So, we finally had a race that went to the wire. It actually went even further and the final result was amended about 2 hours after the race with 25 second penalties to Timo Glock (overtaking Webber under yellow flags) and the controversial one to Lewis Hamilton for cutting the chicane. The debate on that Hamilton’s penalty has already begun below another article. I wil focus this review more on the race action itself and later today post my take on the whole controversy.
Following the qualifying Lewis Hamilton looked well set for the return to the top of the podium. His McLaren seemed to be the car to beat. But there was Kimi, lighter than his qualifying time might have suggested, who althout running wide using all the run off area available managed to pass cautious Massa and few moments later also Lewis Hamilton. Kimi’s fight with Massa was actually quite rough, I thought for a moment they will both go off … Massa dropped back a bit (it was later revealed that as a precaution his engine was tuned down and never reached the 19,000 rpm limit) but there was not much between Raikkonen and Hamilton. Hamilton stopped first but Raikkonen and Massa followed soon after. Not much changed only Kimi’s lead was a bit bigger. It was a bit different situation after the second round of pit stops. Either the harder tyres worked better for Hamilton than for Raikkonen or Raikkonend started to control the race – Raikkonen’s lead was shrinking, Hamilton was right on his tail. About that time the it became to look like some rain may affect the final stages of the race. In the meantime Massa cruised behind in 3rd. Knowing that he has no chance to catch the leaders he probably settled for damage control result and 6 points.
And then with 3 laps to it started to rain. Hamilton took an immediate advantage of Kimi’s slower pace and tried to overtake him. Raikkonen defended hard. Some say he simply kept his racing line, some say he deliberately turned into Hamilton. The result was Hamilton had to cut the chicane and got ahead of Kimi. He gave the position back on the start finish straight but once behind Kimi Hamilton attacked immediately again and this time successfully. From then on Hamilton’s focus was to keep the car on the track. Raikkonen had other ideas, he needed the win. He decided to go for all or nothing. He managed to survive one spin, but after another one he found himself in the tyre wall. That elevated Massa to 2nd place.
What was happening behind these three was even more fascinating, well on the last 3 laps at least. After Raikkonen’s crash Fernando Alonso climbed to P3 but only for a very short while as he dived into the pits for intermediate tyres. All of a sudden Bourdais found himself in podium position, Alonso dropped to 8th. Bourdais struggling to keep the car on the slippery track lost few positions and Vettel took over the P3 for a while. But then few metres from the finish line Heidfeld and Alonso benefited from their gamble on late switch to intermediate tyres. Heidfeld took 3rd, Alonso 4th. Sebastian Vettel brought the car home in 5th ahead of Kubica, Bourdais and Glock. The post race penalties moved Hamilton down to third, handing the win to Felipe Massa and elevating Nick Heidfeld to 2nd place. Mark Webber jumped to 8th while Timo Glock dropped to 9th.
Ferrari will have some tough decisions to make. No matter if Hamilton’s penalty stands or McLaren will be successful with their appeal it looks like Kimi Raikkonen is now out of the title race. The fact that Kimi crashed out however means that he may not have to use his Spa engine again in Monza this weekend. Ferrari may give him one more race to keep his title chances alive. Felipe Massa can call himself extremely lucky. With the tuned down engine he must have known that 3rd is probably the best he could hope for. The luck (and stewards) were on his side and what looked like 8 points gap to Hamilton is now only 2. But there would be no win for him if he did not keep his car on the track in those trecherous final laps. So credit to Massa for keeping his head cool. He also will not complain about Kimi crashing out. It looked like Kimi was on course to cut Massa’s advantage to only 3 points, 3 laps and 2 hours later that turned out to be 17 points …
Lewis Hamilton, although penalized, again proved he is the guy to watch once the track gets wet. He however drove a smart race even before that rain, not taking too many risks. He made a mistake early on and allowed Kimi Raikkonen to take the lead. But Hamilton was doing what he needed to do. Finishing second behind Kimi and ahead of Massa would mean extending his championship lead and that is what matters to him at this stage of the season. But then the moment he smelled the blood he went for it and Kimi had no chance.
Heikki Kovalainen had very mixed race. He lost lots of ground at the start but once he got his McLaren up to the pace there was no stopping him. Well, until his collision with Mark Webber that resulted in drive through penalty. He looked set for some low points finish but retired on the last lap.
It was a rare weekend for BMW Sauber. Nick Heidfeld outclassed Robert Kubica ! He did so in practice, in qualifying and in the race. That is something we almost forgot is possible. Robert Kubica’s 6th place however means he jumped ahead of Kimi Raikkonen in drivers standings. Nick Heidfeld’s tyre gamble returned him to podium and eased some pressure that sure is on him.
Fernando Alonso will be happy with his race. He could have reached the podium, there were also speculations that he perhaps could even have a shot at the race win should he switch to intermeds a lap earlier. But at the end 4th place combined with no points for Toyota is a bigger gain than the team may have hoped for. The fight for 4th place in constructors table is still on. Nelson Piquet did not last for long. He crashed out on lap 14, not what a driver in his positions wants to do …
Toro Rosso continued their impressive run of results. Bourdais was close to a great result but the conditions that placed him on the podium position for a while at the end worked against him. But still, 5th place for Vettel and 7th for Bourdais is a great result for the team following equally strong qualifying (both cars in Q3). Toro Rosso now caught up with Williams in the constructors table and jumped ahead of sorry Honda.
Mark Webber, the regular point scorer in the early stages of the season, returned to top 8th for the first time since French GP but none of the Red Bull cars seems now to able to challenge their Toro Rosso cousins.
It was disapointing weekend for Toyota with both drivers missing out on points allowing Renault to close the gap. Williams, Honda and Force India were in class of their own. Honda guys obviously gave up on 2008 season and that allowed Force India to close the gap.
I am not going to post any videos here, but here are 2 links to some video higlights from Belgain GP.
Photos: Shell Motorsport, Renault/LAT, Red Bull/GEPA