Hamilton is moral victor in Spa thriller

2008 Belgian Grand Prix review

Lewis Hamilton celebrates his Spa win before the stewards took it from him

Lewis Hamilton celebrates his Spa win before the stewards took it from him

Lewis Hamilton won a thrilling Belgian Grand Prix – but the stewards’ decision to strip him of his hard-earned victory soured what would otherwise have been remembered as a magnificent race.

Kimi Raikkonen was poised to score a fourth consecutive win at Spa but Hamilton capitalised on a late rain shower to attack the Ferrari driver.

After a thrilling wheel-to-wheel duel Hamilton took the win as Raikkonen crashed. But after the race the stewards relegated Hamilton to third and handed victory to Felipe Massa.

Kimi Raikkonen takes the lead

The Belgian Grand Prix began and ended on a wet track but it was dry for the most part in between.

Lewis Hamilton got a perfect start from his 11th career pole position and scorched away from the chasing Ferraris.

Kimi Raikkonen took up second place by slipstreaming past team mate Felipe Massa at Kemmel but further back chaos broke out.

Jarno Trulli had made a sublime start, diving past a string of cars. But Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Bourdais braked too late at the first corner and brunched his nose into the back of Trulli’s Toyota.

Also in trouble was Heikki Kovalainen who bogged down terribly when the lights changed and tumbled down the order from third to 13th.

It got worse for Hamilton at the start of the second lap when Hamilton had a half-spin at the La Source hairpin. If he hadn’t pulled out such a large lead on the first tour he’d have fallen a long way back, but as it was he was able to rejoin in second behind Raikkonen.

Massa was third ahead of Fernando Alonso, who passed Mark Webber at Kemmel on the first lap. Trulli ran sixth before spinning at the chicane. Nelson Piquet Jnr took his place but slipped down the order after briefly taking Trulli’s place.

Heikki Kovalainen’s race gets worse

Kovalainen began to climb back through the field, taking Timo Glock, Nick Heidfeld, and then Piquet. Kubica surrendered seventh on lap eight but on the following lap a mis-timed move on Webber at the chicane tipped the Red Bull driver into a spin. Within a few minutes the stewards announced Kovalainen would get a drive-through penalty for causing an avoidable accident.

At the front Hamilton kept within range of Raikkonen. The McLaren was much faster than the Ferrari in sectors one and three, but lost over half a second per lap in sector two. The gap stayed at around a second as Massa fell to 5.6s adrift by lap nine.

Hamilton was first to pit on lap 11 and it worked perfectly for Ferrari as he came out of the pits behind Kovalainen. For some reason McLaren were not of a mind to get Kovalainen out of the way by bringing him in for his penalty, or a pit stop.

Raikkonen pitted on the following lap and came out with Sebastien Bourdais, Kubica and Kovalainen between himself and Hamilton. Once they had pitted, Raikkonen’s lead had grown to 5.6s, and Massa had reduced Hamilton’s advantage to 4.4s.

Kovalainen’s pit stop and penalty left him 15th, and he spent six laps stuck behind David Coulthard. He eventually cleared the Red Bull and on lap 28 put a (clean) pass on Webber for ninth.

Lewis Hamilton catches Raikkonen

At the front the status quo seemed settled. Hamilton could only take a tenth out of Raikkonen’s lead occasionally. The the final set of pit stops changed the picture.

First, Hamilton had a shorter stop and gained two seconds on Raikkonen. Then, with both cars on the harder compound tyre, Hamilton reduced Raikkonen’s lead initially, the McLaren seeming to heat the tyres up more quickly. By lap 28 Raikkonen’s lead was down to 2.4s, but by then the Ferrari was up to speed and the gap stabilised once again.

Alonso had taken fourth ahead of the Toro Rosso duo. Heidfeld was seventh after a poor pit stop for team mate Kubica. But a final belt of rain was about to change everything.

As the rain began to fall lightly from lap 39 so Hamilton began to reduce Raikkonen’s lead further. By lap 40 it was under a second, but Hamilton had a brief moment of oversteer at the chicane and lost over a second.

Fight to the finish

As lap 42 began Hamilton cut 1.4s out of Raikkonen’s lead again and they charged into the chicane side-by-side, Hamilton on the outside. Raikkonen, with Hamilton fully alongside him, pushed the McLaren clean off the track, putting Hamilton in the lead. Hamilton dropped back and let Raikkonen re-pass him, as per the rules, but caught Raikkonen’s slipstream and passed him again at La Source.

It still wasn’t over. Halfway around lap 43 Hamilton had to dive off the track to avoid Nico Rosberg’s Williams, which was re-joining the circuit. Raikkonen charged between the pair of them and took the lead again – but only for a few metres, as he spun at the exit of Fagnes.

Raikkonen then lost it again at the exit of Blanchimont and swiped into the barriers. Race over, fourth consecutive win at Spa gone.

By now it was raining heavily but neither Hamilton nor Massa wanted to risk losing the lead by pitting for wet weather tyres. They crawled around the final tour, taking over two and a half minutes each.

Video of Hamilton and Raikkonen’s battle

Drama in the rain

Meanwhile seven drivers had switched to wet weather rubber. Nick Heidfeld, Timo Glock, Nico Rosberg, David Coulthard, Kazuki Nakajima and Jenson Button on lap 42, and Fernando Alonso on lap 43.

Heidfeld and Alonso cut through the dry-weather stragglers on the final lap to finish third and fourth, demoting Vettel (fifth), Kubica (sixth) and Bourdais (seventh). The latter had begun the final lap in third place. Alonso later said if he’d been switched to intermediate tyres one lap earlier he’d have won.

Glock took the final points-paying place but only until the stewards got their hands on him. He was relegated from eighth to ninth for having passed Webber under yellow flags. Appropriately, Webber was promoted to eighth in his place.

The other drama on the final lap was the sudden disappearance of Kovalainen, who came to a halt on the Kemmel straight having been seventh.

Video of the last laps at Spa

More about Timo Glock’s penalty

Controversy after the flag

Sadly the drama was not to end at the chequered flag. The stewards determined after the race that Hamilton had gained an advantage by cutting the chicane while racing Raikkonen, and added 25 seconds to his race time, leaving him third behind Massa and Heidfeld.

Glock received the same penalty for passing Webber under yellow flags and was dropped from eighth to ninth behind the Red Bull driver.

The stationary Kovalainen was classified tenth ahead of Coulthard, Rosberg and Adrian Sutil, who moved ahead of Nakajima and Button when the rain fell, Trulli was 16th ahead of compatriot Fisichella, and the crashed-but-classified Raikkonen.

The only non-finishers were Rubens Barrichello, who load sixth gear, and Nelson Piquet Jnr. Piquet repeated the mistake he made in practice of touching a wet kerb, and spun off.

More about Lewis Hamilton’s penalty

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90 comments on Hamilton is moral victor in Spa thriller

  1. Shashi said on 8th September 2008, 2:19

    In case it helps you see the other side, BBC’s F1 podcast (with Maurice Hamilton) said that the ‘entire paddock was united in the view that Hamilton was totally innocent’. You can download the podcast from iTunes. I don’t think Maurice lies or says things without making sure of the facts so this is pretty much a black day in F1 for me.

  2. Shashi said on 8th September 2008, 2:19

    p.s. I was talking to those who think Lewis’ penalty is justified.

  3. when Lewis spun on the 2nd lap, Kimi went around the outside to AVOID hamilton. Are you people blind?

  4. that was for berni.

  5. Thomas: I thought that that “pass” was suspect from the first second. Now I know that it WAS suspect, or maybe it IS completely legal. It has to be one or the other. Right? What are other notorious Chicanes? Montreal (my home town) has one, Monza has two (see below, France has one. It would be fun to find other instances of cutting.

    IIRC at Magny Cours, they had a rule that the driver could not put 4 wheels on the other side od the line/grass-creete, on the exit of the last chicane.

    Ben: In somewhat of an ironic twist we are heading to a track with 2 notoriously cut chicanes! This could be interesting.

    Robert: you can’t spell Ferrari without F I A … FerrArI.

    Bernification: In wet conditions, running off the traditional line often offers more grip, due to less oil, rain-slick rubber, etc. You are right about Schumacher though!

  6. teamorders said on 8th September 2008, 2:28

    A simple clarrification of the rules to state that if a driver cuts a corner, they cannot pass for 2 corners. Clearly if you cut a corner you are at an advantage for the next corner (due to not suffering from aero turbulence and being able to be on the gearbox of the other driver much sooner than if accelerating out of the corner whilst behind the driver), but not for the one after that.

  7. Shashi said on 8th September 2008, 2:40

    Keith, Thank you for this wonderful blog. I don’t know how you are able to maintain your composure because I spent most of the day trying to keep my emotions in check thanks to the gross injustice that was done today. Knowing that so many people including yourself are united against what is clearly unnecessary interference by faceless entities that contribute little to the sport, I actually feel better about the future of F1.

    I almost decided to give up this sport but after reading through the comments, I have to say to (especially macca) fans: Don’t give up yet. Lewis will fight back and we’ll be right here to root for him.

  8. AmericanTifosi said on 8th September 2008, 2:45

    No! No! No! Massa went off track, yes. But going off track is different than cutting a chicane because cutting a chicane gives you clear advantage (chicanes are in place to slow cars down). Going off-track at a straight part of the track like Massa did gives you a clear DISadvantage. Lewis fully deserves his penalty. The two situations are completly different.

  9. AmericanTifosi said on 8th September 2008, 2:47

    Also, Hamilton is not the “moral” victor. Kimi was the real driver of the race, full stop.

  10. Michael B. said on 8th September 2008, 2:55

    the sad point is that every time there is a hard decision to take the benefit is for ferrari.

  11. AmericanTifosi, running wide on, like Massa did is an advantage, it increases the radius, allowing a higher speed. Even though it increases the overall distance, the better acceleration more than makes up for it. Especially considering Kubica was on wet painted kerbs and grass-crete, though it’s not Massa’s fault that Kubica was there.

    Further, the run-off area offers more grip, due to the more abrasive asphalt and due to the lack of oil, marbles, slick rubbered-in asphalt.

  12. ******** to F1! Should be called F(errari)IA

    Lewis should’ve won! Down with Raikonnen!!!

  13. I believe that Hamilton deliberately avoided the chicane to be closer to Hamilton on the straight. He took advantage of this illegal maneuver to not lost contact with Kimi.

  14. The argument for Ferrari about advantage gained makes selective use of the facts. In the plainest terms, for car 22 to go into the corner besides or slightly ahead car 1, and then come out directly behind car 1, after being pushed off the track, is no advantage–it was the worst possible outcome for Hamilton, not the best.

    As far as the slipstream-advantage, car 1 was passed under braking, after passing car 22 under full-throttle acceleration—Raikkonen did not have on a Hanford device. And as the fact of Hamilton running down Raikkonen like he was chained to post showed, Hamilton could have passed it at La Source on a bicycle. You can’t extract that factor and declare that the only reason Hamilton got past at La Source was by virtue of slipstream.

    The rule about cutting the chicane is simple. The stewards decided it the FIA rules are a living document that needs to adapt to any circumstance where Ferrari loses.

  15. Polak said on 8th September 2008, 3:19

    When I first watched the race I thought the fight between Kimi and Lewis was amazing. Both drivers were pushing the limits and just all out racing. It was Great!! At first I didn’t notice anything wrong with Lewis’s cut corner. He let Kimi by and then got the pass. After I found out that Lewis got the penalty I watched the you tube vid over and over. It really does look like Lewis was too hot headed and should have waited before taking the pass. He was so close to Kimi that it seemed that Kimi was trying to avoid contact on the straight where Lewis made the move.

    I still think FIA should have let this go since it was a great battle in racing, but if you want to be technical I guess the penalty is justified. If they let it go Ferrari probably wouldn’t have pursued it. Its sad that such a great race ended like it did.

    On another note, its a shame that Kubica’s pit crew made the fueling error. He had a good chance at podium!

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