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08 Sep 2008

Belgium race analysis - controversy blows title chase wide open

When Lewis Hamilton took the chequered flag at Spa on Sunday after one of the most thrilling Grands Prix in living memory, the McLaren driver looked to have moved significantly closer to his first world title. A few hours later that had all changed, Hamilton controversially demoted to third for his clash with Kimi Raikkonen, and Felipe Massa handed the win. As the debate over the justness of the decision rages, we take a team-by-team look at an eventful afternoon in the Ardennes forest, one which means Hamilton and Massa now head to Monza a scant two points apart at the top of the driver standings…

Felipe Massa, 1m 48.222s, P1
Kimi Raikkonen, 1m 47.930s, P18, retired lap 43, accident

It was a day of mixed emotions for Ferrari. Raikkonen drove with all his old fire and had the race in the bag until the weather changed, then made a series of mistakes that resulted in him crashing out on the penultimate lap. That handed the win to Hamilton, until the stewards took it away because of their clash in the chicane at the end of lap 42, and left a surprised Massa, who had not been able to keep up with them, the winner.

Lewis Hamilton, 1m 48.135s, P3
Heikki Kovalainen, 1m 48.223s, P10, retired lap 44, gearbox

Hamilton led off the line but threw away his chances with a spin at a slippery La Source on the second lap. Thereafter he chased vainly after Raikkonen until the change in weather gave him the chance he needed to close in. He and the Finn had a fabulous dice and he won on the road until the stewards docked him 25 seconds after the finish, dropping him to third. Kovalainen had an adventurous afternoon, colliding with Heidfeld at La Source at the start, colliding with Webber on lap 10, fighting his way back up through the field and then having to serve a drive-through penalty for that latter transgression. He finished 10th, but stopped on the last lap with a transmission problem.

BMW Sauber
Nick Heidfeld, 1m 49.067s, P2
Robert Kubica, 1m 48.965s, P6

Second place was way more than Heidfeld ever dared expect going into the closing stages of the race, for he was only seventh going into the final four laps. His decision to switch to wet tyres at the end of lap 42 paid off handsomely as he sped round the outside of the likes of team mate Kubica and Sebastian Vettel at Rivage, then blasted by Sebastien Bourdais before Pouhon, as his dry-shod rivals tried to tiptoe to the finish. Kubica was much less happy, complaining about the balance of his F1.08. A lengthy second pit stop also lost him places on his way to sixth, on a day when Toro Rosso ran ahead of the white and blue cars.

Fernando Alonso, 1m 49.238s, P4
Nelson Piquet, 1m 51.118s, retired lap 14, accident

Alonso was always a contender for fourth place, but did not seem unduly impressed with his own performance in surrendering that position with a 43rd lap stop to switch to wets and then driving like a demon to re-pass dry-shod cars as he regained it. Piquet fell off after 14 laps, after spinning at Pouhon.

Toro Rosso
Sebastian Vettel, 1m 49.086s, P5
Sebastien Bourdais, 1m 49.002s, P7

Vettel played second fiddle to team mate Bourdais all weekend - until the final lap. Then he was able to squeeze ahead as the unlucky Frenchman lost momentum while being overtaken by the aggressive wets-shod Heidfeld. He deserved better after running as high as third at one stage, but the team took home a haul of six points.

Red Bull
Mark Webber, 1m 49.515s, P8
David Coulthard, 1m 50.177s, P11

Webber struggled behind Bourdais early on, then got attacked and spun by Kovalainen in the chicane on the 10th lap. Then he got overtaken for the last point by Timo Glock on the final corner, but got it back when the German was later penalised. Coulthard complained about his Red Bull’s driveability and was stuck in the train behind Rubens Barrichello for a long time.

Jarno Trulli, 1m 50.543s, P16
Timo Glock, 1m 50.255s, P9

Toyota’s race started to come undone when Trulli’s brilliant start (11th to sixth) was negated when Bourdais ran into the back of him at La Source, and when he spun in the chicane at the end of the lap. Throw in a gearbox problem and it was a miserable Spa for the Italian. Glock ran a one-stop strategy and timed his switch to wets well enough to grab the final point for eighth by passing Webber in the final corner - until the stewards gave him a 25 second penalty for ignoring waved yellow flags. That dropped him to ninth.

Nico Rosberg, 1m 50.656s, P12
Kazuki Nakajima, 1m 50.970s, P14

Neither Rosberg nor Nakajima shone in yet another tough race for Williams, which yielded only 12th and 14th places. The only significant part Rosberg played was when he spun as leaders Hamilton and Raikkonen came up to lap him on lap 43, triggering their incidents.

Jenson Button, 1m 50.671s, P15
Rubens Barrichello, 1m 52.072s, retired lap 20, gearbox

Button admitted that he had expected a much better performance from his Honda RA108 here. Instead, he got boxed in at the start, lost places and ran in the train of cars behind team mate Barrichello. Poor handling and balance left him stuck there. Barrichello fared a little better until the loss of sixth gear led to the engine over-revving and causing his retirement after 20 laps.

Force India
Adrian Sutil, 1m 50.487s, P13
Giancarlo Fisichella, 1m 51.701s, P17

Sutil was very happy that he had a strong race and passed several people during a series of scraps on his way to 13th place, but Fisichella’s race turned to disaster when he collided with a spinning Nakajima on the opening lap. His VJM01 sustained significant damage which included punctures and the lack of a front wing.

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren Mercedes on the grid 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 13, Belgian Grand Prix, Race, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, Sunday, 7 September 2008 Race retiree Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Ferrari crosses the track.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 13, Belgian Grand Prix, Race, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, Sunday, 7 September 2008 Nick Heidfeld (GER) BMW Sauber F1.08.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 13, Belgian Grand Prix, Race, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, Sunday, 7 September 2008 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault R28.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 13, Belgian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, Saturday, 6 September 2008 Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari, Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren and Nick Heidfeld (GER) BMW Sauber F1 on the podium.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 13, Belgian Grand Prix, Race, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, Sunday, 7 September 2008