F1: Belgian Grand Prix liveblog

By LJ Hutchins

CalendarSunday, August 30th, 2009

 
 

Well, who would have thought it? Force India would have been quite satisfied with an appearance in Q2 and thrilled with Q3.

Instead their veteran driver Giancarlo Fisichella is on pole on a topsy-turvy grid that sees the midfield players promoted to the front while the usual front-runners make up the numbers further back – maybe all thanks to Spa-Francorchamps’ punishing aerodynamic requirements.

All the drivers on the front two rows could be said to have something to prove. Fisichella, whose racing career started at Minardi more than a decade ago, had all the appearance of going gently into that good night until the rumours of a testing role at Ferrari started up.

Or maybe even a race appearance for the Italian at the iconic Monza circuit.

Jarno Trulli is far from assured of a drive next year – and that’s true even if his troubled Toyota team makes it onto the 2010 grid in its present form. BMW Sauber’s Nick Heidfeld, in third, has no drive for next year after his team’s manufactuer pulled out.

And Brawn GP’s Rubens Barrichello thought his title hopes had evaporated at the hands of a more successful team-mate – after years of similar treatment at Ferrari, and three dreadful years at Honda. How wrong he seems to have been, to the delight of his many fans.

Still Rubens will have a lot to live up to today. Right behind him will be the dangerous Kimi Raikkonen, erstwhile King of Spa, the first man with a KERS button, and maybe also with quite a bit to prove. The Red Bulls of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber are eighth and ninth – and believed to be objectively among the fastest on the track.

But how do they get through the traffic to make it count?

Meanwhile it was a poor session for the two Brits with McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton qualifying 12th and Brawn GP’s Jenson Button 14th. The KERS-equipped Hamilton was bullish, targeting points, while Jenson worried aloud that his midfield position could wreck his title hopes.

We were already expecting an exciting race. Now it has the potential to be epic. Stick with us, watch the telemetry in the widget on the right by choosing menu/drivers — and don’t forget to keep refreshing to make sure you’re seeing the latest.

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Post-race: We’re not quite done yet – the stewards are set to have a look at the incident at the beginning that finished the races of Button, Grosjean, Hamilton and Alguersuari immediately, and then Trulli and Alonso a way down the road. The two rookies are under investigation – check out our race report to find out what happens.

So, what does the championship look like after all that? Button leads on 72 from Barrichello on 56 then Vettel on 53. Webber is fourth on 51.5 with Raikkonen a way back on 34. In the constructors’ Red Bull have gained a little on Brawn GP but not much has changed to speak of. Ross Brawn says it was “a strange race”. You can say that again. He says the team feels frustrated about Button and fortunate to have got Barrichello home in seventh. “Not a great weekend for us, but it could have been a lot worse.” Barrichello, interviewed a while afterwards, is incredibly upset not to have made more of what looked like a sure-fire winning position before the race. But – he is second in the drivers’ standings having overtaken the non-scoring Webber.

Eddie Jordan is explaining what this podium means for his old team – a boost up the constructors’ standings can mean literally millions of pounds, not to mention the increased interest from sponsors. In the press conference Fisi says his car was faster than the Ferrari and seems slightly disappointed that he’s not sitting one chair to his left. You’d have to wonder, following this, if he was offered a Ferrari to drive in Monza, whether he wouldn’t be in a position to do just that. Feel a bit odd typing that, it seems so improbable. F1 truly is the gift that keeps on giving when it comes to drama like this.

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Podium: Now Ferrari share with McLaren the honour of getting a victory out of a KERS-equipped car. You wouldn’t have put money on it taking this long for either of them, would you? Actually, come to think of it, we did – we stuck a fiver on both Raikkonen and Hamilton in this year’s driver’s championship. Needless to say, it did not prove to be a very good investment. Raikkonen impassive during the Finnish anthem but does allow himself a slight grin for the Italian one. Fisi, by contrast, is carolling along lustily alongside the Ferrari mechanics. A potent symbol, we say. A potent symbol.

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Lap 44: And Raikkonen comes round for the last time to claim his fourth Spa win and his King of Spa title back from injured team-mate Massa. Fisi gets it safely home for second. Vettel is third. Kubica, Heidfeld, Kovalainen are fourth, fifth and sixth. Barrichello takes seventh and Rosberg the last point, leaving Webber in the same straits as Button. Barrichello returns to the garage with his car on fire.

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Lap 43: Brundle: “Rosberg can smell the burning oil and can smell seventh place with it.” Legard points out that not only Rosberg, but Webber. Order on this penultimate lap is Raikkonen, Fisichella, Vettel, Kubica, Heidfeld, Kovalainen, Barrichello, Rosberg, Weber, Glock, Sutil, Buemi, Nakajima and Badoer. Latest thinking on Barrichello’s car is a oil leak not an engine fail.

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Lap 42: Barrichello in seventh and smoke coming out of the car. His engine is failing with two laps to go! He’s being told by engineer Jock Clear to back off from Kovy and save the engine at all costs. Completely up in the air as to whether he will get this car home. Crucial for Brawn that he does.

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Lap 41: Raikkonen a second ahead of Fisi at the close of this lap with Vettel closing but still firmly in third. Barrichello in seventh behind Kovalainen, Rosberg and Webber behind them.

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Lap 40: Laps running out for either Fisi or Vettel to do anything. Sutil currently 11th on the grid, his qualifying position and not set to win him any points. Battles all the way through the midfield.

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Lap 39: Button may have, once again, come away from this race with another of his nine championship lives used up. At the front it’s Raikkonen but Fisi right on his tail and challenging him. Vettel is around five seconds behind them. It’s not always that you’re still seeing meaningful action this late in a grand prix.

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Lap 38: Vettel has cut his lead to Fisi to five seconds with Heidfeld continuing to close to Kubica in a nice little battle of wills between drivers who won’t be team-mates next year, whatever else happens.

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Lap 37: Raikkonen leads from Fisi, Vettel, Kubica and Heidfeld. Barrichello falling back.

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Lap 36: Vettel in third after his stop and is now on for a podium. Lovely drive from him today. Team-mate Webber in ninth is on the back of Rosberg for a point. Helps Button a little that it’s Vettel not Webber doing well today – even more so if Rosberg can hang on.

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Lap 35: Fisi still hunting down Raikkonen with 10 laps to go. It’s dreadfully hard not to see comparisons with Badoer, isn’t it? Webber pits on this lap. 11.7 seconds between the unpitted Vettel and Raikkonen in second.

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Lap 34: Rosberg pits. Heidfeld back out in fifth after his stop. Fisi has the gap down to 0.7 seconds but, with the Ferrari being one of the few cars on the grid equpped with KERs, we don’t fancy his chances of getting past in the normal run of things.

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Lap 33: Vettel, unpitted, is motoring at the front of the race. Heidfeld has pitted but Fisi is putting in fastest-sector times and appears to be actively chasing down Raikkonen. Gap is still around a second after the pitstops.

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Lap 32: Ferrari pitstop is 7.1 seconds and they, as constructors’ champions, are at the top of the pitlane. Fisi’s time the exact same length, and Force India at the bottom of the pitlane, so Raikkonen emerges in the lead. They come out third and fourth behind Vettel, who currently leads, and Rosberg. Vettel should really have his foot down now.

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Lap 31: Kubica emerges in fifth. Vettel currently third, 10 secs down from Fisi and he’s on for a podium which is terrible news for Jenson Button. Both Ferrari and Force India mechanics are out and the leaders come in together. Who will emerge first?

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Lap 30: Raikkonen’s gap from Fisi at the end of that last lap was a slender 1.1 seconds. Force India say Fisi has managed to save some fuel but they will not be able to jump Raikkonen in the pitstops. Focus is on not throwing second away. Kub manages a 6.9 second pitstop.

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Lap 29: Fisi still hanging onto the back of Raikkonen but we’ll see what happens in the final pitstops. Could he possibly stay out a lap longer? Kubica third then Vettel, Heidfeld, Rosberg, Glock, Webber, Kovalainen, Buemi, Barrichello, Nakajima, Sutil and Badoer. Six retirements now including Alonso and Trulli.

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Lap 28: Rubens Barrichello pits. 7.2 second stop from sixth and he rejoins ahead of Nakajima in 11th.

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Lap 27: Kovalainen hangs onto 10th but is still being hassled very hard. Sutil makes his second stop.

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Lap 26: Alonso ordered to retire. Maybe Renault don’t want to risk another race suspension. Kovalainen pits for a sub-nine-second pitstop, scheduled to be his only one for the race. He comes out side by side with Webber and the Australian gains another place. Kovalainen’s being hassled by Buemi while his tyres come up to speed.

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Lap 25: Order at the front is Raikkonen, Fisichella, Kubica, Kovalainen (unpitted). A replay of the start shows that the wheel cover was damaged in all the chaos when it looked like he ran over Trulli’s front wing. Webber is catching Glock and Rosberg in front of him very fast.

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Lap 24: Fisi has the gap to Raikkonen down to 0.7 secs. Renault on the radio talking tyre strategy to Alonso who is now making his only stop of the afternoon. Most others on two-stoppers. Alonso stranded in the pits for what seems like hours because they can’t get the wheel cover back on – after the fun they had with the loose wheel in Hungary. All that work lost, and Geoffrey Boycott’s grandmother could have done that quicker with a stick of rhubarb.

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Lap 23: Raikkonen is being told to crack on to avert the terrible threat to Fisi. Heh. Webber has emerged from his drivethru in 12th. Halfway point of the race. Raikkonen a mere 0.8 seconds ahead of Fisi.

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Lap 22: And Toyota have more problems with their fuel rig on Trulli’s stop. Rig sticks in car, a few flames. He retires and we can’t say we’re surprised. Not what the potentially driveless Trulli needed from this weekend at all. We sadly predict that his future mainly contains viticulture.

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Lap 21: Trulli has stopped for a second time but his race is so messed up it’s hard to say much about it. We thought he looked well out of shape on the grid. Red Bull apparently very cross with Toro Rosso and Buemi for ruining their race strategy. Buemi has pitted to let Vettel through.

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Lap 20: Order at the end of the last lap was Raikkonen, Fisi, Alonso (unpitted), Kubica, Kovalainen, Buemi, Vettek. Heidfeld, Barrichello, Sutil, Rosberg, Glock, Webber, Nakajima, Badoer and Trulli. Raikkonen’s lead over Fisi less than a second. If this was Bollywood we’d need a terrible setback for the hero and then a triumphant last-lap redemption with the line and the chequered flag in sight. And dancing, along with showers of rose petals.

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Lap 19: Rosberg is up behind Sutil. Nakajima hassles Webber but drops back. A bit pointless, under the circumstances. Sutil has just blasted straight past Rosberg. This has all the makings of a wonderful Bollywood movie, complete with handsome hero and his game sidekick…

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Lap 18: Red Bull have only just told Weber to take his drive-thru. Rosberg pits from the lead. Post-race investigation into J-Alg and Grosjean for the chaos at the start. Effing schoolboys in Formula One cars…

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Lap 17: Vettel pits and emerges ahead of Heidfeld and Barrichello in eighth place. Rosberg, unpitted, currently leads the race from Raikkonen and Fisichella. The unpitted Alonso is in fourth. Heidfeld with his warmer tyres is looking at Vettel. Fisi still, after the pitstops, less than two seconds behind Raikkonen and – whisper it – going faster. What a peculiar season this is.

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Lap 16: Raikkonen and Fisi are the net leaders. Barrichello has made an incredible move on Webber and blasted straight past him. Does he have a problem with the car? Webber in 11th now and Sutil harrying him. Stewards announce a drive-thru for Webber. Order is Vettel (unpitted), Rosberg (unpitted), Raikkonen, Fisi, Alonso (unpitted), Kubica, Kovalainen, Buemi, Heidfeld, Barrichello, Webber, Sutil, Glock, Nakajima, Badoer, Trulli.

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Lap 15: Raikkonen and Fisi both pit. Heidfeld and Webber also in, while Vettel sets a fastest lap. Webber released straight into the path of Heidfeld and that’s a real near-miss. Wouldn’t be surprised if the stewards look at that. Heidfeld takes the place back on the track, Barrichello right behind them. Commentators reckon Webber might be in for a drive-thru. And Webber didn’t seem to fight the pass on the track very hard.

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Lap 14: Fisi still holding station with Kimi, who has a lead of less than two seconds over the Force India car. Heidfeld is putting in storming laps. Glock pits and we see that Toyota has a fuel rig problems and has to use the reserve kit. He ends up 13th after the delay.

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Lap 12: If it were not for the safety car we’d definitely be coming into the pitstop window now. In fact, the BMW Sauber mechanics have been out for a bit and now Kubica kicks off the celebrations by coming in. Medium-compound tyre goes on, no problems. Kovalainen told he can challenge for points with the same pace as the leaders.

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Lap 10: Gap between Fisi and Raikkonen 1.8 seconds. The Force India is, for the moment, keeping up with the Ferrari. Amazing stuff. Jenson Button, interviewed, said he had a good start, got past Hamilton, got a bit wide in turn one and then went outside Kovalainen on turn five. “Grosjean outbraked himself and hit my back wheel. I don’t even think he was trying to overtake. Frustrating, to be taken out like that.” He sounds absolutely stunned. Also his first retirement of the year and both Webber and Vettel are the beneficiaries.

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Lap 9: Lewis interviewed: “It’s just one of those days – what can you do? I got off to a really bad start.” He says he was hit backing off from Button’s spin. His first retirement of the year – say what you like about that grim MP4-24, it is reliable.

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Lap 8: And Sutil whizzes past Badoer, shrugging off the Italian’s attempted defence by running wide. Good lad. Much voluble discussion on Trulli’s radio about how to get past Badoer next. Meanwhile, Fisi is holding on to the back of Raikkonen, putting in laps that are a couple of tenths of a second slower.

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Lap 7: Kimi has a lead of 1.433 seconds over Fisi. Sutil now looking at Badoer as the Italian makes his inevitable progress backwards through the field. Barrichello is having a go at Nakajima and gets through, outdriving him down the Kemmel straight. Still not entirely clear who caused the carnage at the start… Button is on the pit wall talking to Ross Brawn.

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Lap 6: Barrichello is past Badoer.

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Lap 5: And Fisi backs the field up… and we’re racing again. Hang on, Fisi. Kimi’s having a good look at him, right on his back, this is looking nasty. And he cruises straight past like he’s doing straight line testing. Fisi having a look to re-take but no luck. Meanwhile Barrichello has taken Trulli and is lining up Badoer. Raikkonen is off down the road already. Fisi has hung onto second and has a little bit of distance from Kubica in third. Vettel is ahead of Rosberg but we don’t know whether it was a clean overtake or whether he was let through.

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Lap 4: Under the safety car. Everyone’s strategy will go to hell in a handcart as a result of that. Barrichello has already made the most of it, going in for a big lump of fuel. We’ll see what happens when the safety car comes in. But the consensus is that Raikkonen, with KERS and more fuel than Fisi, has this in the bag. Safety car coming in this lap.

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Lap 3: J-Alg has retired for Toro Rosso. Order behind safety car: Fisi, Raikkonen, Kubica, Glock, Webber, Heidreld, Rosberg, Vettel, Alonso, Kovalainen, Buemi, Nakajima, Badoer, Trulli, Barrichello, Sutil. Retirements: Button, Hamilton, Alguersuari, Grosjean. Red Bull are challenging Williams over Rosberg allegedly overtaking Vettel under the yellow flag.

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Lap 2: This lap starts under the safety car. Barrichello pits. We’ll get an order as soon as possible but it looks like Fisi from Kimi, then a BMW behind that, Webber’s also in the mix somewhere. The TV’s showing the interior of the bloody safety car, FFS.

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Lap 1: Someone has stalled on the grid. It’s Barrichello. He’s now plumb last. Fisi has hung on, Kubica outbreaks Heidfeld in second after going wide, Raikkonen third after taking the long route round. Trulli’s had some contact and goes in for a new nose. Kimi’s trying hard to take second off Heidfeld, he’s got it, but now he’s challenging Kubica who has come through on the inside. But there are three cars out including Hamilton and Grosjean. Bloody chaotic start and a safety car but Fisi looks to be at the front still. And Button out too. Christ on a bike.

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Parade lap: Everybody is away with no problems. No-one is starting from the pitlane today.

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Grid walk: Jake Humphrey says “And now it’s time for the Spanish national anthem.” We don’t think so. Mind you, what we get is so odd – a kind of gospel-blues effort from the podium – that La Marcha Real sounds quite appealing by comparison.

Barrichello is tracked down sitting in the shade propped up against the barrier. It’s hard to imagine anyone looking more relaxed than he does at the moment. Team-mate Button adds: “We have a Force India on pole – anything can happen.” He hints at something he said pre-race, which is that Brawn GP will need a radical strategy if he is to make anything of this race.

Quick Nick agrees to a rare grid interview and he’s quite uptight compared to his normal laid-back persona. He welcomes being on the clean side of the grid and says that his team will be trying to get him past Fisi on strategy. Needless to say, he doesn’t say what strategy.

Fisi up next, and he puts his success down to having a car which is right on the money. He says: “My dream is to get onto the podium.” He seems considerably more relaxed than Trulli but admits it would be very, very tough to win and says he expects a challenge from Kubica and Raikkonen.

Brundle looks like someone’s dad at a disco today. He’s busy explaining away conspiracy theories we hadn’t heard of in the first place, while failing to get a word with front-row boy Fisi. He tries to target Trulli, dragging him away from someone else’s TV interview. He sounds very bullish, but appears incredibly tense, looking in every direction but at Brundle.

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Pre-race: Autosport is reporting that Spa could be paired up with the Nurburgring for a
race-share deal. We hate this on so many levels. First, we have been convinced by the arguments that race-share is uneconomic, leaving venues with all the infrastructure costs of staging a race for only half the revenue. Second, who the hell envisages a F1 calendar that doesn’t include this wonderful circuit every year? And third, we rather enjoy the racing at Hockenheim, actually, especially through the stadium complex. It says so much about what is wrong with the top-flight series at present. Read the Autosport piece here.

Brawn are wondering out loud if they have their tyre problems back. That’s good news for Red Bull and Kimi Raikkonen… Vijay Mallya is vigorously denying Ferrari rumours on behalf of his driver.

Coulthard, humorously, on his Spa contretemps with Schumi: “I could have had him…” We roar with laughter. But let it go, mate, let it go…

Kimi Raikkonen reportedly thinks he can win. We wouldn’t bet against him at Spa, either.

Confused? You’re not the only one. David Coulthard says in his BBC column: “I just don’t know how to call this race! Just six days ago at the European GP, there was nothing to suggest that Fisichella, who finished 12th in Valencia, would snatch pole at the head of such a mixed-up grid order.

“It would be easy to say that Fisichella won’t hold his position over 44 racing laps but the Force India cars have been genuinely quick this weekend.” Read the full piece here.

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