Räikkönen's victory in Istanbul brings only marginal gains in F1 title race
Heikki Kovalainen's F2 victory makes for double Finnish win in Turkey
After his day at the office on Sunday, Kimi Räikkönen(McLaren-Mercedes) might be forgiven for feeling like Sisiyphus, the mythological king of Corinth, condemned for eternity to roll a boulder uphill only to have it fall back again before he reaches the top.
Starting from pole position on Sunday, Räikkönen led largely unchallenged for all but half a lap of the inaugural Turkish Grand Prix in Istanbul. He was slowly away from the lights and was caught by Giancarlo Fisichella's Renault, and was also nearly surprised by the other Renault of his closest rival Fernando Alonso, the drivers' championship leader. However, by the end of the lap the Finn had restored the status quo and he was never headed thereafter.
As the race wore on, it began to look increasingly like it would end in a long-awaited 1-2 for the McLaren-Mercedes team, as Räikkönen was followed around at a safe distance by his Colombian team-mate Juan Pablo Montoya.
With Alonso back in third, this would have brought at least a four-point profit margin for Räikkönen's efforts and would also have given McLaren-Mercedes a useful fillip in their battle with the Renaults for the constructors' championship.
But as Räikkönen was waving to the crowds on his lap of honour, the team radio informed him that Montoya had spun three laps from the end, after being shunted in the rear while overtaking backmarker Tiago Monteiro (Jordan). This saw his lead on Alonso cut to a few seconds, but worse was to come: on the final lap Montoya - his car's aerodynamics damaged after the first incident - ran wide again to allow Alonso through and into the runner-up spot.
The upshot of this late turnaround was to give Räikkönen a victory that produced only a frustratingly small two-point reduction in Alonso's substantial lead.
The Spaniard has 95 points to the 71 of Räikkönen, with just five Grands Prix left in the season. Even if the McLaren is undoubtedly the fastest car on the track these days, and with the reliabilty to win races, it is an agonisingly slow business overhauling a driver who keeps finishing just behind you in the rankings.
For some drivers at least, the new circuit in Istanbul proved to be an exception in modern Formula One racing, as overtaking WAS possible.
Jensen Button in the BAR-Honda demonstrated this by hauling himself up from 13th to sixth in the space of the first ten laps. He was eventually to finish in fifth behind Fisichella.
Reigning World Champion Michael Schumacher had no such success: he started from the back of the grid after a mistake in qualifying, and though he picked off the minnows at the rear end of the field in the early stages, the Ferraris were not competitive on Sunday against any of the leading teams.
Schumacher's day ended in retirement after a tangle with Mark Webber's Williams brought him in for a lengthy pit-stop, and his Ferrari team-mate Rubens Barrichello struggled home out of the points in 10th place.
Sunday did at least produce a Finnish double win: earlier in the day Heikki Kovalainen cemented his position at the head of the Formula Two standings by winning the second of the weekend's two races in Istanbul. Kovalainen benefited from a smart early tyre-change as the track dried after rain.
He now has a seven-point cushion over his closest rival Nico Rosberg, the son of former Finnish F1 World Champion Keke Rosberg. Rosberg Jr. was third on Sunday. There are seven more races to go in the F2 series.
As for poor Kimi Räikkönen, he must do it all again (and again & again), starting from the Italian Grand Prix in Monza on September 4th.
Given the current state of play, the only realistic way in which Räikkönen can make up the deficit on Alonso is through misfortune and a couple of retirements for the Spanish driver.