FORMULA One races at Spa are always sensational. It is a fabulous circuit, loved not just by the drivers but by the teams as well, as they know it will bring out the best of their men behind the wheel.
People around the world love watching the race because it is an unusual track in that it gives something back to the driver, unlike the modern track of today (of which Silverstone is a good example).
With the amazing Eau Rouge bend, it provides the ultimate driving experience and rewards the best man and machine, rather than just the driver with the best car.
Qualifying was held in the wet and the dry, but it ended up dry. In the first 20 minutes we lost both Force Indias of Fisichella and Sutil and Nakajima of Williams. We also lost both Hondas of Button and Barichello.
I hope Ross Brawn knows what he is doing and is concentrating all his efforts on the 09 car, because he is not making much impression on improving the performance of the 08 model, that’s for sure.
In Q2 we lost the Williams of Rosberg, Coulthard’s Red Bull, the Renault of Piquet and both Toyotas of Trulli and Glock.
Everybody was looking forward to Q3, although it looked as though Hamilton had the pace on the two Ferraris, particularly in view of the weather, as the McLaren appears better able to generate more temperature in the tyres in cool conditions. But, once again, Massa did a fantastic job, ending up in second place and out qualifying World Champion and Ferrari team-mate Raikkonen again.
But once again Hamilton produced an amazing lap and the performance of the day to take pole in the end by a comfortable three-tenths of a second. Kovalainen was third in the second McLaren, ahead of Raikkonen. Heidfeld out-qualified his BMW team-mate for a change to take fifth, with Alonso (Renault) sixth, Webber (Red Bull) seventh and Kubica (BMW) eighth. The two Toro Rossos of Bourdais and Vettel were ninth and tenth respectively, doing a great job to get both cars in Q3.
On race day we had one of those situations where it was slippery on the last quarter of the circuit but the remainder was dry, and everyone except Piquet opted to start on slicks so we were expecting carnage into turn one, where it was wet and where there had been problems in the weekend’s support races.
Everyone got away cleanly but going into turn one on the second lap Lewis spun and allowed Kimi to pass him. Lewis did a good job to get the car going and stayed in front of Massa. Kimi stayed in the lead until late in the race – the Flying Finn had one of those drives we have been expecting for the last three or four races.
Being a bit of a Kimi fan, there is no denying his raw speed and ability, but at the moment he is being out-qualified by his younger (and cheaper) Brazilian team-mate. The Ferrari man looked good until the last few laps. Hamilton had kept the pressure on the leader and the pair opened up a comfortable lead over Massa in third.
The two Toro Rossos were running well, as was Kubica, but then all hell broke loose. First it started to drizzle, and then the heavens opened. Lewis closed the gap on Kimi within the space of a lap and a half, and that is when the controversy started.
Lewis tried to go around the outside under braking at Bus Stop, the last corner before the start-finish straight, but Kimi squeezed him on the exit, which he was perfectly entitled to do, and Hamilton had nowhere to go so went over the run-off area and rejoined in front of Kimi. He immediately slowed up to let Raikkonen overtake, so he had gained no advantage by going over the chicane.
On the start/finish straight Kimi was 6 kph faster in front, so there was no gain for Lewis, and that was proved by the telemetry. Into turn one, La Source, Lewis outbraked Kimi, who stood on his own brakes very early and nearly lost the back end, and by his sheer brilliant car control Lewis dived up the inside. Kimi got a little touch on Hamilton’s rear on the exit and you can only praise both guys for staying on the circuit, although they were all over the place as the surface began to resemble an ice rink.
Alonso and one or two others came in for intermediates, and to show how bad it was trying to drive on slicks, those who changed tyres were lapping 26 seconds quicker than the leader!
Kimi retook the lead when Lewis nearly slid off, but then the Finn had a spin, allowing Lewis to regain the lead. Kimi then got crossed up just before the Bus Stop and hit the wall. There ended Kimi’s race, which was a shame because he drove impeccably up to that point.
Although I cheered a bit at the time in the heat of the race, I felt a bit embarrassed, as I am a Kimi fan; it is just that I’m a bigger fan of Lewis, because he’s British.
Lewis eased the car carefully round to the finish in the treacherous conditions and took victory by 14 seconds from Massa. I can’t stress enough what a brilliant job the two drivers did with dry tyres over the last three laps. Heidfeld, Alonso and Vettel were all on inters. Kubica, Bourdais and Weber were the other points scorers.
The presentations were made and everybody was happy – at least for a couple of hours. That’s when the controversy started – and now I have to get on my soapbox.
I have been a little sceptical all year about the penalties given to Lewis, like when he cut the chicane at Magny Cours, although he gained no advantage, and was given a penalty of ten places on the grid for the next race, which put him out of contention. Then there was the lack of ny penalty for Kimi in Monaco when he should have had points taken away, and the lack of any sanction for Massa with the incident in the pit lane at Valencia, which should have warranted at least a drive-through.
On the other hand, you have Hamilton and McLaren penalised for everything. The stewards declared after the meeting that he had gained an advantage by going over the chicane when, in my opinion, he clearly had not.
His team were screaming at him over the intercom to let Kimi pass, and during the next lap they checked with Charlie Whiting, the chief scrutineer and race organiser, to see whether or not there was an infringement and if they should let Kimi pass a second time. He said he saw no problem – yet the stewards decided on a 25-second penalty, which dropped him down to third.
That decision makes a massive difference in the championship. Having believed he had opened up an eight-point lead over Massa, the gap is now down to just two.
I think McLaren have been victimised. I believe Hamilton, at 23 years of age, had the perfect weekend, and his qualifying was brilliant. His only mistake was going into turn one on lap two, but he spent the rest of the race trying to rectify that by keeping the pressure on Kimi.
When conditions became treacherous he showed what a superb driver he is and outperformed both Ferraris and gave the Formula One world a masterclass. I am upset that Formula One does not appear to be operating on a level playing field, but someone said to me subsequent to the race that it had never been fair.
We have back-to-back races, so it is Monza this weekend. It is the biggest race of the season for Ferrari, but I have to say that McLaren appear to have a bit of a jump on them at the moment, although it is likely to be hotter, which could play into the hands of Ferrari. They still have concerns about their engines, but the Tifosi will be expecting a one-two, although I think a certain British driver may spoil their fun.