Monday, September 08, 2008

Belgian Grand Prix

Unlucky 13 for Hamilton
In what should have been his finest moment so far, Lewis Hamilton had his victory at Spa snatched away soon after receiving the winner’s trophy.

Starting from pole position, Hamilton got away smoothly in the 13th race of the season but, following a spin near the end of the first lap, soon found fourth placed Raikkonen all over him. The Fin was clearly hungry to show why he is the current world champion and got past the British driver with a daring move. Heikki Kovaleinen, who started second, should have been covering for Hamilton but a crunch at the first corner pushed him down the field and he never really recovered.

Raikkonen led for most of the race, followed by Hamilton and Felipe Massa. The skies, which had looked threatening all day, started dropping a light drizzle six laps from the finish. Hamilton saw his chance and closed on Raikkonen. With two laps to go, the shower became a downpour and Hamilton made his move at the final chicane. Both drivers were still on hard tyres and Raikkonen went wide, leaving Hamilton with nowhere to go except to cut the chicane. Coming out ahead of the Ferrari and realizing he could get a penalty, Hamilton allowed Raikkonen through and continued the chase, taking the lead once more at the hairpin. When back-marker Nico Rosberg spun and blocked the track with a lap and a half to go, Raikkonen seized the lead once more, only to spin off into the tyre wall, leaving Hamilton to cruise carefully to take the chequered flag.

Hamilton shared the podium with Felipe Massa and Nick Heidfeld (BMW Sauber), whose courageous decision to go in for wet weather tyres just two laps from the finish pulled him from seventh to third. Two hours later came the news that Hamilton had been penalized 25 seconds (equivalent to a drive-through penalty) by the stewards, relegating him to third in the race and handing Massa his fifth win this year and boosting Heidfeld into second.

In all the drama, it should be remembered that there was some great driving further down the field. Sebastian Bourdais (Toro Rosso) looked good for his first podium finish until the rain arrived. But the decision to stay out on hard tyres proved wrong as first Heidfeld, then team-mate Sebastian Vettel and Robert Kubica went by. Bourdais later confessed: “it was a very frustrating way to finish what was a great weekend up to that point.” Still, he managed to double his points for the year and maybe this taste of success will bring him better results in the races still to come.

Fernando Alonso showed what it takes to be a two-times world champion by surrendering his fourth place to go and get wet tyres with less than two laps remaining. He re-entered in eighth place and drove furiously to regain fourth after Raikkonen’s crash. Sebastian Vettel (Toro Rosso) is another driver whose decision to stay out on dry tyres could have cost him dearly. But still he managed to finish in the points for the fifth time in the seven races he has completed this year. The now more reliable Toro Rosso should take Vettel further up the points table in the remaining five.

All in all a very satisfying race, in spite of the controversial decision over Hamilton.

The top eight finishers were:
1 Felipe Massa (Ferrari)
2 Nick Heidfeld (Sauber BMW)
3 Lewis Hamilton (McLaren)
4 Fernando Alonso (Renault)
5 Sebastian Vettel (STR-Ferrari)
6 Robert Kubica (BMW Sauber)
7 Sebastian Bourdais (Toro Rosso)
8 Mark Webber (Red Bull)

After 13 races, the leader board looks like this:
1 Lewis Hamilton (McLaren) 76
2 Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 74
3 Robert Kubica (Sauber BMW) 58
4 Kimi Räikkönen (Ferrari) 57
5 Nick Heidfeld (Sauber BMW) 49
6 Heikki Kovalainen (McLaren) 43
7 Jarno Trulli (Toyota) 26
8 Fernando Alonso (Renault) 23
9 Mark Webber (Red Bull) 19
10 Timo Glock (Toyota) 15

1 Ferrari 131
2 McLaren 119
3 BMW Sauber 107
4 Toyota 41
5 Renault 36

The next race (the 14th) is at Monza next Sunday. Could this be where Massa makes the move to re-establish himself at the top of the table? With just 2 points between them, it should be very exciting, especially in front of Ferrari's home crowd.

Footnote: The internet is buzzing with the cries of outraged fans who believe Hamilton and Team McLaren were ‘robbed’ of a just victory. They make the point that Ferrari extended their contract with Formula 1 Management until 2012 in return for a greater say in the way the rules are drawn up. It is fair to say that the stewards do seem to have penalised Hamilton rather harshly in the circumstances but no doubt all will come out in the impending appeal hearing called for by McLaren.

Mike O’Neill

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