Räikkönen shunt at Spa crushes his championship dreams
Felipe Massa gifted win after race stewards fine Hamilton with time penalty
There was plenty of drama in the Belgian Grand Prix on Sunday - from a Finnish perspective all too much of it.
Kimi Räikkönen’s fourth consecutive win on the Spa circuit was close. In fact, painfully close.
But in the end the Ferrari driver crashed out with a lap and half to go, finishing down in 18th and without any championship points.
On the second to last lap, after Räikkönen had dropped behind the McLaren of Britain’s Lewis Hamilton as a typical Spa rain-shower rain made the track dangerously slick, the Finn skidded onto the grass on the left side of the track just before the Bus Stop chicane.
With a quick corrective move, Räikkönen still attempted to return to the track, but in so doing he lost it completely and slewed off into a protective wall.
The front wing of Räikkönen’s Ferrari broke off in the crash, presumably also crushing his dream of renewing his title as the World Champion.
“I only wanted to win. I was not really interested in coming in second, for the idea was to narrow down Hamilton’s points lead”, Räikkönen explained surprisingly calmly considering what had happened.
The Finn admitted nevertheless that from the championship point of view things now look bleak.
“Realistically it does not look good, but I cannot stop trying. Anything can still happen”, he continued.
On the first lap, Räikkönen, who started fourth on the grid, rocketed into the lead, surprising everyone and providing his recent detractors with considerable food for thought. He and Hamilton soon opened up a comfortable lead on the rest of the field, and Räikkönen laid down a series of fastest laps.
Since the pit-stops went more or less flawlessly, his fourth victory in a row at Spa would have been pretty much a lock, had it not started raining just three laps before the chequered flag.
Because of the rain Räikkönen was forced to slow down just enough for Hamilton to catch him up.
The battle between the two was like a boxing match between two cars. On the third to last lap Räikkönen still managed to keep Hamilton behind him in the so-called Bus Stop chicane, forcing the Briton to cut through the bend.
Hamilton's short-cut actually put him ahead, but
adhering to the rules of racing he let Räikkönen regain the lead, but attacked the Finn at the very next hairpin.
This time around the McLaren pilot’s effort was rewarded.
Things were not over yet: Hamilton then overcooked it and while he was going sideways Räikkönen briefly had his nose in front again before he, too, had an excursion off the track - this time with terminal consequences.
After Räikkönen had crashed out, Hamilton drove gingerly to the line on the slippery track and collected ten points for the win.
But the race stewards were already busy investigating Hamilton’s cutting through the chicane moments earlier.
At 6 pm local time the stewards announced that by taking a short-cut through the chicane Hamilton had gained undue advantage, which - according to the rulebook - is a punishable offence.
The McLaren pilot was therefore handed a 25-second time penalty.
This caused Ferrari’s Felipe Massa - a driver who in the actual race was no match for either Räikkönen or Hamilton - to be declared the winner.
Hamilton, in turn, was relegated to third place, behind Germany’s Nick Heidfeld (BMW). Heidfeld crossed the line just over nine seconds behind Massa and 24 seconds behind Hamilton.
In the press conference immediately after the race Hamilton said that he would consider any possible punishment unreasonable.
Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President Norbert Haug received the decision as a major disappointment.
“I would have never guessed there would be a punishment”, Haug said. “This has a major impact, perhaps even a decisive impact, on the race for the drivers' championship title.”
Without the punishment, Hamilton’s lead over Massa in the driver’s table would have been eight points, instead of just two.
Hamilton’s McLaren teammate Heikki Kovalainen of Finland, in turn, crashed out on the very last lap of the race.
By then Kovalainen’s day had in any case been ruined by a very pedestrian start and a drive-through penalty issued after he collided with Australia’s Mark Webber (Red Bull). Kovalainen was ordered to make an unscheduled visit to the pit lane, which spoiled his chances of any kind of respectable result.
At the time of the bump with Webber, he had been charging his way back through the field, after finishing the first lap down in 14th place, despite starting 3rd on the grid.
“The crash with Webber was my own fault. I was too greedy. I should have had more patience”, Kovalainen confessed. “This was a difficult race, even though the car felt good.”
After all the dust had settled (though McLaren may still protest the result), Kimi Räikkönen found himself 19 points adrift of championship leader Hamilton, and in 4th place in the table behind Massa and BMW's Robert Kubica. Kovalainen is in 6th place.
There are five Grands Prix left this season, with the first of them at Monza in Italy on September 14th.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Kovalainen scores career first F1 victory in Budapest (4.8.2008)
Räikkönen seeks way out of mid-season mediocrity (4.9.2008)