Belgium Flashback 2007 - Raikkonen keeps title hopes alive 03 Sep 2008
After a years absence from the calendar to allow for an extensive renovation, all eyes should have been directed towards Spa-Francorchamps in the build-up to the 2007 Belgian Grand Prix. But in the days leading up to the seasons final European round, the majority of the field were looking in an altogether different direction - towards Paris.
It was in the French capital that the World Motor Sport Council was reconvening to discuss the McLaren-Ferrari espionage case and it was at that meeting that the championship could well be decided. Hours of discussion followed, but a guilty verdict was eventually decided upon and McLaren were given a record $100 million fine and lost all of their 2007 constructors points.
It was a bitter blow for the British team, who had arrived in Belgium on the back of a triumphant one-two at Ferraris home ground of Monza the week before. And although outwardly they remained confident about their on-track abilities, McLaren had clearly been rocked by the verdict.
On Friday, however, there was little to choose from between the two rival teams, with Ferraris Kimi Raikkonen fastest in morning practice and McLarens Fernando Alonso in the afternoon. Further down the order, Toyota were also looking strong, as did BMW Sauber and Red Bull, but Renault endured mixed fortunes, with Giancarlo Fisichella seventh and Heikki Kovalainen 10th after lunch.
Ferrari found themselves back on top during final practice on Saturday, with Raikkonen leading team mate Felipe Massa around the Belgian circuit ahead of the two McLarens of Alonso and Lewis Hamilton. The unluckiest man of the session, meanwhile, was easily Robert Kubica, who didnt record a time for BMW Sauber after engine issues. He also received a 10-place grid penalty as reward for a fresh V8.
During qualifying Ferraris advantage continued unabated, with Raikkonen pulling a last-gasp stellar lap out of the bag to steal pole from Massa and give the Italian team their first all-front-row start of the season. Hamilton continued to look off the pace, with Alonso able to take P3 from him despite a brief spin at Rivage. Kubica, who needed a good grid slot to compensate for his penalty, took an admirable fifth, while Nico Rosberg continued to fly for Williams to take P6, ahead of BMW Saubers Nick Heidfeld, Red Bulls Mark Webber, Toyotas Jarno Trulli and Renaults Kovalainen.
On Sunday, the Ferraris continued to reign supreme, with Raikkonen leading Massa home by 4.6s after a dominant turn behind the wheel of the F2008, which only saw him lose his advantage during pit stops. Despite a first-corner incident, which saw the Alonso push his team mate wide on the way up to Eau Rouge, both the Spaniard and Hamilton finished the race - in third and fourth respectively.
Heidfeld ended the day in fifth, with Rosberg sixth for Williams, ahead of Mark Webbers quick Red Bull. But by far the mostly hotly-contested place in the points was for eighth. Kovalainen and a resurgent Kubica battled until the end but it was the Finn, who took home the final championship point. Although Toyota were celebrating 50 years in motorsport over the weekend there was disappointment for the Japanese team, with neither Ralf Schumacher (10th) nor Trulli (11th) able to sustain their qualifying form during the race. Vitantonio Liuzzi, meanwhile, impressed for Toro Rosso in 12th, as did Adrian Sutil in 14th for Spyker.
As the teams packed up on Sunday evening and looked ahead to the forthcoming Japanese Grand Prix, those still contesting the drivers championship reflected on the standings. For Hamilton (97), the Belgian race had arguably been the turning point of his season, with all three pretenders closing in on his lead, Alonso on 95, Raikkonen on 84 and Massa on 77. For Raikkonen, it was arguably the race that brought him the title.