Kimi steals it

Shock for McLaren duo as Räikkönen leap-frogs both to take a well deserved World Championship

Lewis Hamilton’s bid to become the youngest F1 champion of all time and the first rookie title winner collapsed in disarray less than half way round the opening lap of the Brazilian Grand Prix, allowing outsider Kimi Räikkönen to win both the race and the title in a dominant Ferrari 1-2 ahead of his team-mate Felipe Massa.

There was still a glimmer of hope for Hamilton’s World Championship aspirations, however. After the race, stewards investigated alleged fuel irregularities by the Williams and BMW Sauber teams, but decided not to punish them. Had Williams’ Nico Rosberg and the BMW pairing of Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld been disqualified, Hamilton would have finished fourth, earning him enough points to become the World Champion.

As we closed for press, McLaren had appealed against the stewards’ decision not to punish Williams and BMW, and hoped the case would be heard by the FIA’s International Court of Appeal.

At the end of a roller-coaster 17-race season in which Ferrari and McLaren never allowed another rival to gatecrash their winning domination, Räikkönen finished as he had started in Australia with a commanding victory. Hamilton and his team-mate Fernando Alonso, who finished third, shared second place in the points rankings on 109, but Räikkönen’s victory in Brazil took his total for the season to 110.

Räikkönen took the lead at the final round of refuelling stops, having followed dutifully in pole-sitter Massa’s wheel tracks up to that point. Hamilton’s championship challenge was effectively scuppered when he dropped back to 18th place on lap six when his gearbox briefly selected neutral, then took about 20sec for its electronic control system to reprogramme itself so that he could select gears again.

For the McLaren team, defeat in its quest to secure the drivers’ championship as a consolation for being stripped of its constructors’ championship points by the FIA was nothing short of a disastrous note on which to round off the year. The fact that Räikkönen left McLaren to join Ferrari at the end of last season after a frustrating five-year stint with the British team will only have heightened the discomfort felt by the McLaren chairman Ron Dennis and his right-hand man Martin Whitmarsh.

Dennis simply looked resigned rather than shell-shocked. “Having fought what was both a close and thrilling battle all year, and then not to win it at the final hurdle is extremely disappointing,” he said afterwards. “However we as a team can only feel proud of our achievements and the way we have conducted ourselves. We would like to congratulate Kimi on his achievement today.”

After being neatly boxed in at the start by both the Ferraris, Räikkönen then wrong-footed Hamilton coming out of the second corner, forcing Hamilton to back off the throttle momentarily, allowing his team-mate and rival for the championship Fernando Alonso – seeking to become the first man since Fangio [1954-55] to win consecutive championships for different teams – to nip through into third place.

Obviously flustered at having been demoted from second on the starting grid to fourth within 20 sec of the start, Hamilton ran wide onto the broad run-off area, and dropped right back into the middle of the field, completing the opening lap in eighth as Massa led confidently through on the opening lap ahead of Räikkönen.

After his gearbox woes Hamilton gamely set off in pursuit of the fifth place he required to clinch the Championship. He pushed relentlessly all the way, diving deep into the many tricky braking areas which abound on this challenging circuit as, one by one, he picked off the rump of the midfield runners. If he could get back to fifth place he would win the championship, but in the end he could do no better than seventh.

At the end of the day the Ferrari F2007s demonstrated such storming pace on the 4.3km circuit that there was never any chance of Alonso, let alone the delayed Hamilton, getting on terms with them in a straight fight. They dictated the race from start to finish, ensuring Räikkönen’s sixth victory of the season and clinching his overdue world title.

There is very much a touch of James Hunt about Räikkönen. The Finn may not be as obviously extrovert as the 1976 World Champion, who died of a heart attack in 1993, but Hunt would certainly have approved of reports of Räikkönen’s roistering behaviour in a London club and his reportedly falling asleep outside a Spanish bar clutching an inflatable dolphin.

The third Finn to win the World Championship, after Keke Rosberg and Mika Hakkinen, can certainly put his foot down in more ways than one. “I live my life on my own terms, and that’s it,” he said. Good for him, I say.

Alan Henry