They say Spa Francorchamps has it’s own little micro-climate, throwing up surprising weather conditions and playing havoc with the teams and drivers. And that is exactly what happened during the Belgian Grand Prix today, as incidents were plentiful in the build up to the final lap. On the track, it was Lewis Hamilton who took the win, followed by Massa and Heidfeld. Raikkonen retired with an accident in the wet weather and Heidfeld had an epic final lap to get onto the podium.
With rain earlier in the day, the track was damp at the start and the teams were gambling on their choice of tyres. Just prior to the five minute cut-off point, only Nelson Piquet Jr took to intermediates as the rest of the field started on dry tyres. When the lights faded, Lewis Hamilton maintained his lead through La Source and Kimi Raikkonen closed right up on team mate Felipe Massa and found a way pass. Heikki Kovalainen went backwards after a poor start and both Renault’s left the line well, Alonso getting into fourth and Piquet Jr getting into seventh.
Lap two proved to be just as exciting as Hamilton spun into the first corner, allowing Raikkonen to go through and take the lead. Kimi, now with a clear track ahead, set about creating a margin between himself and the McLaren, setting fastest laps in the process. It wasn’t long though before Hamilton gathered himself together and settled into an improving pace, closing down the gap to Raikkonen little by little. Further back, Heikki Kovalainenhad a poor race back in eighth. The Finn managed to pass Robert Kubica coming out of Eau Rouge and along the straight, but as he appraoched his next target, Mark Webber, the pass didn’t go so smoothly. Kovalainen made a late charge on the brakes at the Bus Stop and clipped the Australian’s Red Bull. The result of Heikki’s bold, but ultimately silly move was a drive-thru penalty.
Hamilton and Raikkonen pitted one lap apart, the former coming in on lap eleven and the positions maintained as they threaded themselves back into the action. Nelson Piquet became the first retiree as he spun into the tyre wall at Fagnes. The Scuderia Toro Rossos managed to keep themselves in the race and both drivers put in sterling efforts, while at the front Kimi Raikkonen started to put the hammer down, popping in fastest lap after fastest lap and extending the lead over Hamilton to around 6s.
Rubens Barrichello became the second driver to retire, the Brazilian being pulled into his garage on lap 21 by the Honda team. Barrichello had lost sixth gear and this caused his engine to over-rev. Wanting to save the power-plant for Monza next weekend, Honda retired Barrichello. Jenson Button brought his Honda home in fifteenth after a fairly anonymous race.
On lap 25 the leaders came in to the pits for their second stops and for harder tyres. Knowing the McLaren works better on this set, Hamilton set about closing the gap to Raikkonen. As Lewis closed up to Kimi, the skies darkened and rain was predicted for the final few laps. By lap 29 the gap between the McLaren and the Ferrari had shrunk to 1.9s, while Massa remained in third and Alonso fourth.
Fernando Alonso reported drops of rain on lap 37 and the race started to come alive again. Although the cars were still lapping the circuit in decent time, it was clear that rain was falling on some parts, most notably on the start/finish straight. As the charge at the front intensified, Lewis Hamilton attempted a pass on Raikkonen going into the final chicane. On the outside the Briton simply ran out of road and took to the run-off area. Not sure if he was actually in the lead before running off, Hamilton allowed Kimi to re-take the position going over the timing beacon. However, on the run down to La Source the pair jinked wildly around as Raikkonen attempted to defend his position. Hamilton managed to claim the inside line and passed Kimi.
The battle didn’t end there though as Hamilton ran wide later on the penultimate lap and Raikkonen re-passed. As they both come across Kazuki Nakajima in the much slower Williams both drivers scrambled to control their own vehicles and avoid the Japanese driver. Raikkonen ran wide, Hamilton re-took the lead, and in desperation to catch up with the McLaren again, Raikkonen threw his Ferrari off the track and into the barrier. The conditions were wreaking havoc and the Finn fell foul of the slippery track. Hamilton cruised around lap 44 on incorrect tyres and managed to take the victory.
Further behind, some drivers pitted for wet weather tyres and one driver who really benefited from new treaded rubber was Nick Heidfeld. On the final lap the German driver managed to pass at least two cars to haul himself up into third. The end of the race was absolutely manic and ultimately very hard to follow (as was modding the live blog), but it was sensational to say the least.
Hamilton’s win puts him further ahead of Felipe Massa in the title championship, now eight points clear of the Brazilian. Kimi Raikkonen is now 23 shy of Hamilton and it seems as though his title defense is now pretty much over. Between Kimi and Felipe is Robert Kubica, who had a relatively poor race in Belgium. Although the Pole managed to get three points from Spa Francorchamps, he now rests on 58 in total, one ahead of Raikkonen.
In the constructors championship, McLaren have closed up to within six points of Ferrari, who still lead the fight with 129. BMW pass the century mark and now have 105 points while the battle for fourth gets more exciting with Toyota on 42, Renault on 36 and Red Bull Racing on 24. The dual between Toyota and Renault looks set to go on through the final phase of the championship.