings.
"After two laps I was feeling so disappointed!" Massa said about his troublesome start. "You might say I was lucky in the circumstances, but I believe that today I was recompensed for all the bad luck I have had in the last five races. The team did a fantastic job for me."
The good performances kept coming: Klien scored his first points with sixth and showed a notable amount of composure and control, things which are not exactly his trademarks. The Austrian has had a tough rookie season but seems to have finally found his feet. Jaguar should give him another chance next year.
"What an amazing race for me!" Klien exclaimed. "I could not believe the amount of action on-track and at times I was really concerned about the debris. I did my best to avoid it and then to have finished in sixth is just great. They are my first points and I am so pleased to be able to thank the team in this way for all their hard work."
Coulthard was a star in his adventure of a race, defeating a tyre deflation and the tangle with Klien to come home seventh. Not a result he would normally be pleased with but after unscheduled pit stops to have his car stuck back together, it was quite a performance.
Panis had a fairly quiet time of things to claim the last point in eighth and Trulli went from pole to ninth at the finish. Luckily for Renault, BAR failed to score as well. Zonta was classified tenth as it was so close to the end when his engine blew but it was Jordan's Nick Heidfeld who was the last to cross the line for 11th.
After Hungary, F1 really needed to put on a show and in Belgium it certainly did. F1 should be fast and furious and the accidents and incidents are all part and parcel if it. Spa was by far the best race of the season -- it reminded us what Formula One is all about. Final top eight classification: Raikkonen, Schumacher, Barrichello, Massa, Fisichella, Klien, Coulthard, Panis.