Raikkonen keeps Fisi at bay to win Spa thriller

d09bel1493Kimi back to winning ways, but Fisi the real star in Spa.

A rejuvenated Kimi Raikkonen gave Ferrari their first victory of the season in Spa-Francorchamps, but the star of the Belgian Grand Prix was undoubtedly Giancarlo Fisichella who stayed glued to the gearbox of the Ferrari driver throughout the race to claim Force India’s first podium.

Anyone predicting a return to normality in Spa on Sunday after qualifying threw up one of the most random grids seen this season was wide off the mark as the legendary Ardennes circuit played host to an epic scrap between Kimi Raikkonen and surprise pole-sitter Giancarlo Fisichella, while claiming the scalps of championship leader Jenson Button and defending world champion Lewis Hamilton.

Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel was the only familiar face, as far as the 2009 championship goes, to finish on the podium in third place. Championship leader Jenson Button was punted into retirement by Romain Grosjean on the first lap – collecting Lewis Hamilton and Jaimie Alguersuari in the process, and bringing out the safety car. Button’s only saving grace was that teammate and title rival Rubens Barrichello could only manage seventh place after stalling at the start.

Kimi Raikkonen, who started from fifth place, took the lead when the safety car came in on Lap 4. Fisichella, who did well to hold onto his lead at the start, was a sitting duck as the Ferrari driver used his KERS power and a slipstream to ease pass the Force India in the run down to Les Combes.

“I knew that we needed to get past him because more or less we were coming in on the same lap and if I didn’t do it after the safety car they had too much speed to get it after that,” said Raikkonen.

“I made sure I was close enough up to first corner and went behind him, got quite a bit of understeer and ran wide at top of hill but once I used KERS I managed to get in front of him. I knew as long as we didn’t make silly mistakes we would be okay on the race.”

With Raikkonen’s track record at Spa and the perceived superiority of the Ferrari over the Force India, many were expecting the Finn to fly off into the distance.

Not so. Remarkably Fisichella kept the Ferrari driver in sight with the gap staying under two seconds in the run up to the first pit stop. Even more remarkably, both cars were on similar fuel loads.

The pair stopped together on Lap 15 and even after re-fuelling Fisichella was able to keep Raikkonen in touch, demonstrating an impressive underlying pace from his Force India car.

Behind the leaders Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld were battling with Mark Webber for the third step on the podium. But a drive through for Webber after his Red Bull mechanics released him into the path of Heidfeld in the pits scuppered his chances of a podium.

Fernando Alonso also started to bring himself into the mix by running a long two-stop strategy. But a problem with his left front tyre at his pit stop blew his chances of a podium.

Meanwhile, Fisichella continued to hound Raikkonen brining the gap down to within a second.

A extra laps worth of fuel might have enabled the Italian driver to leapfrog Raikkonen at the final round of pit stops, but both drivers mirrored each other again, with Raikkonen emerging in front for the final stint.

That left Raikkonen free to take his first win since Spain last year and give Ferrari their first win of the season.

“It hasn’t been easy year for us,” said Raikkonen. “We were behind straight away in the first race compared to the top teams and we made a big step in Barcelona but it still has not been enough and for sure we have not brought new parts to the car for a few races as we are putting effort into next year.

“Getting the win now… It’s quite a long time since the last one. My aim was to win at least one race and try and finish third in the championship, this helps a lot but I needed a bit of effort today to get the win.

“We were not the fastest in the lap times but we were fastest and kept everyone behind.

“It is great for the team and hopefully we can get some good results after this race. I always do well here, we see what we can do in the last part of the season.”

Fisichella meanwhile, in his 244th race, was delighted with his result, which will no doubt be a boost to his credentials has he bids to secure a seat in 2010, and, if the rumours are to be believed, take up the second seat with Ferrari in Monza.

“Of course, obviously it is great result for us,” said Fisichella afterwards. “The important target was to score even some points, and finish second with eight points is a great day, but actually you know I was quicker than Kimi.

“He could overtake just because of KERS at the beginning of the race and it is a little bit sad for that because I was quicker than him. I was keeping his pace, even behind his car, we did exactly the same strategy race because I finished second.

“Just one second from the leader which is a great result for us but actually we could have won the race.”

A longer first stint from Sebastian Vettel enabled him to leapfrog the BMW Sauber drivers to take third place.

Heikki Kovalainen climbed to sixth place behind Kubica and Heidfeld, and crucially for Jenson Button, ahead of Rubens Barrichello who collects just two points.

Nico Rosberg was eighth ahead of Mark Webber, Timo Glock, Adrian Sutil, Sebastian Beumi and Kazuki Nakajima.

Jarno Trulli, who started on the front row alongside Fisichella, picked up damage on the first lap and was forced to make an early pit stop, but it was a mechanical problem that eventually dashed his Belgian Grand Prix hopes.

Race Results

1       Kimi Räikkönen          Ferrari         1:23:50.995
2       Giancarlo Fisichella    Force India     1:23:51.934
3       Sebastian Vettel        Red Bull        1:23:54.870
4       Robert Kubica           BMW             1:24:00.961
5       Nick Heidfeld           BMW             1:24:02.271
6       Heikki Kovalainen       McLaren         1:24:23.758
7       Rubens Barrichello      Brawn           1:24:26.456
8       Nico Rosberg            Williams        1:24:27.203
9       Mark Webber             Red Bull        1:24:27.954
10      Timo Glock              Toyota  
11      Adrian Sutil            Force India     
12      Sebastien Buemi         Toro Rosso      
13      Kazuki Nakajima         Williams        
14      Luca Badoer             Ferrari