Before everyone’s favourite race of the year, the focus was yet again on Jenson Button, whose lead of the championship had slipped to only 18 points. He hadn’t scored a podium since Turkey, and was being pressurised more and more from Barrichello, Webber and Vettel. Oddly enough, only one former winner of the Belgian Grand Prix was racing here in 2009, a certain Kimi Raikkonen.
Throughout Friday and Saturday practice, there wasn’t much out of the ordinary, apart from Mark Webber suffering Red Bull’s third engine failure in a week. With absolutely no warning, the established backmarker, Force India, slammed themselves into pole position with Giancarlo Fisichella. Their low-downforce package had suddenly emerged as a contender in Spa-Francorchamps’s sweeping track, and now the formbook was on its head for the best race of the year.
Only one predictable event happened, and that was Luca Badoer, who crashed in Q1, bringing out the yellow flags at the end of the session and ruining other drivers’ laps. Jenson Button suffered awful form in Q2, and ended up 14th. Meanwhile, Jarno Trulli and Nick Heidfeld got Toyota and BMW Sauber into the top three.
Raikkonen uses the run-off area to gain several places
As the race began, Rubens Barrichello destroyed his race within seconds, as he almost stalled his car – again. This left him at the back, and stuck behind the backmarkers. Kimi Raikkonen showed he had absolutely no intention of using the conventional track, as he sailed around the run-off area at La Source, questionably gaining several positions in the process. Adrian Sutil, who was sluggish in qualifying and was 11th, took off part of his front wing in a tangle.
Worse was to come at the Les Combes corner. Raikkonen, who had just swiftly disposed of Robert Kubica in 2nd, ran slightly wide, and the BMW Sauber driver clipped his front wing against the Ferrari. Further back, rookie Romain Grosjean hit the back of Jenson Button, who spun 180 degrees and collided with Grosjean again. Lewis Hamilton backed off, and was hit by another rookie, Jaime Alguersuari, who had lost control after a seperate crash. All four cars were eliminated on the spot, and the safety car was deployed, as cars were streamed all over Les Combes.
Hamilton and Alguersuari crash at Les Combes
After Lap 4, the safety car pitted, and Fisichella was faced with a problem. His strategy was to get away cleanly at the start, and within the first lap get far away enough from Raikkonen to avoid his KERS system. However, the safety car restart had bunched up the field, and now Kimi was within striking range to launch a move within the next lap. Giancarlo tried his best, but at the restart Raikkonen was right behind him as they approached Eau Rouge, and easily got past using his KERS on the straight.
Further back, Rubens Barrichello was recovering from his disastrous start. He out-braked Badoer with no difficulty to get into 13th position. Adrian Sutil invented a new overtaking spot, as he sailed past Luca by using the run-off area at Pouhon. The Ferrari driver was again completely off the pace, and was a second a lap slower later on.
Toyota had got themselves in a good position for the Belgian GP, with Trulli and Glock 2nd and 7th on the grid. But, a mistake with the fuel rig at Glock’s pit stop, combined with a heavy fuel load, dropped him well down the order, while Trulli retired after the first set of stops. Yet again, Toyota had thrown away a good result.
Up at the front, Raikkonen couldn’t get away from Fisichella, who was stuck to the back of the Ferrari’s gearbox. The only thing keeping him behind was Kimi’s KERS system, which disabled the Force India’s better straight-line speed. They both pitted at the same time on Lap 14, and seemed to take on the same amount of fuel. Kimi stayed on the harder tyre, while Fisi switched to softs.
More pit-lane drama occurred, after Mark Webber was released straight into the path of Nick Heidfeld, who swerved to within centimetres of the pit lane wall to avoid a collision. He was swiftly issued a drive-through penalty, and dropped to 9th. Before he served the penalty, Barrichello (who hadn’t made his stop) made a brave dive around the outside at Blanchimont. Meanwhile, after suffering wheel damage on the first lap, Fernando Alonso was forced to retire after his first stop.
On Lap 31, Raikkonen and Fisichella pitted for the second time. No positions were changed between the two, but Sebastian Vettel leap-frogged Robert Kubica 4 laps later. He actually began to catch Kimi and Fisi, but he was so far back he decided to turn down his engine revs to secure 3rd.
Raikkonen held off Fisichella until the very end
With the top 3 settled, as long as Kimi held Giancarlo back with his KERS, the focus moved to the points-scorers. The BMW’s of Kubica and Heidfeld were 4th and 5th, while Kovalainen’s 6th place was being challenged by Barrichello. He could have got past, until Rubens’ engine began spewing oil and smoke in the last few laps. He coaxed his car to the chequered flag, and impressively held off Nico Rosberg to the finish.
With all of this settled, the undisputed king of Spa, Kimi Raikkonen crossed the line first, but not without being chased all the way to the flag by Fisichella. In hindsight, more fuel at his first stop could well have given Giancarlo the win, but Force India’s first points and podium was enough to celebrate for one day. After Rubens Barrichello pitted after the finish, his engine cover soon caught fire, with all of the boiling oil.
Rubens Barrichello's engine cover catches fire in the pit lane
Adrian Sutil must have been disappointed out of the points, but Luca Badoer was even more concerned. With Ferrari fans mocking him with banners and flags after his dismal drive in Valencia, his last-position finish sealed his fate, and he was surely going to be replaced for Ferrari’s home race at Monza, otherwise he would have been murdered by the Tifosi. Rumours instantly floated around that Fisichella was being asked to fill in for Badoer for the rest of the season.
Fisichella, Raikkonen and Vettel celebrate on the podium
So after a race in which the formbook was thrown out the window, attention soon moved to the Italian Grand Prix. But, throughout the paddock, rumours began to surface that fired Renault driver, Nelson Piquet Jr, had one more thing to say…