Tom Clarkson's 2008 Belgian Grand Prix race report

Published: 08 September 2008

Should Lewis lose the World Championship by four points, he will look back at this race and think ‘what if’? What if Nicolas Deschaux, Surinder Thatthi and Yves Bacquelaine – the three FIA  stewards at the Belgian Grand Prix – hadn’t meddled with the result and issued him with a controversial retrospective 25-second penalty?

For those of you who didn’t see the race, it will be remembered for an incident involving Lewis and Kimi Raikkonen at the end of lap 42. They went into the final corner side-by-side, Lewis challenging Kimi for the lead, and to avoid contact Lewis cut the chicane. Rather than gain an advantage, he let Kimi back into the lead, before passing the Finn into the next corner with a brilliant out-braking manoeuvre.

It was great racing, yet the stewards ruled that Hamilton gained an unfair advantage and docked him 25 seconds, which dropped him to third on the results sheet and handed Felipe Massa the win. Instead of an eight-point lead in the World Championship standings, Lewis now leads Massa by just two.

McLaren’s data proves that Lewis was 6kph slower than Raikkonen over the start-finish line in the seconds following the incident, yet this evidence wasn’t enough to convince the stewards that he’d handed the advantage back to Kimi. The mood of the McLaren personnel on the plane back from Brussels last night was of resentment. Of Ferrari favouritism. Again.

The post-race politics left a sour taste in the mouth, after what had been a fabulous grand prix. Raikkonen, the sleeping giant of 2008, stirred for the first time since Silverstone and proved that he is still a force to be reckoned with. He overtook Hamilton on lap two and was dominant until crashing almost within sight of the flag.

When rain started to fall with three laps remaining, there were incidents up and down the field. Nick Heidfeld pitted for wets and started the final lap in eighth place, yet ended it third. It was thrilling stuff and just the tonic that F1 needed after the procession in Valencia two weeks ago.

Now, though, our attention turns to Monza, the fastest and oldest track on this year’s calendar. The tifosi will be out in force, willing the Scuderia to victory; let’s hope the race is won on the racetrack.

Belgian Grand Prix: Spa-Francorchamps results

1 Felipe Massa
2 Nick Heidfeld
3 Lewis Hamilton
4 Fernando Alonso
5 Sebastian Vettel
6 Robert Kubica
7 Sebastien Bourdais
8 Mark Webber

World Championship standings

1 Hamilton 76 pts
2 Massa 74 pts
3 Kubica 58 pts
4 Raikkonen 57
5 Heidfeld 49

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By Tom Clarkson

F1 correspondent, BBC pitlane man, accesser of all areas, head beans-spiller