Belgian GP: Raikkonen romps home

McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen took the win, but Ferrari's Michael Schumacher stole the Finn's limelight after clinching his seventh world championship amid chaos and drama in Sunday's action-packed Belgian Grand Prix. Rubens Barrichello staged a remarkable recovery to take third

Belgian GP: Raikkonen romps home

After the abject boredom of Hungary, Spa provided just the tonic F1 required. Run in perfect weather conditions, in stark contrast to the rain of qualifying, the Renaults of polesitter Jarno Trulli and Fernando Alonso leapt into the expected one-two at La Source, with McLaren's David Coulthard outbraking Schumacher to take third. Behind them, it was bedlam.

Mark Webber's Jaguar slammed into the rear of Barrichello as his attempt to pass Giancarlo Fisichella's Sauber went terribly wrong. "I made a good start and I thought I'd have a crack at Giancarlo," said Webber. "I thought it would work quite well, but I braked a little bit too late because it was quite dusty down there and I thought 'I'm going to have trouble stopping this'. If Rubens had taken his line I would have been fine, and I would have had enough room to miss him. But it was my mistake."

Despite losing his front wing, Webber continued at racing speed into Eau Rouge where he ran wide on the left hander and clipped Takuma Sato's BAR-Honda as he swerved back onto the track, breaking the Japanese driver's left-rear corner and sending him into a scary spin in front of the pack. In trying to avoid him, Minardi's Zsolt Baumgartner clattered into the back of team-mate Gianmaria Bruni, sending him into a spin. Just as the dust was settling he was collected by Giorgio Pantano's Jordan, which caused the rear of the Minardi to burst into flames. Cue the safety car.

Other collisions at the first corner saw Felipe Massa's Sauber hit Raikkonen under braking, which damaged the McLaren's floor slightly. Massa then ran over Webber's wing and was punted from behind by BAR's Jenson Button, damaging both cars. Barrichello (new rear wing), Button (new front wing) and Massa (rear suspension check) would all pit at the end of the lap.

At the restart, Trulli took up the lead from Alonso, Coulthard, Schumacher, Raikkonen (who thought about pitting but decided to press on) and Juan Pablo Montoya, whose Williams had hit Fisichella at La Source but was undamaged. Raikkonen knew he had to act quickly to take advantage of Schumacher's initial Bridgestone performance drop, and cut to the inside of the Ferrari on the exit of La Source to drag past him on the run to Eau Rouge.

Kimi then set his sights on team-mate Coulthard, as Montoya looked for a way past Schumacher. After being blocked at Les Combes, Montoya pulled off an audacious move around the outside of the first element of the recently reprofiled Bus Stop, dropping Schumacher to an unaccustomed fifth. Raikkonen, meanwhile, made light work of passing Coulthard for third and set his sights on the Renaults.

Trulli pitted from the lead on lap 10, with Alonso - who appeared to have the edge on him on pace anyway - taking up the lead. It didn't last long. The Spaniard's car sprung an oil leak under braking for Les Combes, sending him into a big spin. He continued only to spin again at Rivage, beaching his broken Renault.

Raikkonen pitted on lap 13, McLaren doing an excellent job as it had an emergency stop just seconds earlier for Coulthard, who had picked up a left-rear puncture and dropped out of third. Montoya took up the runinng until his stop on lap 15, with Schumacher and Antonio Pizzonia (Williams) leading on consecutive laps before their first stops.

After the cycle was complete, Raikkonen - who had flown in clear air after his first stop - emerged with a massive lead over Trulli, although Button was technically in second place but was out of sequence after topping off his fuel on his first lap stop. Trulli's pace in the final sector of the circuit was awful, however, and Schumacher - who had jumped ahead of Montoya after his first stop as the Colombian got stuck behind the out-of-synch Felipe Massa - breezed past Jarno on the exit of Blanchimont on lap 17.

Montoya tried to pass Trulli at Les Combes, but the Italian held him off. JPM then looked at Blanchimont, but ran wide on the exit. Despite this, he attempted a repeat of his earlier move at the Bus Stop, but this time only succeeded in punting his opponent up into the air. Although he tagged the wall as he was spun around, Trulli got back on track but had lost a host of time. The main beneficiary of this was Pizzonia, who rocketed past Montoya and was now up to fourth.

With Button pitting on lap 21, the order at half distance was Raikkonen, 13secs ahead of Schumacher, the Williams duo of Pizzonia and Montoya, the recovering Barrichello, Button and Fisichella, who had been off at Fagnes lost a couple of barge boards. He had been passed by Jenson at La Source on lap 22.

Just before the final round of stops, Schumacher lowered his laptimes to the 1m45s region, so Raikkonen pitted with a 12sec advantage on lap 29. But just as Kimi was leaving the pits, Button's right-rear tyre blew under braking for Les Combes as he was lapping Baumgartner. The BAR spun to right, clipping the Minardi and taking both out of the race.

"It could have been horrific if I'd hit his back tyre, we were very, very lucky," said Jenson. "I don't think I've ever been that lucky in an accident. There was not much [of a warning] there was a bump on the straight and after the bump I thought I might have had a failure and then it snapped and I couldn't do anything."

With tyre and carbonfibre debris all over the place, the safety car was required once more. Schumacher was just able to dive into the pits, which meant he would join the queue right behind Raikkonen with a straight duel to the flag. There was heartbreak for Pizzonia, however, as his hopes of maiden podium vanished when his transmission failed behind the safety car. "I came to Spa with a target to be on the podium," he said. "I think I proved today that was possible, unfortunately I lost all the gears on the car."

Kimi slowed his pursuers right down on the approach to Blanchimont to ensure a clean break at the restart. The plan worked well, but any help he expected from Montoya disappeared when he locked up at La Source and lost touch with Schumacher. Further back, Christian Klien (Jaguar) pulled a great move on Olivier Panis (Toyota) at La Source to grab eighth and latched onto the tail of Fisichella. The recovering Coulthard followed suit at Les Combes, and was in turn chasing Klien.

Meantime, Montoya's race was also finished as his right-rear tyre blew on the run to Les Combes with eight laps to go. Although he dragged the car back to pits, he didn't fancy rejoining the race. "What can you do?" he asked. "It's not the first time that it's happened. The tyre broke, I don't think it was a puncture, something major happened on the rear tyre and just broke the rear suspension."

Raikkonen opened a gap of 1.6secs to Schumacher, but Michael got the hammer down as his Bridgestones came in. He was carving into Kimi's lead when Coulthard got a great run through Eau Rouge on Klien but appeared to misjudge the overtaking move and clipped the rear of the Jaguar at the Kemmel kink at about 180mph. His front wing flew off and he speared onto the grass, kissing the barrier but managing to hold it in a straight line. Again, debris was strewn across the circuit, again the safety car was required.

With the after-effects of Coulthard's high-speed lawnmowing tidied up, there was a four-lap duel to the flag. Once more Raikkonen backed up the queue to walking pace at Blanchimont, but nailed the throttle much earlier this time, giving him a handy advantage over Schumacher. Barrichello was up to third, with Toyota's Ricardo Zonta (who started last!) now fourth. But there was to be no luck for Zonta either in Belgium, as his engine blew spectacularly.

That promoted another Brazilian, Massa, into fourth, despite the fact he made no less than four pitstops, with Fisichella just holding off the lively Klien (who scored his first-ever world championship points). Coulthard finished a brave seventh, shrugging off his earlier high-speed drama to pass Trulli and Panis to salvage a couple of points.

The shoot-out for victory was decided when Raikkonen banged in the fastest laps of the race in sensation style, blitzing Schumacher to win by a handy margin despite admitting afterwards that he had been struggling in the cockpit.

"Someone hit me [at the first corner] and the car felt a bit funny," said Raikkonen. "I thought something had broken on the rear but I kept going and there was only a little damage on the floor. I got past Michael at the restart and after that I had a problem with the downforce [balance] which was pushing forward. I wasn't slow at that point, but I was turning the switches all the time trying to get the car to the finish line. It was good enough to win."

Second was enough to wrap up a seventh title for Schumacher, but even that immense achievement was overshadowed by one hell of a motor race, as the German later admitted.

"It was a tough one and considering where I had dropped back to and where I've finished now I should be happy," he said. "We clinched the championship, we had a tough fight, Kimi drove a superb race and I think all of us can be happy to be here. I'm just so delighted and happy."

With the title decided (although effectively it had been for weeks) four races remain. Let's hope they're half as good as this one.

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