Kimi Raikkonen leads a Ferrari 1-2

The Finn drove at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit with measured brilliance at the start of what he believes can be a late sprint to the World Championship from 13 points behind Lewis Hamilton. Alan Henry reports.

Lewis Hamilton finished the Belgian Grand Prix (September 16) in a furious fourth place, angered by his team-mate Fernando Alonso’s antics at the first corner and accusing the Spaniard of sideswiping his McLaren-Mercedes off the track only seconds after they accelerated away from the starting grid.

“I wouldn’t say it was fair. It was hard,” the British rookie said of Alonso’s move. “The guy on the outside doesn’t always have the corner; I don’t know whether I was ahead, but there was enough room for us all to get round fair and square. I just feel, for someone that’s always complaining about people doing unfair manoeuvres and everyone wanting to be fair, someone I look up to, he has gone and swiped me and pushed me as wide as he could. I was just really lucky there was a run-off area.”

Hamilton was then on the outside line on the 180mph approach to the challenging uphill Eau Rouge corner, forcing him to back off and concede the line to Alonso. “At Eau Rouge it’s impossible to take two Formula One cars through there without taking each other out, so I just lifted.”

Alonso and Hamilton had qualified third and fourth on the grid for the 44-lap race on this epic circuit through the pine forests of the Ardennes and were wheel-to-wheel as they accelerated away towards the tight La Source right-hand hairpin. Ahead of them, a puff of smoke from the right front wheel of Massa’s Ferrari indicated that the Brazilian had slightly over-braked as he approached the corner, having the effect of slightly boxing in Alonso as they negotiated the turn. That in turn caused Alonso to run wide and tag Hamilton, frustrating his efforts to extend his World Championship points lead. “We all had equal starts, perhaps a little bit better for me than for Fernando,” Hamilton said. “I braked quite late and was on the outside quite close to the Ferraris, and I was just behind Felipe (Massa). I started to accelerate and all of a sudden Fernando came sweeping across me, and he knew I was there, so . . . I did the best job I could to get by him down the straight but it wasn’t enough.

“I still feel positive. I know it’s difficult to believe that but I am still leading the World Championship by two points. He (Alonso) only took one point from me today. It’s been a tough week, and for sure a lot tougher week for me than for Fernando because . . . I won’t say any more. I think we all did a good job to still bring the car home, and the last three races will be close.” He added: “I feel more attached to the team, I guess, and I care a bit more.”

For his part Alonso was defiantly unapologetic, just happy to have beaten his younger team-mate for three races in succession. “Yeah, at the first corner Felipe locked the front tyre a little bit and was blocking the inside and I had no space and had a bad exit from turn one,” he said, “and I think Lewis went wide at the exit and took a bit of advantage running on tyre marks and we arrived wheel by wheel into turn two and I was lucky to be on inside and keep the position there.”

The defending champion added: “In this occasion I was quite confident and happy with my position into that corner so I was not too worried and I had one lap less fuel than him and I knew my car in the first stint should be quick enough.”

The race was led from start to finish by Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari, the third time the Finnish driver has won in Belgium. His two previous victories in 2004 and 2005 were achieved at the wheel of a McLaren and this time he had the satisfaction of convincingly outpacing his former employers. He led Massa across the line by 4.6sec, a team result which was enough to clinch the Constructors’ World Championship for Ferrari ahead of BMW Sauber, although many regarded this as a somewhat inconsequential achievement after all McLaren’s 166 points were wiped from the slate by order of the FIA world motor sport council meeting.

Nick Heidfeld did an excellent job yet again to bring his BMW Sauber through to fifth place at the chequered flag ahead of an equally satisfied Nico Rosberg, who had a fine run in his Williams on his first outing in a Formula One car on this daunting circuit, which was returning to the calendar after being skipped last year while extensive upgrading work was completed.

Overwhelmingly, Raikkonen’s success was well deserved. Although he opened his first season with the Italian team with victory in Australia, he took some time to settle in to his exacting role as Michael Schumacher’s successor.

But on that Sunday he drove with measured brilliance at the start of what he believes can be a late sprint to the World Championship from 13 points behind Britain’s young rising star.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2007 * * * ALONSO'S THREAT TO McLAREN

The rivalry between McLaren's Formula One drivers Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso (in pic) reached such a pitch that the Spanish world champion threatened to reveal damaging data obtained illegally from Ferrari to the sport's governing body unless he was made the team's official number one driver, it was alleged. During the row, which occurred at the Hungarian Grand Prix, Alonso was reported by witnesses to have told the McLaren team principal Ron Dennis: "Either make me No. 1 or let me go," and threatened to take the Ferrari information to sport's governing body, the FIA.

A McLaren source said Dennis called Alonso's bluff and told him he should go ahead. Dennis then telephoned the FIA president, Max Mosley, to warn him that Alonso might be in touch. In the event Alonso retracted the threat and the allegation was never formally made by the Spanish driver, so Dennis shouldered the responsibility for confirming to the governing body that his team had been in possession of the Ferrari data.

"I want to stress that once I became aware that new evidence might exist, which I did on the morning of the Hungarian Grand Prix (August 5), I immediately phoned the FIA to keep them informed," Dennis said before the Belgian GP.

On September 13, the team was fined $100m and lost all its constructor's points for being in possession of the illegal data. Alonso denies the allegation, Luis Garcia, the Spaniard's manager, said. "There is nothing in it. I have nothing to say. It is complete rubbish," he said. Alonso joined McLaren from Renault at the start of the season on a GBP10m-a-year contract over two years whereas Hamilton, in his rookie year as a driver and on GBP340,000, has come up through the ranks and with three races remaining could take the title in his first year.

There has been a fractious relationship between the two men this season, most notably in the pits at Hungary when Alonso was penalised for preventing Hamilton from doing a final lap in qualifying for the grid. There was also controversy at Monaco in May where Hamilton believed he was quicker but was forced to stay in second place during the race, and a battle at Indianapolis in June where Alonso felt he was the faster but could not find a way past the victorious Hamilton.

Earlier in the year Alonso said: "Right from the start I've never felt totally comfortable. I have a British team-mate in a British team, and he's doing a great job and we know that all the support and help is going to him and I understood that from the beginning."

If Alonso negotiates a termination of his McLaren contract there is speculation that he might return to Renault, or even sit out the 2008 season. But McLaren's chief executive, Martin Whitmarsh, would neither confirm nor deny there were problems with the team's relationship with Alonso. "Fernando and McLaren have a long-term contract with each other," he said during the practice session for the Belgian GP.

Alan Henry © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2007