Lewis Hamilton, Kimi Raikkonen, Spa Help Make Magic—Stewards Attach Asterisk

Kyle LavigneAnalyst ISeptember 7, 2008

Just when you think Formula One has gotten dull and/or monotonous, Spa has to go and throw a wrench into the mix.

One of the oldest circuits still has some tricks to play on drivers when they think the race is theirs for the taking.

First, the traditional Spa weather dumped rain on the track prior to the start. The track was wet in spots (especially heading into La Source), but equally as dry in others. All drivers started the race on dry tires, which made the first run to La Source a sight to behold.

Such drivers as Jarno Trulli (whose fast start was negated by an inability to stop) and Heikki Kovalainen dropped and were forced to fight there way through the field (Kovy’s charge was particular fun to watch).

And then, with five laps remaining and Kimi Raikkonen looking to have his fourth straight Spa win in his grasp, one more rain storm would come into play.

In a conclusion that reminded me for the 1982 Monaco Grand Prix, Raikkonen and rival Lewis Hamilton stayed on dry tires and other pitted for wets.

The skills each driver illustrated in those laps were superb; driving an F1 car is hard enough…and made all the more difficult doing so in the wet with dry tires on.

However, the track came out on top with regard to Kimi, as he spun off into the barrier, and Hamilton took the victory…or so we thought.

Kimi Raikkonen

For the first time since Barcelona back in April, “Das Kimster” looked like the defending world champion he is.

He made a great start and passed Massa on the Kemmel straight, then dispensed of Hamilton at the spot lap later.

He truly looked a driver who is capable of winning a world championship, certainly different from the driver who appeared grumpy and disinterested in the sport at some points of the season.

Alas, his efforts were for naught. His late race crash has all but taken him out of contention. He sits 23 points out, and Ferrari will likely make him Felipa Massa wingman in the final races.

All the same, it was to see Kimi being the fast, bull headed, hard charger we’ve come to love.

Scuderia Toro Rosso

My status as an American F1 fan, and the treatment they gave driver Scott Speed (who had the “quote” audacity to fire back at Gerhard Berger, who accused Speed of “partying to much”) has made me not want to root for the small, Italian team once known as Minardi.

However, today, they made me a fan again. Sebastian Bourdais is desperately trying to make a case to stay on the grid next year. His P1 in Q1 of qualifying was a sight that made everybody smile, he showed great speed during the race.

Raikkonen’s misfortune bumped Bourdais into a podium spot, but a charging Nick Heideld (on wets at the time) passed the Frenchman for third. Eventually, Bourdais would finish seventh; not a podium, but a great result nonetheless.

Meanwhile, Sebastien Vettel continued to impress. He drove a quiet, but smart race that saw him in sixth before the rain started near the end. The subsequent shuffling saw him as high as fourth before Fernando Alonso passed him.

Vettel’s fifth was, coincidentally, his fifth points finish of the season, bringing his season point tally to a very respectable 13. I have a feeling the Red Bull “A team” can’t wait to have this youngster on board.

The Stewards

In American football, we always hear about referees “letting the players play.” What that means is this: while play might get rough and “could” warrant a penalty, throwing a flag would ultimately hinder the game such fouls should not be called (unless they are obvious).

Lewis Hamilton did indeed cut the final bus stop chicane. He subsequently slowed down. However, Kimi didn’t initially pass him, making Lewis slow further. Kimi finally re-passed him just passed the start finish line.

Penalty met. Let’s move on.

At least that’s what we all thought. Even Charlie Whiting was reported to have said Hamilton had complied with the order.

So, let’s keep racing shall we?

The two drivers went on to display a duel that was classic in every sense. The skills each showed as, as I mentioned before, remarkable. It was a truly great race to watch.

But now, things have changed.  

In a move that will leave yet another black eye on the sport that has seen too many over the 18 months, the race stewards have stripped Lewis if his, giving him a 25 second post race penalty (which sees him drop to third).

What was the best race of the year in my book has now been permanently scarred, even if that decision is reversed.

Given that two scandals that have rocked the F1 world, the sport needed to have stories about the on track drama and action (which this race had plenty of) and not what happens in a meeting or court room.

Politics of this level are what drive me away from Formula One in 90’s. I simply did not want a race to be settled after the fact.

I personally hope the FIA overrules the stewards’ decision. Formula One could do with some good publicity at the moment.

As a final note, isn’t it nice such tracks as Spa and Monza have stayed on the calendar?

I find it quite refreshing that those two circuits have managed to keep with Bernie Ecclestone’s very high standards and remain fixtures on the F1 calendar. To me, the season wouldn’t be the same if it missed a blast through Spa’s Eau Rouge/Radaillon complex and Monza’s simple speed through Curve Parabolica all the way to the Rettifilo chicane.

I love classic racing circuits.