SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, August 31 – Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen claimed his first victory in 25 races on Sunday when he held off a challenge from Force India's Giancarlo Fisichella to triumph in the Belgian Grand Prix.
Raikkonen’s win was Ferrari’s first this year, his first since the 2008 Spanish Grand Prix, and the 18th of his career.
It came on a day when the drivers’ championship battle was given a shake, if not tipped upside down, thanks to a multiple collision on the opening lap.
That accident, which took out four cars, removed championship leader Jenson Button of Brawn GP and fellow-Briton and defending champion Lewis Hamilton of McLaren Mercedes.
Raikkonen, world champion in 2007, whose place in the team is under threat amid unconfirmed reports that Fernando Alonso of Renault has signed to replace him next year, was delighted at ending Ferrari’s run of 11 races without a win.
"It hasn’t been an easy year for us. We made a big step in Barcelona, but it wasn’t enough. It’s quite a long time since I last won," said the Finn.
"My aim has been to win at least one race and for us to stay third in the championship. We weren’t the fastest in the lap times, but overall we managed to keep everybody behind. Hopefully we can get some good results after this race."
Fisichella, who had claimed the Force India team’s maiden pole position and his career fourth in Saturday’s qualifying, was happy at delivering the team their first points, in their 31st outing, with a podium finish.
The Italian lost the lead he had established at the original start – the safety car was sent out during the first lap due to the early accidents – when he was cautious at the re-start and Raikkonen surged into the lead.
But he finished up coming home only nine-tenths of a second behind the Ferrari, proving that the Force India’s Mercedes-Benz engine was the most effective on the circuit and certain to be a threat at the Italian Grand Prix next month.
Curiously, according to unconfirmed reports in Italy, Fisichella may by then have joined Ferrari as Raikkonen’s team-mate and as replacement for hapless 38-year-old Luca Badoer, the team’s test driver, who himself was racing as a deputy for injured Brazilian Felipe Massa.
"It’s been another great day and it was an amazing result today," said Fisichella.
"Before coming to Spa if you had asked all the team if we would have been happy to finish eighth we would have said it was a fantastic result but second is a dream, just great.
"Actually if I can be honest I am a little disappointed as I felt we could have won the race. I was unlucky with the safety car when Kimi came past me at the restart and overtook me."
Behind the leading duo came Sebastien Vettel in a Red Bull ahead of Robert Kubica, fourth for BMW Sauber, team-mate Nick Heidfeld, with Heikki Kovalainen sixth for McLaren Mercedes.
Rubens Barrichello was seventh, nursing his Brawn car stricken by an oil leak over the closing laps, and Nico Rosberg was eighth for Williams.
For Button the damage to his car – and his title hopes – was limited as his main rivals failed to capitalise with big-scoring results.
His lead ahead of Barrichello was cut by only two points from 18 to 16 while Vettel jumped back to third. The young German now has 53 points behind Barrichello on 56 and Button on 72 with five races remaining.
Button said: "I got a very good start. I got past Lewis, I made up four places. As we were going down the straight through turn five, (Renault’s Romain) Grosjean out-braked himself. It is so frustrating to be taken out like that."
Hamilton shrugged off his fate, commenting: "It’s just one of those days.
"I got off to a really bad start, the anti-stall kicked in. I tried to recover but I got hit at the first corner and lost a bit of my front wing. Then I saw Jenson and backed off to avoid it all, but got hit from behind."