Championship leader trades blows with Kimi en-route to a stunning Belgian GP win and then feels the wrath of the stewards.
The chaotic Ardenne climate kept on giving in Spa-Francorchamps. No sooner had Lewis Hamilton tip-toed to a sensational win in the wet, race stewards announced they were investigating the McLaren driver for gaining an unfair advantage over Kimi Raikkonen, who succumbed to the treacherous conditions in the dying laps, taking his title hopes with him into the wall. Hamilton barely had time to celebrate his win, let alone reflect on the fact that he had just survived one of the most thrilling and dangerous climaxes to a grand prix unscathed.
The point of controversy was a tangle between the two drivers when the rain began to fall on Lap 42. Raikkonen headed Hamilton by around five seconds after Lewis gifted him the lead by slipping up at La Source on the second lap. 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. But Raikkonen held his ground on the inside and forced Hamilton to cut across the track. The McLaren driver, anticipating the interest from the stewards, 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 off on my way at that point.”
The stewards saw differently. After investigating the incident they felt that Hamilton and been advantaged by the momentum he gained from cutting the escape road, and subsequently docked him with a 25 second time penalty, enough to gift Felipe Massa the victory, and promote Nick Heidfeld to second place. The decision has huge ramifications on the drivers championship with Massa now sitting a mere two points behind Hamilton.
McLaren maintain that Hamilton lifted off to allow Raikkonen past and they have confirmed that they will appeal against the decision.
“We have no option other than to register our intention to appeal,” a McLaren spokesperson said in Spa-Francorchamps. “We have studied the details and put them before the FIA stewards. They show that after cutting the chicane Lewis lifted off, he was 6 kph slower than Kimi.”
“After conceding the lead to Kimi, Lewis repositioned his car on the right and beat Kimi on the brakes going into the hairpin.”
An appeal may not be heard until after the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, which could leave uncertainty hanging over the drivers’ championship. The decision has already caused outrage amongst Formula One fans.
The announcement also detracted from what was a thrilling end to the Belgian Grand Prix. After edging past Kimi Raikkonen, Hamilton then went on to lose the lead as the drivers battled to keep their cars on the track.
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 provisional victory.
“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 – which for Heidfeld would eventually become second. 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.