Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Belgian GP: Kimi Strolls To Easy Win

Kimi Raikkonen kept his title hopes alive with victory at the Belgian GP, spearheading Ferrari's second one-two in the last three races. Pending an unlikely appeal by McLaren after the team were stripped of all Constructors' points in Thursday's World Motor Sport Council hearing, Ferrari have clinched the Constructors' Championship. Raikkonen's 13th win of his career and fourth this season for the Maranello marque means he now trails leader Lewis Hamilton by 13 points, with runner-up Felipe Massa 20 points adrift. Hamilton could only manage fourth place as he and third-placed McLaren rival Fernando Alonso were easily beaten by the Ferraris. Nick Heidfeld finished in 5th place with Nico Rosberg 6th, Mark Webber 7th and the one-stopping Heiki Kovalainen in 8th.

Race Report: For once the threat of a mid-race rain shower was not a likelihood at Spa as the cars toured round in bright sunshine on the parade lap, with an ambient temperature of 21C and the track at 33C. As the red lights went out Raikkonen and Massa starting from P1 and P2 led easily down the short sprint to La Source hairpin. Behind them, the McLarens followed two abreast with Alonso taking the inside line and Hamilton seeking a way round the outside. However as they came round the turn, Alonso allowed his car to sweep out abnormally wide, right to the edge of the race track. It was exactly the move that Felipe Massa had put on Alonso at the Spanish GP and for which Alonso was still smarting at the European GP when he reminded Felipe Massa in no uncertain terms. Thankfully, a watchful Hamilton saw it coming.

The difference netween the Spanish GP and the Belgium GP was that Hamilton had tarmac run-off outside him and he was able to take to that as the two cars duelled dangerously down the hill towards Eau Rouge. Hamilton lost so little speed from his off-track excursion that the onboard camera showed no sign of Alonso's McLaren as they ran down to the 5g compression corner. Neither looked like they wanted to give way, though, and Alonso had the line for the corner. Hamilton was able to drop back behind his team-mate and still keep his momentum up the hill without a challenge from Nico Rosberg starting from P5. It was a breathtaking moment but they both survived. Further back Nick Heidfeld had a poor start running very wide at La Source, allowing Kovalainen and Webber through. The only casualty on the opening lap was Giancarlo Fisichella who after an engine change started his race from the pitlane. Fisi went off track trying too hard on the opening lap and broke his suspension.

The race order as they came over the line on Lap 1 was: Raikkonen, Massa, Alonso, Hamilton, Rosberg, Kovalainen, Webber, Heidfeld, Ralf Schumacher, Coulthard, Trulli and Button in P.12. Kovalainen was fuelled heavy for one pit-stop and on Lap 3 Webber managed to overtake him on the outside going into Les Combes with a clinical passing move. On Lap 4 Heidfeld managed to get past the Finn and undo some of the self-inflicted damage of the opening lap.
At the front of the race Kimi Raikkonen was stretching his lead from Massa with a succession of Fastest Laps.
Lap 5: Raikkonen 1:48.515
Lap 6: Raikkonen 1:48.500.

The lapping of the front runners was falling into a pattern that would last the rest of the race. Raikkonen was faster than Massa - both the Ferraris were quicker than the two McLarens. Hamilton had the slight edge in Sectors 1 and 3, while Alonso had a clear advantage in Sector 2, at times he would pick up 0.5 or 0.6 seconds a lap through Sector 2. What Hamilton gained in two sectors wasn't as much as he lost in the long middle sector and Alonso edged out the gap. Further back down the field a great start by Adrian Sutil in the revamped Spyker had got him ahead of Jenson Button's Honda and on Lap 7 he was in twelfth place battling it out with David Coulthard for P11.

By Lap 11 Raikkonen led by 4.3 seconds, with Massa a symmeytrical 4.3 seconds ahead of Alonso who had 2.6 seconds on Hamilton - the front four in a race of their own. Though the Ferrari pitcrew had come out into their box on Lap 4 and the pitwall were engaged in a stream of communication between the telemetry crew at the back of the grid, there was little indication of problems from either of the cars' lap times.
The first round of pit-stops commenced at the end of Lap 14 with Rosberg and Webber in, followed a lap later by Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso. Hamilton set a Personal Best lap time as Alonso was in the pits, but was in himself at the end of Lap 16 along with Felipe Massa.

The stops didn't reshuffle the order at all, though Nick Heidfeld stayed out till the end of Lap 18 and it enabled him to jump Nico Rosberg. Both Mclarens had taken on more fuel than the Ferraris and were now running almost a second slower than the Ferraris at times. The order at the end of Lap 21 was Raikkonen, Massa, Alonso, Hamilton, Kovalainen (not stopped), Heidfeld, Rosberg, Webber, Coulthard (not stopped) and a very frustrated Robert Kubica in P10. The Pole had got up to P9 by Lap 5, but his first pit-stop put him behind David Coulthard with more race fuel on board than the Scot and he could not find a way past. Ultimately it would cost him a points finish. When Coulthard eventually pitted on Lap 26 he was through to P8, Kovalainen having taken his one and only pit-stop on Lap 22. Kubica set off after Mark Webber's seventh place, but he was already fifteen seconds back. Coulthard would retire his Red Bull on Lap 31, hydraulics, as ever, proving to be the Red Bull's downfall.

On Lap 27 Raikkonen had a five second lead over Massa, who was almost 15 seconds ahead of Alonso. Fernando was still losing out to Hamilton in Sectors 1 and 3, but more than making up in Sector 2. Alonso was 3.6 ahead of Hamilton. The two Ferraris of Raikkonen and Massa pitted for the second time on Laps 31 and 32 without incident while Alonso came in on Lap 33. With all the front-runners opting for the soft tyres in their final stint, the early laps after the pit-stops were particularly quick. Massa set the Fastest lap on Lap 34 with a 1:48.036 and Fernando Alonso put in some impressive times on his fresh tyres. He set the fastest time of anyone in Sector 2 on his outlap and Lap 35 was his Personal Best of 1:48.419. If Hamilton was thinking of jumping him in the final pit-stops then he would have to find a lot more speed. For some reason Hamilton had been fuelled much longer than Alonso and didn't come in till the end of Lap 36. Before his stop he was positioned between the two Ferraris and had a fast-closing Felipe Massa on his tail when he finally dived into the pitlane.

The gaps on lap 38 were: Raikkonen, 3.1 seconds clear of Massa, who had 14 seconds on Alonso who had his largest gap of the race on Hamilton, 6.4 seconds. Heidfeld was 5th, Rosberg 6th, Webber 7th, Kovalainen 8th and Robert Kubica right on his tail in 9th. With his new tyres Hamilton started to reduce the gap to Alonso by large amounts now and on lap 42 Alonso was just 4.5 seconds clear of the Brit. It wasn't to last, though - pushing too hard in the middle sector Hamilton ran wide at the Pouhon corner on Lap 43 and lost three seconds thanks to a trip across the run-off tarmac. That settled the positions as they were, with Robert Kubica finding no way past Heiki Kovalainen on the final lap. Kimi Raikkonen took a dominant win for Ferrari, his third win at this drivers' circuit ahead of a fast-finishing Felipe Massa, Alonso and Hamilton.

Apart from the heart-in-the-mouth moment on the opening lap between Alonso and Hamilton it had been an uneventful race, the Ferraris proving that over longer runs they were far superior to McLaren who could almost match them in qualifying. With Massa losing a further two points to Raikkonen in the drivers' challenge, only a retirement from the Finn now will stop Felipe from playing a supporting role from now on.

01 K. Räikkönen Ferrari 1:20:39.066
02 F. Massa Ferrari + 4.695
03 F. Alonso McLaren + 14.343
04 L. Hamilton McLaren + 23.615
05 N. Heidfeld BMW + 51.879
06 N. Rosberg Williams + 1:16.876
07 M. Webber Red Bull + 1:20.639
08 H. Kovalainen Renault + 1:25.106
09 R. Kubica BMW + 1:25.661
10 R. Schumacher Toyota + 1:28.574
11 J. Trulli Toyota + 1:43.653
12 V. Liuzzi Scuderia Toro Rosso + 1 laps
13 R. Barrichello Honda + 1 laps
14 A. Sutil Spyker F1 + 1 laps
15 T. Sato Super Aguri + 1 laps
16 A. Davidson Super Aguri + 1 laps
17 S. Yamamoto Spyker F1 + 1 laps
Did not finish
18 J. Button Honda + 8 laps
19 A. Wurz Williams + 10 laps
20 D. Coulthard Red Bull + 15 laps
21 S. Vettel Scuderia Toro Rosso + 36 laps
22 G. Fisichella Renault + 43 laps