McLaren take another thin slice out of Renault's lead
Kimi Raikkonen keeps his championship hopes alive at Spa, beating Fernando Alonso into second place in an incident-filled race dominated by tyre choice - despite rain not falling all afternoon.
However, it was not all good news for McLaren. One day they will take their first 1-2 since 2000, but the way things are going it might not happen in 2005.
On Sunday afternoon Raikkonen and long-time race leader Juan Pablo Montoya were headed for a comfortable double-top victory over Alonsos Renault. The Colombian had led the first 32 of the 44 laps, and only surrendered to the Finn on lap 33, but on lap 41 Montoya fell foul of a lapped Antonio Pizzonia at Pouhon and found himself crashing into the tyre wall.
I thought that Montoya was leaving the door open for me to unlap myself, Pizzonia said, having just pitted for dry weather tyres. He was not.
Raikkonen went on to win as he pleased, with Alonso nearly 29 seconds adrift. The Spaniard thus did not do enough to become the youngest world champion in history, but neither did his lead suffer much. He is still 25 points ahead with only three races left. What really hurt McLaren was that had Montoya finished Renault would have scored two fewer points, bringing their score back to 150, and McLaren would have scored eight more, which would have put them on 154 and given them the lead in the constructors stakes. Small wonder it was another bittersweet result for them. As it is, Renault have 152 points and McLaren 146.
Into third place after a great overtaking move on Jacques Villeneuve round the outside at Pouhon on the 25th lap came Jenson Button. At one stage it seemed that the Englishman was doomed to a poor race but it turned out to be one of his better performances for BAR.
The race started on a wet track, with Montoya leading Raikkonen, Jarno Trulli, Alonso and Michael Schumacher. Further back Giancarlo Fisichella was clawing back from his grid place penalty and had risen to eighth place when he crashed at the top of Eau Rouge on lap 11.
That brought out the safety car that lap and triggered mass pit stops. As Montoya dived in, McLaren cleverly radioed Raikkonen to slow right down in order to delay everyone else and give them time to service the Colombian. By the time Raikkonen arrived in the pits, Montoya had long gone. The Finn led in Trulli, Alonso, Schumacher Snr, Takuma Sato, Button, Felipe Massa, David Coulthard, Mark Webber, Christian Klien, Pizzonia, Rubens Barrichello and Narain Karthikeyan. Ralf Schumacher had already stopped, the previous lap, and Villeneuve stayed out since he was on a big fuel load. Schumacher Snr, Sato, Button, Coulthard, Webber and Pizzonia had all opted for dry tyres, but this was a day on which the track steadfastly refused to dry out. A lap later they were all back in again to go back to the intermediates on which everyone had started. They didnt lose as much time as they might have, however, as the safety car did not come in again until the end of lap 13.
By the time they were all racing again Montoya had an easy lead over Ralf, followed by Raikkonen, Villeneuve, Alonso, Massa, Barrichello, Tiago Monteiro, Webber, Button and Coulthard.
Schumacher Jnr closed rapidly on Montoya before pitting again on the 24th lap. This time he tried dry tyres, and was rewarded with a spin that obliged him to make his third pit call a lap later to go back to intermediates.
Meanwhile, Montoya and Raikkonen were sailing away from Alonso, with Massa holding off Barrichello, Webber, Villeneuve and Button. Bit by bit Raikkonen hauled in his team mate, though no team orders were actually invoked. The next batch of scheduled stops was triggered by Massa on lap 29, and by mutual agreement he too tried the grooves route, only to come unstuck as had all before him. Thus disappeared Saubers strong chance of the final podium position.
Montoya stopped on lap 33, and by the time Raikkonen did likewise two laps later the Finn had opened up enough of an advantage to retain the lead. Job done. Further back Alonso was a comfortable third, unchallenged by anyone, but now Barrichello was fourth ahead of Button, who had aggressively dealt with Villeneuve with that great move at Pouhon. He passed the Brazilian on the entry to the Bus Stop chicane on the 38th lap to cement his podium finish. After Barrichello stopped again on lap 40 Webber, who had stopped for fuel on lap 32 and then come in again on lap 38 to switch to dries, became the first man to make them work as the track finally began to dry. He quickly slashed through to grab fourth place, leaving Barrichello to take fifth ahead of Villeneuve, who distinguished himself in a strong one-stop run by making a brilliant save after his Sauber went completely sideways in Eau Rouge on the 29th lap while he was under pressure from Karthikeyan. The two went on to bang wheels at Les Combes, but once his fuel load diminished Villeneuve was able to make up places again. He was almost caught by the recovering Schumacher Jnr on the last lap after having to lap a Minardi, but hung on by a tenth of a second. Behind the Toyota, which set the fastest lap after Ralf stopped yet again for dries on lap 40, Monteiro capped a superb afternoons driving with a point for Jordan for a thoroughly deserved eighth place.
Christian Klien was an undistinguished ninth after a scrap with Massa, who found his Sauber all but undriveable initially on its dry Michelins, then came Karthikeyan, Christijan Albers who struggled without second gear for much of the race, and Robert Doornbos.
The Montoya-Pizzonia incident occurred on the 41st lap, 27 after Sato had misjudged his braking for La Source and punted world champion Michael Schumacher into premature retirement immediately after the safety car came in.
The other man who failed to finish was Trulli, who dropped his Toyota at Les Combes on the 35th lap.
Overall it was one of those dramatic races that wet circuits often promote. Both McLaren and Renault had reason to celebrate, but equally each had reason for regret, too. The Brazilians, however, were happy. Their race in two weeks time will still play a key role in determining the outcome of both championship titles.