Kimi Raikkonen took his sixth win of 2005, but Fernando Alonso was right there once again, notching up fifth second-place of the year and needing only six more points to become the youngest ever World Driver’s Champion.
The Belgian Grand Prix offered McLaren every opportunity to bring Raikkonen home in first place with a good few cars between him and Alonso to close up the championship. The MP4-20 excelled at the fast circuit, and race day rain gave the rest of the field the opportunity to overhaul the Renaults.
But it just didn’t happen. The Toyotas, BARs and Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari all could have beaten Alonso home, but they all blundered and faltered. And as a further blow, McLaren’s hope of their first 1-2 finish since Austria 2000 was thwarted when Antonio Pizzonia bundled Juan Pablo Montoya out of the race with four laps remaining.
McLaren annexed the front row, with Montoya edging out Raikkonen by less than 0.05s for pole. Jarno Trulli sat in third in a Toyota tuned in anticipation of wet weather during the race, while Alonso’s dry-spec Renault was fourth.
Trulli briefly headed Raikkonen on lap one but a surge of Mercedes power helped the Finn back into second behind his fast-starting team mate. Michael Schumacher initially looked racy on the wet track, picking off his brother into Les Combes with typical ease. But from there on he sat in fifth, unable to pass Alonso, even though the Spaniard was struggling for pace.
As early as lap eight drivers were weaving across the track to run their intermediate-treaded tyres through more water to cool them. Giancarlo Fisichella, who started 13th after an engine change in practice, past David Coulthard for tenth on lap six and a struggling Jenson Button four laps later.
Just as the Renault driver became free of the traffic and began to lap more quickly he asked too much of his car at the fearsome Eau Rouge and slammed into the barriers at Radillion. The safety car was scrambled immediately and everyone headed for the pits, barring Ralf Schumacher, who had already pitted on the previous lap, Jacques Villeneive and the two Minardis.
McLaren played a tactical masterstroke by haivng Raikkonen delay the field while Montoya had his pit stop, giving them time to service both cars. Montoya resumed the lead from Ralf Schumacher, Villeneuve and Raikkonen now fourth.
Jarno Trulli, Michael Schumacher and the Williams and BAR drivers all took the opportunity to try out dry tyres but immediately concluded the conditions were too wet and brought their drivers back in on the next lap. This had disastrous consequence for Schumacher at the restart, as Takuma Sato battered into him at La Source, puttint both out on the spot. Schumacher had strong words for Sato straight away, and after the race the stewards slapped him with a ten-place grid penalty for the Brazilian Grand Prix.
Raikkonen dealt with Villeneuve quickly but Alonso got bottled up behind the Sauber. Raikkonen soon found he could not keep pace with the leaders and Ralf Schumacher began closing in on Montoya but sat on the McLaren’s tail, not risking a pass, for eight laps before pitting for dry tyres on lap 25. It was still to soon for bare grooves, though, as he proved with a spin at Les Combes. Villeneuve having pitted on lap 20, now the McLarens were one and two.
Next to gamble on dry tyres was Felipe Massa on lap 29. Massa had risen to fourth but the gamble failed to pay off – he quickly slipped down the running order and came back in for more intermediates on the next lap.
This made Renault’s decision of what to do with Alonso’s car when he came in on lap 32 a no-brainer – he went out on more intermediates, as did McLaren with Montoya on lap 33 and Raikkonen on lap 35, having chopped 2s off the fastest lap time up to that point with a 1:53.8. This gave McLaren the opportunity to switch the running order of their lead drivers.
Trulli’s race came to an end on lap 36 after an altercation with Tiago Monteiro. Two laps later Mark Webber made a perfectly-timed stop for dry tyres and soon began completing sectors whole seconds faster than he had before. Team mate Antonio Pizzonia, in for Nick Heidfeld again, did likewise on the next lap.
While Webber moved ahead of Rubens Barrichello who also dashed to the pits for dries, Pizzonia caught Montoya on the approach to Fagnes. He aimed for the inside of the McLaren before Montoya had even seen him, and punted the Colombian out of second place. Another precious two points gifted to Alonso. McLaren boss Ron Dennis was incandescent, and reportedly missed the podium ceremony while he was remonstrating in the Williams pit. Pizzonia’s punishment was a USD $8,000 fine.
In the closing laps Button reeled in Alonso having made a smart call to keep the same set of intermediate tyres during his second stop, reasoning that as they deteriorated they would become better suited to the drying track. He put an exceptional pass on Villeneuve around the outside of Pouhon on lap 24, and took Barrichello for what was then fourth at the bus stop on lap 38.
Of course, this became third by the flag and once again Raikkonen was very obviously disappointed by the news of what had become of his team-mate, just as in Turkey. His chances are becoming exponentially slimmer by the race, and one more podium for Alonso will be enough to seal the deal.