Crikeynen! Kimi wins again at last

What a grand prix weekend that was. It just goes to show you what a decent circuit can do for racing. Boy, can Spa do it for racing. It also clearly does it for Kimi Räikkönen, who is always mesmerising in this most inspirational of settings.

Räikkönen confuses people a lot of the time with his apparent indifference. Often he simply does not seem to be bothered. But he always goes well at Spa. Indeed, he is the only current driver to have won there. His record includes a remarkable fight to the front from 10th on the grid in what was an otherwise barren 2004 season for him.

There are some parallels between that victory and this year’s one. Like McLaren in 2004, this year Ferrari began the season with uncompetitive machinery, but have developed the car into a winner for Belgium. This victory ends a 25 race drought for Räikkönen; the 2004 victory ended an even longer one.

In a lot of ways, Räikkönen’s victory was among the least surprising things to happen during an extraordinary weekend. The Finn usually gives a good performance in Belgium, but despite winning the race he was overshadowed by Giancarlo Fisichella, a man who would have been sacked at the end of last year if I had any say in such matters.

Question marks remain over a victory margin which perhaps ought to have been longer than one second. Then some say he wouldn’t have won were it not for kers — this is probably true. Others say that he gained an advantage by running wide and taking the run-off at La Source on lap 1.

However, David Coulthard says that Räikkönen will have gained no advantage from running wide, a fact which is apparently corroborated by the fact that Button took a similar line and lost places. It’s more likely that Räikkönen gained those spots by deploying his kers, the exit of La Source being the ideal spot to unleash that kers energy on lap 1 rather than the start itself. See Axis of Oversteer for a good debate on this matter.

Even so, the plaudits are going to Giancarlo Fisichella for his stunning drive to second place in the Force India. Is it a coincidence that he should up his game so much when there is a sniff of getting a Ferrari drive? I don’t think I have ever been so impressed by Fisichella, who I have always seen as a mid-grid sort of guy who only just about deserves his continued presence in F1.

Some of the upsurge can be put down to the car, which the team also expects to do well at Monza. In the sister Force India car, Adrian Sutil looked especially good through Raidillon, giving him an enormous advantage through the Kemmel straight, capitalising too on the grunt of the Mercedes engine, no doubt the best in F1. This led to him making a few impressive overtaking manoeuvres, though sadly for him it came to nothing and ended up in 11th.

Force India weren’t the only backmarkers to rise in Spa though. BMW, for the first time since Australia, looked quick. Both drivers scored points, and indeed Kubica did well to finish fourth despite picking up a substantial amount of damage in the lap 1 mêlée at Les Combes.

Lap 1 was an eventful lap all round, with Fernando Alonso’s race effectively ending at the start. But we were not to find that out until his first pitstop, when the Renault mechanics were unable to satisfactorily change his left front tyre. Renault didn’t want another controversy involving badly fitted wheels, so he toured into the pits to retire. A clever replay from FOM revealed that Alonso’s wheel was actually damaged in a turn 1 collision with Sutil at the start.

It is yet more bad luck for Alonso. Renault will not like the fact that in the Constructors’ Championship they are now behind BMW, a team which has been lamentably poor for most of the season. With the announcement that the FIA is investigating the unusual circumstances behind their victory in the Singapore Grand Prix, all-in-all it’s been a pretty torrid time for Renault. The move to the red car cannot come too soon for Alonso.

As for the sharp end of the championship, yet again three of the major Championship contenders failed to score a good result. This time, Vettel was the only one of the four challengers to have a good race. This makes Red Bull’s decision over whether it should start favouring one driver over the other yet trickier. Vettel now leads Webber in the Championship. But he still faces a massive 19 point deficit with only five races remaining.

Vettel actually had a strong race. In his analysis of the race, rubbergoat reveals that, when you consider competitive laps only, Vettel had the fastest average lap time of all the drivers. But he was hindered in the vital first stint due to being heavy on fuel.

Jenson Button had a DNF as he crashed out in that Les Combes pile-up. It is his first DNF of the season, making his sixth bad race in a row. Yet again, he has gotten away with it relatively unscathed. Another disastrous race, another two point dent in his lead which remains at 16 points. His main challenger is Rubens Barrichello who, with all due respect to the Brazilian, is not the most threatening of his three main challengers — not least because he is in the same team.

This has been a most strange season. Jenson Button couldn’t stop winning in the first half of the season. Now he can do nothing to help himself win. But his Championship chances remain high because the last six races have had six different winners. In stark contrast to the early Brawn dominance, you just don’t know who is going to be strong at a race and I would be a mug if I tried to predict what would happen in Monza. I daren’t even predict which car this week’s second placed man will be driving — I don’t want a wrap on the knuckles like Ian Phillips!

4 comments

  1. fantastic to see a ‘true Kimi’ performance – blasting out for the win from the first moment of the race to the last, like we saw so much of in his days at Mclaren.

    Interesting fact, though: 2008 was supposed to be a bad year for Raikkonen. Indeed it was the only year he has definitely been ‘outshone’ by a team-mate. But consider these statistics for the season: only 6 of the races (of 15) involved finishing outside a points place, and 2 of these were DNFs, so that’s only 4 races of the total of 15 where he didn’t finish in the points. And of the 9 races he was in the points, for about 6 he was on the podium. He actually did not badly all-round, it is just that he happened to be outperformed by Massa having a stellar season. We all saw the camera footage of races where Kimi apparently was not trying and not doing so well, down the field: but the stats for the season say he was doing a bit than that.

    If 2009 is going to be a year where, overall, he comes good (like 2007 after a slow-ish start) then this is 2 of his 3 years at Ferrari where he has definitely shown his championship-winning side. Not bad for a man who commentators consistently try to slur when they talk about him, ever since he went to Ferrari – where ultimately, Kimi’s ultra-laid back style just sits uneasily with the Ferrari marque’s demand for ‘obvious passion’. It is his apparent laid-backness that is the cause of getting more criticism than he quite deserves (although he may deserve a bit for not being absolutely stellar in 2008 and allowing himself to be outshone).

  2. ps you feel the presence of Massa at Ferrari unfortunately cramps Kimi’s style. He is talking and driving like someone with a new sense of freedom now Massa is not there, though of course being Kimi, he has never and will never have a bad word to say about Felipe. The team does not appear to realise that even Kimi (despite the laidback appearance) likes to be the obvious focus of attention and it is helping him to be receiving this now Felipe is not there. If the team realised he is not simply the Iceman, who ‘lives on another planet’ (Domenicali), but a driver who, like all others, benefits from feeling like the focus of attention, they might give him a bit more of that even when Felipe is there (rather than this focus tending to go to Massa, you feel) and so benefit from seeing Kimi do better overall, throughout the year.

  3. Many thanks for the comment jimbo — interesting thoughts on Kimi. I think you’re right in the last paragraph when you talk about Kimi’s laid back style not sitting well with the “passion” of the Ferrari brand. I understand that the tifosi never took to Kimi much, and it is probably for his apparent lack of passion. It was the same for Schumacher at first too, but he grew into the role well. However you don’t see Kimi being so willing to adapt, excellent driver though he is.

  4. Almost missed your second comment jimbo. I also feel that it is notable that Kimi’s performances have improved greatly while Massa has been out of action. He is definitely a complex character who needs a certain kind of treatment. I do sense that Ferrari have struggled to get a real handle on him.