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Michael Schumacher took Formula One to a new level by winning his seventh world championship at Sunday's Belgian grand prix, but McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen took the gloss off his achievement by winning the race commandingly and laying a marker down for the future.
The 24-year-old Finn drove an outstanding race from 10th place on the grid, passing Schumacher in the early stages with a bold move on the run down into the famous Eau Rouge corner.
Thereafter he kept up a stunning pace, maintaining a lead of 12 seconds over the champion until a late safety car period needed to recover debris from Jenson Button's 205mph tyre failure that allowed Schumacher to close up to the back of him. But Raikkonen held his nerve from the restart and won convincingly.
Although Schumacher's dominance has squeezed a lot of the life out of this year's championship, this was a tremendous race, packed with excitement, incident and controversy.
Button's was one of several high-speed punctures suffered by Michelin runners. Juan Pablo Montoya and David Coulthard were also lucky to be unhurt after their right rear tyres blew.
Michelin blamed the incidents on the amount of sharp carbon fibre debris on the track from a series of collisions and accidents.
The race had six different leaders in the early stages, but once Raikkonen got a grip on the race, he pushed his advantage home to record a memorable win. After a desperate first half of the season marred by poor reliability and a lack of performance from his McLaren-Mercedes, he has gone from strength to strength since the team introduced its new model last month, challenging Schumacher at Silverstone and beating him fair and square here.
“I'm very happy. It's good for the team and for me,” he said of his first win for 27 races. “We've had such a difficult season, but since we got the new car out we have got what we deserved.” The race started with a bang as Mark Webber in a Jaguar collided with Ferrari's Rubens Barrichello at the first corner, breaking the Brazilian's rear wing and then tangling with Takuma Sato in a crash that eliminated four cars.
Four laps under the safety car followed and then a restart in which Schumacher struggled as his Bridgestone tyres failed to get back to racing temperature as quickly as the Michelins of his rivals.
First Raikkonen and then Montoya passed the German spectacularly, as he dropped back to sixth. Schumacher led for two laps in total as the cars in front made their pit stops, but the race was never within his reach. Having won last year's championship by finishing eighth in the final race, he had been determined to clinch this year's title with a win. “The best man won today,” said a rather deflated Schumacher afterwards. “Considering where I dropped back to at the start and where I finished, I suppose I should be happy. But Kimi drove a superb race.”
James Allen is ITV Sport's lead F1 commentator
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