Schumacher seals title as Belgian spa revives Formula One

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The Independent Online

After Hungary, Dr Ecclestone packed his ailing patients off to the Spa town of Francorchamps and administered the perfect restorative. Such was the mesmerising power of a race that featured six different leaders and three separate safety car periods that the sport perked up again. Kimi Raikkonen's brilliant win overshadowed Michael Schumacher's second which cemented his seventh world title.

After Hungary, Dr Ecclestone packed his ailing patients off to the Spa town of Francorchamps and administered the perfect restorative. Such was the mesmerising power of a race that featured six different leaders and three separate safety car periods that the sport perked up again. Kimi Raikkonen's brilliant win overshadowed Michael Schumacher's second which cemented his seventh world title.

From first-corner accidents that affected Jenson Button, Rubens Barrichello, Mark Webber, Felipe Massa and Nick Heidfeld, to another shunt a few hundred metres further down the road that eliminated Takuma Sato, Gianmaria Bruni and Giorgio Pantano, triggering the first safety car, and then to a brilliant move on lap five in which Juan Pablo Montoya went round the outside of Schumacher going into the Bus Stop chicane, this one had everything.

First there were the Renaults of polesitter Jarno Trulli and Fernando Alonso chasing one another, hounded by Raikkonen. But then Alonso rotated out of the race on his own oil on lap 12, and Trulli, having been shoved aside by Montoya at the Bus Stop in a slightly less well-judged move on lap 12, began a decline to ninth place in a car he described as "undriveable". That was all Raikkonen needed to put a full nelson on the race - until Button's dramatic departure on lap 29 brought out the safety car again on lap 30 and neutralised a 13-second lead Raikkonen had built over Schumacher. The Englishman had recovered brilliantly to fifth place after his early problem, but was sent spinning into Zsolt Baumgartner by a right-rear Michelin tyre failure. Something similar had already blown Coulthard's chances, and would later drop Montoya from third place in sight of the finish. "I felt that I had a problem on the rear and then the tyre let go," Button said. He holds third place in the drivers' championship, but his chances of catching Barrichello for second took a knock.

Now Schumacher found Raikkonen teaching him some new tricks before the safety car pulled in on lap 34. Halfway round, the Finn slowed things so much that Schumacher's Bridgestone tyres lost temperature and grip, and he was able to sprint away when the race resumed. It was a case of the biter bit. But having opened a gap again Raikkonen found the champion challenging him after three more laps. It was nip and tuck, until a recovering Coulthard misjudged things and walloped the back of Christian Klien's Jaguar, bringing out the safety car yet again on lap 39. This time the racing resumed on lap 41, and now Raikkonen got such a jump on Schumacher that the champion conceded on the final three laps.

"I couldn't hope for a better result," said Raikkonen, who overcame gearshifting problems, sealed McLaren's return to respectability and ended Schumacher's seven-race winning streak. It was fitting that a proper racer won at this majestic circuit. If Hungary was to Formula One what Paula Radcliffe's performances were to British athletics, this was Kelly Holmes on the rampage.

The race was as kind to Barrichello and Massa as it was cruel to Antonia Pizzonia and Ricardo Zonta. The former was running third, ahead of BMW-Williams team-mate Montoya, when his gearbox failed on the 32nd lap. The latter was running fourth with three laps left when his Toyota suffered the team's only engine failure of the season. But his fellow Brazilians Barrichello and Massa made their own luck, as they led home Giancarlo Fisichella, Klien (his first points), Coulthard and Olivier Panis.

Schumacher was wistful. "I would have preferred to clinch the title with a win," he admitted, "but today we simply weren't strong enough at crucial moments." Now it just needs the teams and drivers to keep taking their medicine, and if the FIA could just arrange for all grands prix to be run on proper race tracks, Formula One really could take off again.

Belgian Grand Prix (Spa Francorchamp): 44 laps: 1 K Raikkonen (Fin) McLaren Mercedes 1hr 32min 35.274sec; 2 M Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari 01:32:38.406, 3 Rubens Barrichello (Br) Ferrari 01:32:39.645, 4 Felipe Massa (Br) Sauber-Petronas 01:32:47.778, 5 Giancarlo Fisichella (It) Sauber-Petronas 01:32:49.378, 6 Christian Klien (Aut) Jaguar 01:32:49.888, 7 David Coulthard (GB) McLaren-Mercedes 01:32:53.244, 8 Olivier Panis (Fr) Toyota 01:32:53.967, 9 Jarno Trulli (It) Renault 01:32:57.389, 10 Ricardo Zonta (Br) Toyota DNF 41 laps, 11 Nick Heidfeld (Ger) Jordan-Cosworth 40 laps, 12 Juan Montoya (Col) Williams-BMW DNF 37 laps, 13 Antonio Pizzonia (Br) Williams BMW DNF 31 laps, 14 Jenson Button (GB) BAR-Honda DNF 29 laps, 15 Zsolt Baumgartner (Hun) Minardi-Cosworth DNF 28 laps, 16 Fernando Alonso (Sp) Renault DNF 11 laps, 17 Giorgio Pantano (It) Jordan-Cosworth DNF 1 lap, 18 Gianmaria Bruni (It) Minardi-Cosworth DNF 1 lap, 19 Mark Webber (Aus) Jaguar DNF 1 lap, 20 Takuma Sato (Japan) BAR-Honda DNF 1 lap. Fastest Lap: Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) 1min 45.108secs, lap 42.

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