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Raikkonen offers hope for the future
September 02, 2004 20:41 IST
Kimi Raikkonen did more to revive Formula One's spirits last weekend than anyone in this most one-sided of seasons.
Just as Ferrari's Michael Schumacher finally put the championship out of its long drawn-out misery by winning his seventh title at Spa, Raikkonen stepped up to provide hope for the future.
The sport has seen plenty of false dawns over the last few years and the Finn's victory at Spa could prove to be another one, but his performance and Belgium's welcome return to the calendar offered reasons to be cheerful.
McLaren were back, ending their biggest slump of the last two decades to emerge as winners for the first time since March last year, and so too was real racing.
Schumacher's record-equalling run of seven wins in a row came to an end and Sunday was also the first time this year that the German had taken the chequered flag in anything other than first place.
Had it happened in Hungary, the closest circuit in character to Monaco where Schumacher retired after colliding in the tunnel with Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya's Williams while behind the safety car, people might have seen it as just another aberration.
But Spa is special for Schumacher. He made his debut and took his first victory at the circuit that remains his favourite.
If he can lose there, even if he was driving a more conservative race than usual, then his rivals -- and specifically McLaren -- have to be in with a real chance of winning the remaining four grands prix of the year.
"We finally got what we deserved," said Raikkonen after an incident-packed race that more than made up for the dull procession in Hungary two weeks earlier that sealed the constructors' title for Ferrari.
"Hopefully, we can keep it up this year and challenge for the title next year...I think the rest of the races should be pretty good for us."
Formula One desperately needs that after a season in which the only real suspense has been to see who finishes second on Sunday afternoon.
Schumacher's seventh championship had been so much of a foregone conclusion for so long that when he finally won it there was little to get worked up about.
The second question from reporters in the post-race news conference at Spa was about the Olympic Games, which pretty much summed up the amount of excitement generated by the title 'battle'.
Monza and Suzuka are not so different to Spa and now at least people can dare to suggest, without being laughed out of town, that Schumacher might not win there.
"It's not a one-off," McLaren boss Ron Dennis told Autosport magazine this week. "We should have won at Hockenheim, we were very competitive at Silverstone. In Hungary we chose the wrong tyre and paid the price.
"In the circumstances, we can be cautiously optimistic about the remaining races because those circuits do play to the strengths of our car."
Spa also laid bare a few other beliefs.
One, expounded by the Daily Express's Grand Prix correspondent Bob Mckenzie who had offered to run naked around Silverstone were he proven wrong, was that McLaren would not win a race this season.
Dennis savoured his revenge. "He had better get training," he told reporters. "To make it easier for him, we will prepare everything that is normally open for us at any Silverstone test, including a rescue helicopter and a full complement of marshals.
"However, we will allow him one concession. He can wear a pair of trainers."
Raikkonen did not want to miss the show either.
"I definitely will go and hopefully it is raining heavily, so it will be even more fun," he said.
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