Spa-Francorchamps is a place of great memories, but the overriding ones from the 2008 race centre on anger at the controversy that saw Lewis Hamilton robbed of victory by a mean-minded decision from the race stewards. That was why I drew so much pleasure, once my heart had popped back down from my mouth to its rightful place as he made his sole error of the race and slid momentarily off the track, to see him dominate this year's event.
Spa has seen some very black days, the worst surely coming in the 1960 grand prix when British upcomers Chris Bristow and Alan Stacey were killed. Two years ago, it was the sport itself that was the casualty.
Hamilton had snatched victory from the gullet of defeat after beating Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen - his Nemesis in the previous year's title fight - fair and square as they suddenly had to tiptoe round on slick tyres on a streaming wet track. He had taken the lead from the Finn in the final chicane, but like Raikkonen had been forced to cut it, thus gaining illegal advantage. He immediately allowed the Ferrari driver to repass him as they crossed the start/finish line, then overtook him cleanly in the first corner as Raikkonen made a mistake. Later the Finn crashed, but Hamilton lost the race afterwards when the stewards decided he had not given the lead back 'enough', as if such a thing were possible. It had all the hallmarks of a piece of politically motivated mealy-mouthed subterfuge that sickened true fans of the sport who had witnessed a wonderful drive.
Hamilton had been commendably calm about the whole situation, though privately he seethed. So when he had a competitive McLaren beneath him this August he was determined to avenge himself. He did precisely that with a beautiful display of controlled aggression on the most majestic track on the calendar, and in doing so regained the lead of the world championship.
It was one of those afternoons on which it was all too easy to make mistakes, as Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso demonstrated. Hamilton led from the start, but as it began to rain hard in the closing stages he, too, erred as he slid into the gravel in the Rivage corner. It looked like China 2007 all over again, where he had slid ignominiously off the road in the pit entry lane. But though he crazed a barrier he just managed to extricate himself and retain a reduced lead over Robert Kubica and Mark Webber.
“That was by biggest moment!” he admitted. “I made it all the way out to the wall and just clipped it with the edge of my front wing. Jeez, the Lord had his hand over me then and I was blessed to be able to get away with that one. I was very fortunate! It was so slippery there's just nothing you can do. I felt I was braking early, but the thing just didn't want to stop.”
Thereafter he nursed the car home, a clear winner yet again. “Ten wet laps on intermediate tyres was twice as bad as four laps in the wet on slicks here in 2008,” he revealed. “You can tell from my reaction how happy I am. Racing's in my blood. I can tick Spa off the list now.” And he could help but add, with the broadest grin: “And I get to keep this one!”
Justice, finally, was done.Reuse content