Spa-Francorchamps is famous for being the longest track on the F1 calendar and, relatedly, a course where it is often raining on one part of the course while other parts remain dry. The 2008 edition of this race featured some serious drama thanks in part to some late-race rain.
McLaren and Ferrari were the top teams in the 2008 season. Heading into the Belgian Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton, driving a McLaren, held a lead in the standings over the second place Felipe Massa, driving a Ferrari. Qualifying at Spa was dominated by the McLarens and Ferraris as well. Hamilton started in P1, next to Massa in P2. The other McLaren, piloted by Kovalainen was third, followed by the other Ferrari, of Raikonnen, in P4.
The race started on a damp track, almost all of the drivers opted for the dry-weather Soft compound. Hamilton, Massa and Raikonnen all got off to good starts, while Kovalainen was slow off the line and then was involved in a minor collision in the first turn. Raikonnen managed to pass his teammate Massa on the Kemmel Straight. Hamilton 1st, Raikonnen 2nd.
Hamilton’s lead would last only one lap. He spun out at the La Source turn on the second lap and Raikonnen took the lead. Raikonnen gradually built up a 5 second lead. Both cars pitted twice and continued with the dry weather compounds. But the weather would change.
On lap 41 of 44, it started to rain heavily. Both Raikonnen and Hamilton struggled on the now slick track but they couldn’t afford another pit stop. Hamilton closed up the gap and attempted a pass at the Bus Stop chicane. Raikonnen was on the inside of the first turn and had a slight lead halfway through the turn complex. Hamilton felt he was being pushed off the track and he took the emergency escape route rather than make the second turn. Hamilton gained a position by skipping the turn, but immediately realized that he had to give it back to Raikonnen, which he did. Hamilton stayed on Raikonnen’s tail down the straight and as Raikonnen turned erratically trying to block Hamilton, Hamilton was able to use the draft to pass Raikonnen on the inside of the next corner. Check it out for yourself. But the action wasn’t over.
Although Raikonnen wouldn’t pass Hamilton at that next corner, he did try and touched his front left wing into the right rear tyre of Hamilton. The two continued to race and came up behind a slow Rosberg. The combination of the lap traffic and the wet track sent Hamilton off into the grass with Raikonnen regaining the lead! But then in the same corner Raikonnen then spun out. While he was quickly able to regain control, Hamilton was back into the lead. That’s racing whiplash!
As they finished out the race, Raikonnen kept pushing and crashed out in the rain with only 2 laps. Hamilton crossed the line in first, followed by Massa. But those results wouldn’t last.
Although Hamilton stood on the top step of the podium, soon thereafter, the race stewards imposed a
retroactive 25 second penalty on him. That dropped him from P1 to P3 and made Massa the race winner. The stewards said that Hamilton was guilty of cutting a chicane and gaining an advantage, which carries a 25 second penalty. Hamilton said he had no choice but to cut it because of Raikonnen’s position and he and McLaren appealed the penalty. The appeal was immediately denied, with the FIA saying 25 second penalties cannot be appealed.
There was some debate over whether Hamilton had gained an advantage by cutting the chicane. After all, he did immediately give the position back. The majority of drivers believed he had because the cut allowed him to maintain the speed he needed to give back the position and then immediately perform the draft-aided overtake.
As a result of this incident, the FIA clarified its rules to specify that a driver that cuts a chicane must wait at least one additional corner to perform an overtake. In other words, what Hamilton did would be more clearly illegal.
As a result of the revised final standings at the 2008 Belgian GP, Massa closed the Drivers Championship gap to Hamilton from 6 points to 2. At the end of the season after a few more races, Hamilton would go on to win the 2008 championship by a single point over Massa.