Lewis Hamilton may have been in ebullient mood following his stunning on-the-road triumph in the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps at the weekend, but the Formula 1 World Championship leader's joy turned to pain after the race, when he was informed he had been stripped of the win.

The McLaren-Mercedes star crossed the line first at the end of 44 laps of nail-biting action - as is so often produced by Spa, the most popular and challenging circuit on the sport's calendar - having recovered from a second lap spin to get the better of Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen in the closing stages as the rain fell increasingly hard in the Ardennes and the two leaders battled against the conditions on slick tyres.

Whilst Raikkonen ended up throwing his car into the wall on the treacherous surface, Hamilton survived a number of lurid moments to take the top spot - what he went on to describe as 'an experience and a half' - only to subsequently be handed a 25-second punishment for having been deemed by race stewards to have gained an advantage when he cut the chicane after he ran out of road whilst tussling with the defending world champion at the end of lap 42.

That not only dropped the British ace back down to third place in the final reckoning, but also saw his advantage in the title chase reduced from eight points to just two over newly-instated race-winner Felipe Massa, with 50 remaining up for grabs before season's end.

"That was one of the most exciting races of my whole career," the 23-year-old had reflected before learning of his penalty. "It was incredibly tough. My spin on lap two put me on the back foot for the rest of the race, but I could see Kimi ahead and I was just pushing, pushing, pushing to close that gap, hoping he would catch traffic and allow me to get nearer.

"When the heavens opened, Kimi was a little cautious under braking and I was able to get really close. When I had a look around the outside at the chicane, we almost had an accident, and I needed to steer left to avoid him. As we crossed the start-finish line, I left him the space to get back ahead and then managed to get my car up the inside at La Source."

Team-mate Heikki Kovalainen's race was equally incident-packed, with the Finn running wide into the first corner at the start - in the process falling back some ten positions from his grid slot - before going on to display prodigious raw pace and bold overtaking prowess as he fought his way back up through the order again, frequently passing his rivals around the outside. He was attempting to wrest sixth place away from the Red Bull Racing of Mark Webber a quarter of the way into the grand prix when it all went wrong...

"I got squeezed between two cars at the first corner and it cost me a lot of places," the 26-year-old related, "but I knew I had the car to claw things back and was making good progress until I came up alongside Mark Webber at the final chicane. I knew I was faster than him, but maybe he didn't realise I was on the inside and we touched, spinning him in front of me. That's racing.

"It was a racing accident, but it earned me a drive-through penalty and knocked me back down the field. Still, my pace was good on the prime tyre, and I managed to overtake quite a few cars. In the last few laps I thought I could take advantage of the damp conditions until I started to lose gears. In the end, the gearbox failed on the very last lap and I had to stop."

With Hamilton's penalty and Kovalainen's late-race retirement, it was undoubtedly a frustrating conclusion to a grand prix that at one stage had looked to be promising so much more for McLaren, but both the Woking-based outfit's team principal Ron Dennis and Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President Norbert Haug were keen to insist afterwards that nothing is over yet.

"That was a sensational grand prix which kept everyone on the edge of their seat, whomever they were supporting," acknowledged Dennis. "On the second lap Lewis made a rare mistake, dropping him to second place behind Kimi Raikkonen, whom he put under considerable pressure thereafter.

"Our car is slightly superior to that of our opposition in slippery conditions, so when the rain came we were reasonably confident that Lewis would be able to press home his advantage. He duly took the lead and finished first on the track, but then received a 25-second time penalty. After the race we registered our intention to appeal it.

"Heikki didn't get away cleanly at the start, but then drove fast and well through the field until his charge was interrupted by the incident with Mark Webber. He was awarded a stop-go penalty, but continued to push hard until being forced to stop on the very last lap.

"All-in-all, it was a challenging race for all the drivers, all of whom handled the conditions responsibly, and both our guys showed pace and determination throughout."

"After a thrilling race, Lewis took victory on the track which he lost following the stewards' decision," added Haug. "In our opinion Lewis did not achieve this win because of an illegitimate advantage. However, we will keep our heads up.

"We are now looking forward to the next race in Monza on the coming weekend - we need to continue to be fully focused, as nothing is decided in the world championship yet."


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