Oh Belgian Grand Prix of 2008, let me count the ways in which you were crazy. From Sebastien Bourdais setting the quickest time in Q1 to post-race result changes it was arguably the maddest race at Spa in a decade- and a real classic to boot.
The first part of qualifying produced no shocks in terms of who was eliminated: both Force Indias, Kazuki Nakajima’s Williams and the Honda pairing of Rubens Barichello and Jenson Button (remember how awful they were in 2007-2008?)
What did provide a surprise was Sebastien Bourdais going quickest in the Toro Rosso, the team’s new STR3 really coming in to its own as the season progressed. Also noteworthy was the fact that the top 15 were separated by less than three-quarters of a second. Red Bull have produced bigger gaps to the rest of the field than that in 2010.
In Q3 things normalised somewhat, with title chaser Lewis Hamilton taking pole from Felipe Massa (Ferrari), teammate Heikki Kovalainen and Kimi Raikonnen (Ferrari). Bourdais and Toro Rosso teammate Sebastian Vettel were a solid 9th and 10th respectively.
The race started on a drying track following a morning rainshower. Hamilton got away cleanly, Kovalainen suffered a bad start, and Kimi Raikonnen was able to pass Massa on the first lap. Fernando Alonso also got a good getaway, and at the completion of the lap one it was Hamilton from Raikkonen, Massa, Alonso and Bourdais.
But Lewis was set for a trying day, and his problems began on lap 2. A spin at La Source allowed Raikkonen to pass him, and the Finn immediately began to build a gap.
By lap 11 this stood at 3 seconds, and Lewis elected to pit, the first of the frontrunners to do so. A lap later Raikonnen made his stop, followed by Massa and Alonso a lap later. By the time the field had sorted itself out the order was Raikonnen from Hamilton, Massa, Alonso and Bourdais, and it would remain this way until the second round of stops.
Kimi and Lewis both pitted again on lap 25, with Alonso following 2 laps later and Massa stopping on lap 28. Upon returning to the race Kimi’s lead was now 5 seconds but he wouldn’t be allowed to cruise home- Lewis was catching him.
As the race reached its final 10 laps Lewis seemed to have nearly half a second a lap over Raikkonen, and a battle for the lead seemed inevitable. Then on lap 41, as if things weren’t already tense enough, it began to rain- heavily.
Towards the end of lap 42 Lewis sensed a chance, and tried to pass Raikkonen at the Bus Stop chicane. But on the slippery track he couldn’t get his car slowed down in time, and cut the chicane- before allowing Raikkonen back past.
And then came the decisive moment of the race: Hamilton, with a run on Kimi from his chicane-cutting, passed the Ferrari in to La Source at the begining of lap 43.
Lewis now lead, but when Nico Rosberg went off at Fagnes and returned to the track in front of the leaders the McLaren driver went wide, giving the lead back to Raikkonen. But incredibly this lasted for only a few moments, as Kimi spun at the next corner, promoting Lewis back in to P1.
And things got a whole lot worse for Raikkonen just a few moments later. With the rain coming down heavily the Ferrari driver dropped his car through Blanchimont, hit the wall and slid down the grass verge. His race was over.
Hamilton went on to win with Massa second. Behind them there had been yet more chaos.
Beginning lap 44 the order behind the front two was Bourdais, Vettel, Alonso, Kubica, Kovalainen and Heidfeld. But one lap later it was Heidfeld, who’d started the last lap in 8th, who came home for the final podium spot. He’d been on intermediate tyres, and was able to carve through the field over the final 4.3 miles.
The big losers were the Toro Rossos, with Vettel dropping to 5th and Bourdais plummeting from 3rd to 7th. It was the Frenchman’s best effort in Formula One, but it had ended disastrously. Queue some tears from Seb as he trudged back to the Toro Rosso motorhome.
It had been a crazy end to a thrilling race- but there was more to come. Two hours after the cherquered flag fell Hamilton was hit with a 25 second penalty for gaining an advantage through cutting the chicane. This promoted Massa- Hamilton’s chief title rival- to first position, with Heidfeld second and Lewis dropping to third. McLaren would launch an appeal but to no avail. The history books will remember Felipe Massa as the winner of the 2008 Belgian Grand Prix.
But this race wasn’t about Massa (no offence, Felipe). It was about a titanic duel between Hamilton and Raikkonen, two drivers of immense raw speed, culminating in a breathless final few laps during which we had no idea who’d come out on top. At the time the post-race events left a sour taste in many fan’s mouths. Hopefully, two years on, we can forget the result and look back on this for what it was: a thrilling battle between a pair of supremely talented drivers on one of the greatest tracks on earth.