F1: Belgian Grand Prix live blog

By LJ Hutchins

CalendarSunday, September 7th, 2008

 
 

Last year’s Belgian Grand Prix was the low point of the season for McLaren fans.

Shortly before the race the World Motorsport Council found it culpable of spying on Ferrari, docked all its constructors’ points and fined it £50 million.

And tensions between its two drivers hit boiling point before their cars reached had even Eau Rouge for the first time.

Perhaps unsurprisingly the team’s performance at Spa-Francorchamps was decidedly subdued and its Italian rivals scored an untroubled one-two.

Things may be a little different this year. Lewis Hamilton has put his McLaren on pole, just pipping a brilliantly on-form Felipe Massa to the post. So watch out for fireworks at the notoriously crash-prone La Source first corner.

Heikki Kovalainen managed to open a fresh can of speed to take third, knocking his countryman and reigning King of Spa Kimi Raikkonen into fourth.

BMW pilot Nick Heidfeld, who could really do with demonstrating a bit of form right now, starts from fifth. And next to him is Fernando Alonso for Renault.

The weather forecast is best described as ‘interesting’. What worse combination for the team than heavy showers followed by a drying track?

Spa – the high point of the season. Stick with us, and make sure you don’t miss a moment.

Keep hitting refresh to get the latest, don’t forget you can comment on this post, and you can also email us with your thoughts on the race.

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In the press conference, Hamilton says: “I wanted the rain to come because I knew how to deal with it.

“Three or four laps to the end I thought ‘I can’t catch this guy, shall I pull back and save the engine?’ Then I thought, what if he makes a mistake? It’s never over until the fat lady sings.”

Of course, the fat lady hasn’t sung yet – the stewards are meeting even as we speak to write a tune for her.

Ron Dennis is looking haunted, but defiant, having checked with race director Charlie Whiting over the only dodgy moment – when Hamilton ran wide and took Raikkonen, then gave the place back, but immediately re-took it – and been assured that he was OK. But it’s not Whiting’s decision at the end of the day.

We’re wrapping up this live blog here – anything else will be in a new post. Possibly one headlined “IT’S A FIX.”

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Hello – the stewards are investigating Hamilton and Raikkonen. Get your spotters’ guide out – here comes the Ferrari International Assistance rapid response vehicle, pulling out of the garage.

Let us just pause to consider how trigger-happy they were at the GP2, and the chances of Hamilton still being the winner of this race in a few hours time start to look extremely dicey.

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Post-race: A choked-up Ron Dennis: “Never been as involved, it was fantastic – a brilliant job from Lewis.” Sounds like he may have been on the radio personally talking him round.

Martin Brundle: “When it came to it, Hamilton had the skill and Raikkonen dropped it.”

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Points:

  1. Lewis Hamilton, McLaren: 10
  2. Felipe Massa, Ferrari: 8
  3. Nick Heidfeld, BMW: 6
  4. Fernando Alonso, Renault: 5
  5. Sebastian Vettel, Toro Rosso: 4
  6. Robert Kubica, BMW: 3
  7. Sebastien Bourdais, Toro Rosso: 2
  8. Timo Glock, Toyota: 1

Drivers’ championship:

  1. Lewis Hamilton, McLaren: 80
  2. Felipe Massa, Ferrari: 72
  3. Robert Kubica, BMW Sauber: 58
  4. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari: 57
  5. Nick Heidfeld, BMW Sauber: 47
  6. Heikki Kovalainen, McLaren: 43

Constructors’ championship

  1. Ferrari: 129
  2. McLaren: 123
  3. BMW Sauber: 115
  4. Toyota: 42
  5. Renault: 36
  6. Red Bull: 24
  7. Williams: 17
  8. Toro Rosso: 17
  9. Honda: 14
  10. Force India: 0

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Podium: Hamilton bounces up to the podium estatically. Heidfeld also extremely happy, Massa a little more subdued – gawd knows why, this is a brilliant outcome for him. OK, we know he’s a team player. Ron Dennis collects the constructors’ trophy personally with a face-cracking grin.

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Lap 44: Hamilton off but somehow hangs on to it. The McLaren has a bit more grip in the wet – but can he get it home? Alonso and Bourdais as you were, Kovalainen now in the points thanks to Heidfeld pitting. It looks like Massa won’t be able to challenge. Alonso has dropped to eighth and Bourdais is on for a podium. Hamilton loses the car on the final corner but recovers it – and he wins. Massa second. Kovalainen is off – but did he finish or not? Bourdais loses his third place – Heidfeld, who pitted for tyres has converted it into a podium – brilliant call, Nick.

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Lap 43: And it explodes. The overtaking battle is intense – Hamilton takes Raikkonen but cuts a corner doing it and has to give the place back. But then he makes it stick and starts to pull away. Kimi’s wobbling all over the track and will be lucky to hold off Massa at this rate. Heidfeld has pitted for wets with two laps left. Hamilton and Raikkonen have both lost it trying to lap a Williams. Somehow Hamilton has held the lead and they haven’t lapped the Williams yet. Massa’s right on the back of them. Bloody hell – Raikkonen is out of the race altogether after hitting the wall, racing when he should have been nursing the car home. It’s now well and truly smashed up. Yellow flag. They are having to go at walking pace and Massa is nearly stationary. Hamilton has the most control of his car.

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Lap 42: Hamilton’s had a poor lap with a lock-up and Raikkonen’s lead is back to a second. Massa six seconds back from him. After that is Alonso, Bourdais, Vettel, Heidfeld, Kubica, Kovalainen, Glock, Webber, Rosberg, DC, Nakajima, Button, Sutil, Trulli, Fisi. It’s raining quite hard now and beginning to affect the cars’ handling now it’s too late for a tyre change.

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Lap 41: Gap between the leaders was less than a second last time round but Raikkonen seems to have equalised things a bit. Hamilton’s stuck in Raikkonen’s dirty air.

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Lap 40: Kovalainen has got a four-second-plus gap to Kubica, a point and a degree of redemption. Hamilton has just set the fastest first sector of the race as he looms on Raikkonen’s rear bumper. He is visibly closing. Overtaking starts to look possible for the first time – he’s got four laps to do it.

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Lap 39: Rain is predicted to be light, but no-one believes the Spa weather forecasts.

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Lap 38: Hamilton picked up half a second on the previous lap. Signs of umbrellas going up and waterproofs going on in the stands. Rain detectable in the pit lane and Christian Horner of Red Bull has reportedly sent his driver to the far reaches of the circuit on a moped armed with a mobile phone. It’s a glamorous life in high-end motorsport. Thing is, what have Red Bull got to gain? You could understand it from Toro Rosso or Renault…

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Lap 37: Come on Lewis, fantasy F1 players everywhere need you to overtake Raikkonen. In fact, he did just decrease the gap slightly – problem is, Massa did the same with a fastest first sector. Alonso on the radio for a weather report.

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Lap 36: Raikkonen’s lead is 2.3 seconds over Hamilton. Rain is visibly coming in now. What will Ferrari and McLaren do? This is where Kovalainen’s fuck-up really starts to count, as the red team has two entries in the wet-weather prize draw, and the silver team only has one.

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Lap 35: Alonso being warned on the radio to keep building a gap from Bourdais in case he has to come in for a tyre change.

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Lap 34: Robert Kubica has had a very slow pitstop, allowing Bourdais to stay in front of him and Heidfeld and Vettel to leapfrog him. Dancing on the streets of Faenza this evening… Fernando Alonso is still reliably in fourth, which could have implications for the midfield constructors’ battle, despite his team-mate’s early bath.

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Lap 33: Raikkonen leads Hamilton by 1.9 seconds going into this new lap. 10 minutes to the predicted rain.

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Lap 32: Raikkonen appears to have found something and is pulling back a bit of a lead. Heidfeld has pitted from eighth.

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Lap 31: Ferrari say they are not concerned about Massa’s engine and that he has not yet dialled it down.

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Lap 30: We’re in the midst of the second stops. Alonso and Bourdais are fourth and fifth but have yet to pit.

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Lap 29: Lewis Hamilton is going faster than Kimi Raikkonen and has the gap between them down below three seconds. Massa has pitted and has the gap to Hamilton down to four seconds.

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Lap 28: Hamilton and Raikkonen both on hard tyres – which suits the McLaren better. Hamilton has taken eight tenths of a second on the last lap.

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Lap 27: It’s like someone’s given the dice a great big shake. Raikkonen’s 3.8 secs in front of Hamilton, newly on hard tyres, and rain is forecast in 20 minutes. Latest speculation is that Massa’s engine has simply been dialled down to save it. Timo Glock pits from ninth.

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Lap 26: Hamilton switches to hard tyres. They go back out with Raikkonen in front, second and third with the unpitted Massa leading – and there’s some suggestion that Massa’s engine is in danger of letting go, but it’s unclear exactly why this is under discussion. He’s putting in laps as fast as ever, and is in touch with the two leading cars.

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Lap 25: As you were – until Raikkonen dives into the pits. WTF? Ah, now Hamilton pits too. This’ll be dramatic…

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Lap 24: Brits on Pole is shaping up for a bad Grand Prix League showing here – it doesn’t look like either Heidfeld or Trulli will be available to save us from ignominy. If Lewis Hamilton could just win, then that would be very helpful…

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Lap 23: Barrichello’s retired with a gearbox problem – apparently he lost one of his gears and is concerned not to wreck his engine in advance of Monza.

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Lap 22: The half-way point of this, the longest circuit on the calendar at 4.35 miles or 7 kilometers. Massa is a bit more than five seconds behind Hamilton – speculation that the fact Massa’s engine is a race older than Raikkonen’s, on this most engine-y of engine circuits, is the reason.

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Lap 21: Alonso is having the most success of the midfield guys – he’s hung on in fourth. Heidfeld has gone backwards in relation to Kubica, which is bad news for him. Raikkonen’s lead currently six seconds.

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Lap 20: Order is Raikkonen, Hamilton, Massa, Alonso, Bourdais, Kubica, Vettel, Heidfeld, Glock, Rosberg, Webber, Coulthard, Kovalainen, Button, Nakajima, Barrichello, Sutil, Trulli, Fisichella. Only retirement so far is Piquet. Barrichello seems to have gone quite badly backwards, and Trulli has vanished after a brave start – damage from that Bourdais incident?

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Lap 19: Brundle is reminiscing on ITV about his racing days at Spa – oh, hang on. That was Formula Palmer Audi, and it was only last year… Raikkonen’s lead over Hamilton currently 5.8 seconds. Hamilton and Massa going as fast if not faster than Raikkonen but that’s no good unless he can be overtaken. Hamilton’s spin on lap 2 described as ‘a disaster’.

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Lap 18: Vettel finally makes his stop – remember, he was fuelled extremely heavy. He comes out in front of Glock and Heidfeld, so that paid off. Bourdais is starting to pull away from Kubica so this team is expecting a points haul.

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Lap 17: Kovalainen has taken his penalty and come out behind DC. He’ll be lucky to avoid a case of the bends, coming back up from there. DC himself has just won a race-long battle to pass Barrichello. Hang on a minute – what was that Honda doing that high up at all? Button sadly anonymous.

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Lap 16: Oops. We’re back with a yellow flag – Piquet’s out. Kubica and Bourdais battled through their pitstops but Seb stays ahead. Order at front is Raikkonen, Hamilton, Massa, Vettel, Alonso.

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Lap 15: Phew. Commercials on ITV. Time for a breather. So far, good day for Kimi, Alonso and Bourdais, bad day for McLaren and Massa who looks rather ordinary.

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Lap 14: Massa pits – 7.6 seconds, marginally longer than Raikkonen. Now Alonso and Kovalainen come in – for a fuel stop. He’ll have to come in next time round for his penalty… Kubica still hasn’t pitted and is therefore still between Raikkonen and Hamilton. The other driver in the same position is Bourdais.

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Lap 13: A surprise pit from Raikkonen – he was expected to go more than one lap longer than Hamilton. He’s had a slightly longer stop than his McLaren rival. Kovalainen is now holding Hamilton up. Three cars separate Raikkonen and Hamilton, one of whom is Heikki and one of whom is Robert Kubica.

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Lap 12: Possible that Hamilton is preparing for a pit stop, which is good news for Raikkonen. There he goes. Stewards have focused their attention on Kovalainen – he’s scored a drive-through. Hamilton has made a 6.8-second pit stop and come out behind Kovalainen. Terrible afternoon for him, not looking too clever for McLaren all round.

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Lap 11: Kovalainen has hit Webber and spun him after over-committing himself. The winner from this is Bourdais. Both still running but the Red Bull pit crew is out. Kovalainen is back behind Kubica.

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Lap 10: Hamilton marginally catching Raikkonen – the lead now 0.8sec. Massa is 2-3 tenths of a second behind them. Hamilton has just set a fastest lap (light on fuel?) but his problem is more likely to be overtaking.

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Lap 9: Kovalainen cruises past Kubica for seventh. Sutil runs wide but keeps running. Hamilton is holding station behind Raikkonen and Heikki is coming up to the back of the Bourdais-Webber battle.

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Lap 8: Kovalainen lining up Robert Kubica. Piquet’s tyres, despite having got him up to seventh at one point, are no longer working for him. He’s going backwards now.

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Lap 7: Current world championship scores are Hamilton 70, Massa 64, Raikkonen 57 and Kubica 55 – so if the race were to finish like this, Hamilton would have an eight-point championship lead and Raikkonen would still be third – but it’s all painfully tight. Raikkonen and Hamilton are dropping Massa. Bourdais is gamely hanging onto fifth despite that shunt with Trulli. Raikkonen’s lead is 0.9 sec over Hamilton.

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Lap 5: Hamilton half a second slower than Raikkonen on the previous lap, Massa slower than both 2 seconds behind Hamilton.

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Lap 4: Kovalainen takes Piquet, which gives you an idea of just how bad his start was. He’s got himself back up to eighth. Heidfeld, in ninth, is looking at overtaking the Brazilian. Raikkonen’s lead 1.2 secs.

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Lap 3: Replay shows that Hamilton spun and Raikkonen had to go very wide to avoid him, but managed it. Order at the front is Raikkonen, Hamilton, Massa, Alonso, Bourdais, Webber. Kovalainen is cutting through the field, trying to make up lost ground. Everyone’s clearly skating on their tyres. Bourdais has, at some point, given Trulli a huge shunt but both still running.

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Lap 2: Trulli spins, comes back on track straight into the path of Rosberg. Yellow flags – Hamilton has had a problem of some kind at La Source – a spin? – and Raikkonen is side by side with him. The King of Spa has taken the lead of the race. Massa third. Fisi’s had to pit for a new nose.

– – – – –

Lap 1: Hamilton and Massa both spin their wheels and the start is incredibly cautious. No heroics from Massa. Kovalainen misses out badly with a terrible start. Raikkonen runs wide but hangs onto third. Raikkonen is challenging Massa and takes him – but none of this troubles Hamilton who’s way out in front. Alonso fourth, Seb Bourdais in fifth.

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Parade lap: things round the back of the circuit said to favour dry tyres more. However the TV pictures showing a wet track – tyre calls are going to be tough. Piquet in 12th appears to the only one on inters with everyone else opting very late for drys – brilliant move or horrid risk?

– – – – –

Grid walk: Brundle reports rolling black clouds over the circuit and a tense mood among the teams. Hello – Massa’s car late to the grid after big electrical work has been carried out on it in parc fermé.

Red Bull is predicting all teams to start on inters, and anyone who does different taking a huge gamble. This view is treated with scepticism elsewhere.

Lou Goodman is out on the grid too, talking to Toyota – they say the weather will be “sporadic”, dry later.

We hear how Raikkonen’s rumoured to have been told that he has two options – win or become Massa’s rear-gunner. He doesn’t strike us as the sort of bloke that takes kindly to ultimatums like that…

Mark Webber’s take on the weather: “It might be warm for you English, mate…”

– – – – –

Pre-race: Eavesdropping on McLaren team radio suggests Hamilton’s car isn’t set up exactly as he wants – some slight problems with the clutch…

Lewis Hamilton, speaking pre-race to Steve Rider, says that he feels very different to this time last year, when it was a hugely tense and negative race for McLaren. He says he feels he’ll be “in a real race” this weekend.

Top news this morning is that the team bosses have asked Bernie Ecclestone to re-instate the US Grand Prix in 2010, although Indianapolis is not thought to be the top choice of venue. The motivation seems to be about selling Mercs and Beemers in the US market and Las Vegas has been mentioned.

Our immediate thoughts: more pressure on the 2010 calendar equals another great reason to dump the British Grand Prix…

BMW has also announced the delay of its decision over its 2009 driver line-up. We’re hoping this is good news for Nick Heidfeld.

2 responses to “F1: Belgian Grand Prix live blog”:

  1. Alfred Cutajar Says:

    September 9th, 2008 at 7:49 pm

    If I were Massa I would not accept any additional points gained so unfairly. This is daylight robbery. It seems that all the FIA really wants is a procession F1 race with obviousely (you all guessed right) the Ferrari car leading. No wonder that each year keen enthusiasts are turning away from F1 TV viewership and catching up with the motorcycle races.

  2. ljh Says:

    September 9th, 2008 at 7:54 pm

    Thanks for your constructive comment – although we find Ferrari’s behaviour very hard to stomach at times like this, we do have a lot of respect for both its drivers and particularly Massa. It’s such a shame his season has to be tarnished by incidents in the last two races that had nothing to do with him directly.

 
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