Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen was untouchable at Spa Francorchamps and followed up pole position with victory in the Belgian Grand Prix. Felipe Massa held station in second to give Ferrari its third one-two finish of the season and, mathematically at...
Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen was untouchable at Spa Francorchamps and followed up pole position with victory in the Belgian Grand Prix. Felipe Massa held station in second to give Ferrari its third one-two finish of the season and, mathematically at least, the 2007 constructors' title. McLaren couldn't take the fight to the Scuderia but Fernando Alonso secured third place ahead of teammate Lewis Hamilton in fourth.
For once the weather behaved itself at Spa and race day was fine and dry. Renault's Giancarlo Fisichella, who had dropped to the back of the grid due to an engine change, and Super Aguri's Anthony Davidson started from the pit lane. It was a fairly clean start off the grid, Raikkonen keeping the lead from Massa while the McLaren drivers had a bit of a set to.
Hamilton challenged Alonso for third but the Spaniard was not about to back down; he was aggressive through turn one and pushed Hamilton very wide but the Brit came back at him and they went sent by side to Eau Rouge. Alonso shot ahead cresting the hill and that set the top four order for the rest of the race, bar the pit stop intervals.
Behind them, Nico Rosberg's Williams held fifth, while Renault's Heikki Kovalainen and Red Bull's Mark Webber were up to sixth and seven as Nick Heidfeld's BMW Sauber had got a poor start and dropped to eighth. Ralf Schumacher's Toyota and the second Red Bull of David Coulthard made up the early top 10. Webber was harassing Kovalainen and Heidfeld was following close behind.
It was a short-lived race for Fisichella who retired to the pits after only a couple of laps with suspension damage after an unseen off-track moment. Alex Wurz spun his Williams at the Bus Stop and dropped to the back, while Webber finally despatched Kovalainen to gain sixth. Heidfeld followed suit shortly afterwards to take seventh.
Kovalainen's car was heavy with a one-stop fuel load so he had to wait and see how it played out. Meanwhile, Robert Kubica, who started 14th due to an engine change penalty, had got his BMW Sauber up to 10th. The Ferrari crew made a sudden appearance in the pit lane, causing concern about a possible car problem, but they then went back in again.
An unusually strong runner was Spyker's Adrian Sutil, who started 19th and had fought his way up to 12th and was determinedly hassling Coulthard. Jarno Trulli's Toyota started in the top 10 but had dropped to 13th, followed by Jenson Button's Honda, Tonio Liuzzi's Toro Rosso and the Super Aguri of Takuma Sato.
The second Honda of Rubens Barrichello was 17th, Sakon Yamamoto's Spyker 18th, Davidson 19th and Wurz the tail-ender in 20th as Sebastian Vettel's Toro Rosso had retired to the pits with a steering problem. At the front there was about four seconds covering the top four, who were starting to spread out a little and looking unlikely to change places.
Kubica eventually got past Kovalainen to take eighth, while Sutil was still stuck on Coulthard's rear wing with Trulli keeping watch behind. Rosberg and Webber were the first of the scheduled stops on lap 14, then Raikkonen and Alonso the next lap. Massa and Hamilton duly spooled through shortly afterwards and the four front runners held their order, although Heidfeld was third but yet to stop.
Sutil's charge got a set back when he bounced over the grass and Hamilton had a little moment that caused him to cut a corner apex, but nothing serious either way. Heidfeld took his first visit to the pits and rejoined behind the one-stopping Kovalainen, while Kubica had also pitted and was behind the likewise one-stopping Coulthard.
The gap between Raikkonen and Massa was holding fairly steady between four and a half and five seconds and the McLarens were not making any inroads in the middle stint, with a similar gap between Alonso and Hamilton. Kovalainen made his one stop half way through and Button and Liuzzi visited the pits a couple of laps later.
Coulthard was up to eighth by the time he pitted and Barrichello was the longest runner of all on the first stint, pitting on about lap 27. Meanwhile, Wurz was having a wobbly afternoon and went wide on the kerbs, letting Yamamoto past, while Sato was attacking a struggling Button and got past for 13th. Coulthard's afternoon ended with (yet another) hydraulic failure.
The two-stoppers began peeling back through the pits, Rosberg again the first, and Wurz was the next retiree with only eight laps to go. His problem was fuel pressure related. Kubica had been up to sixth behind teammate Heidfeld before his second stop but afterwards he was behind Kovalainen and scrapping for the final point.
Button's Honda gave up and crawled back to the pits, a suspected hydraulic issue, and after the pit stops had shaken out the familiar top four was back in place. Massa had closed the gap to Raikkonen but, as Ferrari usually does, the reds were in a holding pattern after the last stops. It was Raikkonen's race anyway, as Massa hadn't really threatened him.
So, the duo took the chequered flag for Ferrari's third one-two of the season and a very low key constructors' title -- unless McLaren decides to appeal its exclusion from the championship. Raikkonen was flawless all afternoon for his third consecutive win at Spa, while Massa drove a good race but couldn't find enough to challenge his teammate.
"(There were) not really any issues during the race," said Raikkonen. "Only places were sometimes when you came up to lap some people it was pretty difficult because here it's pretty low downforce, so you seem to lose a lot of grip, so it was pretty hard to get past people. But it was the same for everybody. Apart from that, the car was very good, everything went well and it was a nice race."
Massa suffered understeer in the first stint but had no serious issues. "The soft tyres worked very well and it might have been better to use them even for the first stint but you can only see things like that after the race," he commented. "I am very happy for the team as we really wanted this one-two! Now, the situation in the championship is a bit better and we will continue to fight to the end, believe it!"
McLaren wasn't likely to cause Ferrari problems once any potential first corner events were out of the way, and duly didn't. Alonso and Hamilton were solid performers but not close to Ferrari's pace, while Alonso once again had the upper hand on his teammate. Race by race the champion is whittling away at Hamilton's lead.
"I think they (Ferrari) were too quick for us today," said Alonso. "I tried quite hard in the first stint to keep pace with Felipe, just hoping around the pit stop time to make up a position but slowly they were disappearing and after the first stop, for sure, we didn't see them anymore. We lack a little bit of pace in the race. We were quite OK in qualifying but for sure in the race we were off the pace by a couple of tenths today."
Despite losing out at the start, Heidfeld picked up to finish fifth in BMW's traditional best of the rest spot, while Kubica just missed out in ninth. Rosberg continues to quietly impress and came home sixth, while Webber added to Red Bull's tally with seventh. Kovalainen didn't have an easy afternoon with his strategy but got the last point in eighth.
Schumacher ended where he started in 10th and Toyota teammate Trulli went backwards to 11th. Liuzzi was a reasonable 12th for Toro Rosso and Barrichello edged closer to his first season with no points in 13th. Sutil was 14th, which was not bad for a Spyker and showed an improvement with the new chassis, while Sato, Davidson and Yamamoto were 15th, 16th and 17th.
Three races to go and only two points between Hamilton and Alonso; now the gloves are really off. Hamilton seems to have lost focus a little recently while Alonso looks more determined than ever. Fuji is an unknown for them both but while Alonso knows Shanghai and Interlagos, Hamilton doesn't. It promises to be interesting, to say the least.
Unfortunately for Massa, despite his determination to fight to the end, surely Ferrari must be on the verge of putting its weight behind Raikkonen if it wants the drivers' title as well. The Finn has a seven point advantage over his teammate and is 13 points behind Hamilton, so barring any mishaps he seems to be the better candidate.
As for McLaren, the team has the eagle-eye of the FIA watching over it in case it is tempted to try and derail Alonso's championship challenge due to the now badly fractured relationship with the Spaniard. Ron Dennis swears by equality so that shouldn't be a problem but whether he wins this title or not, Alonso's future is far from certain.
At Spa, inevitably on the heels of the World Motor Sport Council decision, the focus was as much on politics as it was on racing. But while the constructors' title might have been won by default, Ferrari's on track triumph today was well earned. Final top eight classification: Raikkonen, Alonso, Alonso, Hamilton, Heidfeld, Rosberg, Webber, Kovalainen.