SAO PAULO, Brazil – Kimi Raikkonen won the Brazilian Grand Prix on Sunday to capture the Formula One title in the tightest race for the championship in 21 years.
The Ferrari driver rallied from third place in the points standings for his first F1 crown, taking advantage of Lewis Hamilton’s mistake on the first lap and Fernando Alonso’s disappointing run.
Raikkonen grabbed the lead with 17 laps to go and was followed by teammate Felipe Massa. Alonso, Hamilton’s McLaren teammate, finished third.
Hamilton came into the race leading the points standings and needed a top-two finish to become the first rookie to win the title and F1’s youngest champion. He went off the track on the first lap and later had car problems to finish seventh.
Alonso, second in the standings coming in, would have had to have finished second and Hamilton fifth to keep Raikkonen from winning the championship after his victory. Raikkonen erased a seven-point gap coming into the race to finish with 110 points, one more than Hamilton and Alonso.
Alonso was trying to become only the third driver to win three consecutive titles in the history of F1, along with Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher.
Hamilton started in the front row beside pole-sitter Massa, but was passed by Raikkonen and Alonso in the first turn. He then made a mistake trying to pass Alonso three turns later and dropped to eighth after the first lap.
The Englishman moved back to sixth after six laps, but his car slowed dramatically with an apparent gear problem two laps later and he seemed on the verge of retiring from the race. His car suddenly picked up pace again, but he had already dropped to 18th.
Hamilton’s car seemed to be without problems for the rest of the race as he moved past the slower cars with ease. By lap 18 of 71, Hamilton was 11th, but he couldn’t manage to move up past seventh.
Massa and Raikkonen stayed 1-2 from the start. Raikkonen took the lead after a final pit stop, coming ahead of Massa as the Brazilian apparently slowed his pace.
Massa, who had won four times in the previous five races he started from the pole, had an emotional victory in Interlagos last year as he became the first Brazilian to win at home since the late Ayrton Senna in 1993.
Spyker’s Sakon Yamamoto crashed with Renault’s Giancarlo Fisichella on the first lap and both retired.
Heikki Kovalainen crashed hard in the 38th lap at the third turn. He was on his feet for several minutes, but was transported to the medical center.
Two Williams mechanics received minor injuries after Kazuki Nakajima, in his F1 debut, missed his pit marks and hit them.
The Brazilian GP marked the end of one of the most thrilling and turbulent F1 seasons in decades.
It was the first time since 1986 that three drivers reached the final race in contention for the title. It hadn’t happened since Alain Prost edged Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet to win that year’s championship.
The season – the first without the great Michael Schumacher – was marred by a spying scandal that led to a record $100 million fine for McLaren, which was found guilty of using leaked data from Ferrari. The British team was kicked out of the manufacturers’ championship, which was easily clinched by Ferrari.
There was also a heated internal dispute in the McLaren team, with Hamilton and Alonso trading accusations most of the season.
The controversy led to speculation that Alonso would leave McLaren next season. Renault, the Spaniard’s team when he won the last two championships, said it would welcome his return, and even Ferrari was thrown into the mix.
It was the third year in a row the F1 season was decided at the Brazilian GP. Alonso won both of his titles at the Interlagos track in 2005 and ’06.