Late showers put Kimi’s title hopes in the wall, and leave Lewis victorious.
Lewis Hamilton tip-toed to his ninth career victory in Spa-Francorchamps after late rain hit the track with only two laps to go, leaving the front-runners to battle to the chequered flag on dry tyres.
The British ace gifted Kimi Raikkonen the race lead after slipping up at La Source on the second lap. The Finn drove a majestic and arguably career-saving race to lead by around three seconds when the rain began to fall.
The showers which would have prompted the drivers to change tyres had it not come so late in proceedings reduced the gap to nothing as Hamilton, the more comfortable of the two on the slippery track, tried to out-fox Raikkonen for the lead, while battling to keep his McLaren pointing in the right direction.
He took the early initiative when he charged up alongside Raikkonen going into the Bus Stop chicane on Lap 42. But Raikkonen held his ground on the inside and forced Hamilton to cut across the track. To avoid a penalty the British ace backed off to allow Raikkonen to re-take the lead, but then dived up the inside at La Source hairpin.
“He pushed me wide (at the Bus Stop), I was slightly ahead, and I was on the outside: he should have been fair as I had no room,” said Hamilton.
“He basically pushed me onto the kerb and I took the escape road. I let him past but then caught his toe. He was ducking and diving, I did the same and managed to get him. He hit me again on the apex (of La Source), but I was pretty much on the go.”
As the rain began to fall harder Hamilton lost the lead momentarily in the run up to Fagnes where he ran wide across the grass to avoid Nico Rosberg who was rejoining the track after his own spin. Raikkonen moved ahead only to spin his Ferrari seconds later, once again gifting the lead to Hamilton. Perhaps trying too hard to make up ground, Raikkonen then lost the rear end of his Ferrari on the exit of Blanchimont, which pitched him and perhaps his chances of defending his world championship into the wall.
That promoted to team-mate Felipe Massa to second, who was far enough back from Hamilton to allow the McLaren driver to tip-toe to his ninth career victory, and his fifth this season.
“It was a race and a half,” said Hamilton afterwards. “I could see Kimi ahead and after the second pit stop he was so far ahead that I was just pushing and pushing trying to close the gap. It was mix and match. I was just praying ‘please rain’, I wanted it to rain because I know how to deal with it.”
“So the heavens opened and I saw Kimi begin to back off, and then the fight was on. At Turn 12 I went really wide; Rosberg had spun onto the track and I nearly crashed into the side of him, Kimi almost did the same, and I went over the grass. Kimi spun again and it was straight forward from there.”
Behind the leading pair, Nick Heidfeld and Fernando Alonso had gambled on a change of tyres which enabled them to leap frog the Toro Rosso drivers and Robert Kubica for third and fourth. Alonso found himself entrenched in a fierce scrap for position at the final corner and manage to overtake both Vettel and Kubica in a single swoop.
Sebastien Bourdais, who had driven supremely throughout the weekend – and was running as high as third place as a result of the chaos – spun on the final lap relinquishing fifth and sixth places to team-mate Sebastian Vettel and Kubica.
It was disastrous race for Heikki Kovalainen in the sister McLaren who finished the race on the sidelines after stopping out on the track on the final lap. The Finn lost considerable ground at the first corner, dropping to eighth, and was then given a drive through penalty for pitching Mark Webber into a spin at the Bus Stop chicane.
The incident cost Webber momentum and he wound up ninth overall, behind Toyota’s Timo Glock who picked up the final points paying position.
Updated: In a controversial ruling, race stewards awarded a retrospective 25 second penalty on race winner Lewis Hamilton, gifting the race win to Ferrari s Felipe Massa and demoting Hamilton to third place.