Brazil Flashback 2007 - underdog Raikkonen snatches title 31 Oct 2008
Like this year, the 2007 title was decided at the season finale in Brazil. And as the paddock packed their suitcases for Sao Paulo, there were still three drivers who needed to leave room for the championship trophy. With 107 points Lewis Hamilton was the favourite, but McLaren team mate Fernando Alonso (103) and Ferraris Kimi Raikkonen (100) were poised to spring a surprise.
It would also be an important weekend for GP2 racer Kazuki Nakajima. The Japanese driver was to replace Williams Alexander Wurz, who had opted to take his planned F1 retirement early, and he hoped to showcase his worth for a permanent race drive with the British team.
Unexpectedly, Friday mornings first practice session was wet and it was Raikkonen and Ferrari team mate Felipe Massa who looked strongest, while McLaren opted to limit their running in the wet conditions.
On a drier track after lunch, Hamilton made more of a mark by setting the fastest time ahead of Alonso, Massa and Raikkonen. There was trouble on the horizon, however, with McLaren accidentally using more than the one permitted set of wet tyres. Honda and Super Aguri had made the same mistake and were also under investigation. Luckily for Hamiltons championship hopes, the stewards decided to penalise the teams rather than the drivers and fined each 15,000.
During final practice on Saturday morning, Massa was quickest, but Hamilton and Raikkonen were close behind, both within a tenth of the Brazilian. Red Bulls Mark Webber finished fourth and with another eight drivers joining him in the 1m 12s bracket the paddock was thus primed for a close-fought qualifying session.
They werent to be disappointed. Massas morning form continued and he clinched his sixth pole of the season after edging Hamilton at the end of a gripping Q3 shoot-out. Raikkonen would start the race from third, ahead of Alonso, Webber and the BMW Saubers of Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica. David Coulthard made it two Red Bulls in the top ten by taking ninth behind Toyotas Jarno Trulli, while Nico Rosberg finished 10th for Williams. And despite persistent retirement rumours, Rubens Barrichello looked pretty sprightly, finishing in P11 for Honda.
If Saturday had been gripping, Sundays race was sensational. Massa made a great start, holding Hamilton back and retaining the lead, but Raikkonen went one better, passing the British driver into the Senna S. With one place lost, a distracted Hamilton then saw his team mate fly by to grab third. Well and truly fazed, the young Briton then ran wide and was down to eighth by the end of the first lap. It was a disastrous start. But on Lap Eight worse was in store for Hamilton, when a temporary gearbox glitch slowed him for over 30 seconds and dropped him to 18th. With his title hopes hanging in the balance, he couldnt have fought back with more passion, but in the end the best he could manage was seventh.
With fate having abandoned Hamilton, it seemingly switched its affections to Raikkonen. After taking Hamilton at the start, the Finn ran solidly behind Massa for most of the race. But when the Brazilian pitted for the final time on Lap 50, Raikkonen was able to stay out three laps longer. It proved crucial and secured him the advantage he needed to seize the lead - and then a deserved victory - ahead of his team mate.
With Alonso unable to live with the Ferraris in third third, the title was thus decided. Rank outsider Raikkonen romped home to take his maiden title on 110 points to Alonso and Hamiltons 109. There was joy too for Rosberg, who won a fantastic late-race battle with Kubica and Heidfeld to take fourth and secure his best Formula One finish. With Hamilton seventh, the final point went to Trulli, ahead of Coulthard and Nakajima, the latter experiencing a mixed debut after managing to hit two of his pit crew at one of his stops.
The 2007 season should have been over. But a year that had been characterized by controversy, still had one more surprise in store. Both BMW Sauber and Williams were found to have run fuel below permitted temperatures. If disqualified, it could have handed the title back to Hamilton. But after several painful hours of deliberation, the stewards finally decided no action was necessary. Ferraris celebrations got underway.