x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Finn triumphs amid chaos

Kimi Raikkonen took his first Grand Prix of the season yesterday, triumphing over a depleted field at Spa that lost six drivers, four of those in the opening lap

Kimi Raikkonen took his first Grand Prix of the season yesterday, triumphing over a depleted field at Spa that lost six drivers, four in the opening lap, including championship leader Jenson Button and reigning champion Lewis Hamilton. The 44 laps of the race produced compelling stories at both ends of the constructors' championship as Force India claimed their first championship points in 30 races thanks to the sensational driving of Giancarlo Fisichella, who finished just 0.9 seconds behind the Raikkonen.

The Finn, the 2007 world champion, was also in celebratory mood after clinching his 18th Grand Prix victory and fourth at Spa. Button, who was leading the championship by 18 points from his Brawn teammate, Rubens Barrichello, going into yesterday's contest failed to pick up a point for the first time this season. His lead has been cut to 16 points after Barrichello picked up two points for seventh place.

This after the Brazilian, who almost stalled at the start of the race, was forced to back off in his pursuit of sixth-placed Heikki Kovalainen after an oil leak saw thick smoke escape from his car in the final laps. The unfortunate Luca Badoer, standing in at Ferrari for the injured Felipe Massa, was an unsurprising last, although at one point, benefiting from the chaos of the first-lap pile-up, he was running in 13th and put together a fastest first sector on lap 25. Italy's Fisichella, first on the grid, was safely away from the opening-lap drama, which was triggered when Romain Grosjean, of Renault, attempting an ambitious move at Les Combes bend, clipped Button's car, sending the Briton spinning off the asphalt.

Hamilton's McLaren-Mercedes sustained heavy damage after being caught up in the aftermath and went off at the same spot, ending his race and Jaime Alguersuari's Toro Rosso was sucked into the chaos and was also retired. Raikkonen, sixth in qualifying, was lucky to escape unscathed from the eventful first lap as, going wide, he was struck from the rear by Robert Kubica in a separate incident, just as he had worked his way up to second.

It did not take the Finn long to get back into a challenging position however, surging past Kubica, before reaching Les Combes for the second time. By lap five, Raikkonen had taken the lead. Fisichella and the Finn drove remarkably similar races, pitting together on the 15th lap and the first two positions stayed the same for the remainder of the race, despite a second pit stop. Kubica was beaten into fourth by Sebastian Vettel, of Red Bull, while Kubica's BMW Sauber teammate, Nick Heidfield, took fifth.

Fernando Alonso retired following a problem to his left-front wheel after a pit-stop on lap 25, lasting a mammoth 52.5 seconds, revealed he had picked up damage to his Renault. He worked his way back up the field but eventually had to admit defeat on lap 30. Jarno Trulli, the Italian Toyota driver who started on the second on the grid, also saw his hopes of a podium finish end on lap 25 when he was wheeled into the garage. He was another casualty of the race-defining opening lap after touching Heidfield and damaging his front wing.

He had pitted to get the part replaced, but was unable to finish the race. @Email:stregoning@thenational.ae