Raikkonen and Fisichella dominate intriguing Belgian Grand Prix


In light of yesterday's almost unbelievable qualifying session and a grid that looks as though the order was decided by lottery, we are tempted to put a few quid on Luca Badoer winning the race from Kazuki Nakajima and Nigel Mansell being brought in to drive the second Ferrari at Monza. After all, did he ever actually retire from F1.

Other than the shock - for want of a better word - of seeing Fisichella on pole, with the BMWs and Toyotas in close proximity, it is the sight of Button, Hamilton, Kovalainen and Alonso so far back that has really thrown today's race on its head. And let's not forget that the Red Bulls are starting eighth and ninth.

On the face of it, if one really had to pick a winner, one would either have to say Valencia winner Rubens Barrichello or perhaps Kimi Raikkonen. However, this is Spa, and over the years we've seen some very odd results here, so why not Fisichella or Heidfeld, and maybe Trulli could finally give Toyota that elusive maiden win.

Being extremely tough on engines, Vettel and Webber are, to a certain extent, going to be racing with one hand tied behind their backs today, with the Australian having to change his powerplant yesterday morning.

On the other hand, despite the assurances, the tyre problem which so affected Brawn prior to Valencia appears to have returned, leaving Button, in particular, really struggling.

In terms of fuel, Barrichello is even lighter than Fisichella, so that gives some idea of the problem Brawn is facing, while Trulli is the heaviest of the Top 6.

On paper almost anything could happen this afternoon, and knowing this place it probably will.

In terms of the weather, one of the great unknowns at Spa, the sun is shining, much as it was this morning for the GP2 race, with no rain forecast. However, from experience we know that things can change very quickly here. Furthermore, to add to the fun, when the weather does change, it can often result in part of the track basking in sunshine while rain is falling on the other side of the circuit.

Half-an-hour before the start of the race, there's more bad news for Badoer. Ferrari have opted to change the gearbox in his car, consequently he drops five places on the grid. "Seriously!! He will start in Stavelot," texts Bob Constanduros mischievously.

While predicting the race result is an unknown we don't event want to go into, it could have a major outcome in terms of the World Championship and even the future of the Toyota F1 team.

With Toyota waiting to see if its 2010 budget will be signed off, thereby giving the Cologne based outfit to continue, a good result for Barrichello could see the Brazilian take a further chunk out of teammate Button's championship lead. Then again, Red Bull needs to make up for the misery of Valencia.

Fifteen minutes before the start of the race the sun is shining but there is a lot of thick white cloud in the distance over the Ardennes.

Kimi Raikkonen is the driver nearest to the front with KERS, however, with the short run up to La Source he probably won't get to use it until the run down the hill towards Eau Rouge, that's assuming there is no silliness at the start.

As the field prepares to head off on the warm-up lap, the air temperature is 16 degrees C, while the track temperature is 32 degrees.

Fisichella on softs as are Kubica, Barrichello and Raikkonen, while Trulli and Heidfeld are on hards. The harder (medium) option is thought to be the better tyre this weekend, with the soft tyre only really good for one or two fast laps.

Barrichello appears to stall on the grid, but Raikkonen gets around him. However, the Finn goes wide at La Source. Further back there's a bit of argy-bargy.

There's a further incident at Les Combes as Raikkonen passes Kubica going up the hill but goes too deep into Les Combes. Behind them, Button spins and clout Grosjean, with Hamilton and Alguersuari also involved. All four are out on the spot as the Safety Car is deployed.

Behind the Safety Car at the end of lap 1, it's Fisichella, Raikkonen, Kubica, Glock, Webber and Heidfeld, as Trulli, Barrichello and Sutil all pit. The Brazilian switches to the harder (medium) tyre.

Replay shows Hamilton being clouted by a Williams at La Source, before another terminal incident at Les Combes.

After 3 laps, the Safety Car is still on track, as Badoer posts fastest lap!

With the Safety Car due to pull off at the end of lap 4, Barrichello is told to be "very aggressive" and that he must get past Badoer.

At the re-start Raikkonen looks at Fisichella on the approach to La Source, finally nailing the Force India on the run up to Les Combes. All through safely this time. Vettel passes Rosberg, the Red Bull driver having previously complained that the Williams had passed him behind the Safety Car. At the end of the lap Barrichello passes Badoer to take thirteenth.

At the end of lap 5, Raikkonen leads Fisichella by just 0.9s, with Kubica third ahead of Glock, Webber, Heidfeld, Vettel, Rosberg, Alonso and Kovalainen.

Barrichello makes short work of Nakajima on the run up the hill to Les Combes, setting off after Buemi who is 0.6s down on Kovalainen.

Sutil makes full use of the run off as he passes Badoer, as Trulli drops to last position. "Attack Badoer," the Italian is told. "You're joking," he replies, "he is much, much quicker," referring to the Ferrari's KERS.

Sutil sails past Nakajima, as his force India teammate continues to hold station behind Raikkonen. Very impressive performance from the Silverstone based team.

Raikkonen posts a string of fastest laps, the Finn looking to have everything under control at this stage. That said, Vettel goes quickest in the middle sector as he closes to within 2.6 of Heidfeld. The BMW driver responds by going quickest in the final sector.

"Fuel correction is as good as the leaders," Kovalainen is told, "if you keep it up you're good for a top six finish". Elsewhere, Kubica and Glock both pit, the first drivers to make regular stops.

Webber now 8.7s down on Raikkonen, goes quickest in the middle sector, as Fisichella, against all odds, remains just 1.9s behind the race leader.

On lap 13, Heidfeld crosses the line at 47.738 to post a new fastest lap. Replay shows a problem with the fuel rig during Glock's stop, the team having to change fuel rigs. Further bad luck for the Japanese team.

At the end of lap 14, Raikkonen, Fisichella, Webber and Heidfeld all pit. However, the Australian appears to impede the BMEW as he leaves his grid slot.

Going up the hill to Les Combes, Heidfeld passes Webber, however, was it a genuine overtaking manoeuvre or did the Red Bull driver yield position due to the incident in the pits.

Race Stewards announce that the pit incident is under investigation as Vettel leads Rosberg, though both still have to stop.

Webber is handed a drive through for unsafe release, which normally would end a driver's hopes, however, let's not forget what happened in Germany.

Vettel pits at the end of lap 16 handing the lead to Rosberg. However, the real race leader is Raikkonen - now second on the road - who is ahead of Fisichella, Alonso, Kubica, Kovalainen and Buemi.

As Heidfeld harries Vettel, Webber, now running eleventh, has yet to serve his drive-through.

At the end of lap 18 Rosberg pits, as Race Stewards announce that Button, Hamilton, Grosjean and Alguersuari are all under investigation. Webber serves his drive-through, re-joining in thirteenth.

Sutil passes Rosberg as though the Williams is standing still, the pace of the Force India is remarkable.

On lap 21, Badoer goes quickest in the first sector, as Trulli makes his second stop of the afternoon. Up front, Fisichella continues to shadow Raikkonen, the pair covered by just one second.

Buemi pits at the end of lap21, which is good news for Vettel who is now 12.9s behind the race leader. Replay shows more fuel rig problems for Toyota, this time its Trulli who suffers.

As Trulli is pushed into his garage, his race over, Raikkonen is told that he needs one-tenth a lap.

At half-distance, it's: Raikkonen, Fisichella, Alonso, Kubica, Kovalainen, Vettel, Heidfeld, Barrichello, Sutil and Rosberg. Though Alonso and Kovalainen have yet to pit.

While told to up his pace, Raikkonen falls back to within 0.7s of Fisichella who also gets a hurry up call.

Alonso is told that his team will be fitting softs when he pits as he needs to be very quick in the opening laps of his second stint. However, when he does stop there's a problem fitting the left-front essentially ruining the Spaniard's race. Badoer also pitted.

Replay shows that Alonso did a little damage to the same wheel at La Source on the first lap.

Alonso is told that there is a problem with the left front and that he must return to the pits immediately and retire. The French team clearly mindful of what happened in Hungary.

At the end of lap 26, Kovalainen and Sutil both pit, the Finn rejoins just behind Webber but in front of Buemi who immediately launches an attack. Everyone bar Nakajima has pitted.

Barrichello makes his second stop at the end of lap 27, the Brazilian rejoining in twelfth just ahead of Nakajima.

After 28 laps, Fisichella is just 1s behind Raikkonen with Kubica a further 5.6s down the road. Vettel remains fourth, 4.3s behind Kubica, ahead of Heidfeld, Rosberg, Glock and Webber. Nakajima finally pits.

Kubica makes his second stop at the end of lap 30, re-joining in fifth. Buemi, currently eleventh, also pitted.

Next time around both Raikkonen and Fisichella pit, both are stationery for 7.1s, rejoining in third and fourth. Vettel leads from Heidfeld, the two Germans covered by 2.7s

Heidfeld pits at the end of lap 32 as does Glock, Toyota hoping for a trouble-free stop this time around.

"We're in trouble through Eau Rouge," Webber is told, "try and stay away from the kerb".

Barrichello is all over the back of Kovalainen, the two battling for ninth. Elsewhere, Rosberg pits from seventh as Fisichella is lapping 0.3s quicker than Raikkonen.

As Heidfeld posts a new fastest lap (47.541), Webber pits from sixth position, promoting Kovalainen and Barrichello into the points.

Vettel makes his second stop at the end of lap 35, the Red Bull driver re-joining in third, which is very, very good news for his title hopes. However, he is now on the soft tyre and Heidfeld is the quickest man on track.

With 8 laps remaining, it's: Raikkonen, Fisichella, Vettel, Kubica, Heidfeld, Kovalainen, Barrichello, Rosberg, Webber and Glock. Vettel crosses the line at 47.331 to post a new fastest lap.

Sutil and Glock come might close to one another on the approach to Les Combes as they battle for tenth.

Webber closes to within 0.8s of Rosberg as the duo battle for the sole remaining point. Barrichello is applying similar pressure to Kovalainen.

As Barrichello hounds Kovalainen there are ominous puffs of smoke coming from the back of the Brawn. "Engine, engine, be careful," the Brazilian is told, "you have six second over Rosberg, back off!". However, by now, the Brazilian has only 2.3s over the chasing Williams and Webber who is running behind the German.

"Everything looks normal on the telemetry," the Brawn crew advises Barrichello, "it's probably just an oil leak."

Out front, Raikkonen cruises (almost) towards victory, with Fisichella just 0.9s behind.

The Finn crosses the line to take his and the team's first win of the season, while Vettel takes third, ahead of Kubica, Heidfeld, Kovalainen, Barrichello, Rosberg, Webber and Glock.

As Raikkonen, Fisichella and Vettel head for Parc Ferme, Barrichello drives down the pitlane, the smoke from the back of his car now replaced by flames. Nonetheless, the Brawn driver finishes seventh taking two well deserved points.

A fine win for the prancing horse, however, nothing should take away from what Giancarlo Fisichella and force India have achieved here today. At a time when many thought the Italian's career was at an end, one has to wonder whether he might enjoy a Riccardo Patrese style Indian summer, no pun intended.

In reality it was a fairly processional race, the aerodynamic rules continuing to thwart any attempt at real overtaking. That said, after the madness of qualifying isn't it fantastic to have an equally puzzling race result, what with BMW getting two cars into the Top 5.

It's been a long time since Fisichella attended the podium ceremony, therefore it comes as no surprise that he is a little unsure what to do and needs to be guided through the process.

On the podium, Raikkonen looks genuinely delighted and so he should. In spite of talk of him quitting F1 and heading to the WRC the Finn insists that he intends to stay in F1, with talk of a return to McLaren or even a move to Brawn making the headlines in recent days.

It remains to be seen whether there will be further recriminations for Button and Hamilton, however, this result is the best possible for the championship leader, who, despite a poor weekend, lives to fight another day.

However, the analysis can wait for another day, for now, let's just relish the fact that Kimi and Ferrari are back, as is Fisichella. Congratulations to Force India, commiserations to Toyota and a special well done to BMW, let's hope that today's result causes someone to look at the German team in a new light and make a bid.

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    Published: 30/08/2009
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