The 2008 Formula One calendar is such that there is barely any time for the dust to settle - and a lot was kicked up - after the Belgian Grand Prix before the circus heads to another of the year's iconic circuits, Monza, for the final European round of the season.
Back-to-back grand prix weekends cause enough of a headache for the teams without any sort of fall-out to deal with, but the F1 world will arrive in Italy still coming to grips with the post-race goings-on that rocked Spa-Francorchamps even after the drama of the final five laps.
For the first time in five rounds, championship leader Lewis Hamilton arrives at a race weekend having not
increased his advantage over the field, but thanks only to the stewards' decision to demote him to third once the podium celebrations were over and done with at Spa.
Hamilton's 'crime' was to miss the second part of the remodelled Bus Stop chicane in the heat of battle with long-time race leader Kimi Raikkonen. Although he subsequently allowed the Finn to regain the advantage before re-passing him at La Source, the officials decreed that Hamilton had gained too much of an advantage from his detour and added 25 seconds to his race time.
That was enough to demote him to the bottom step of the podium but, more importantly, elevated Felipe Massa - a distant third for most of the race - to the position of victor, allowing the Brazilian to slash what would have been an eight-point deficit to just two heading to Ferrari's home race. McLaren has, as expected, appealed against the decision, but the outcome will not be known before Monza, leaving the true championship picture to remain clouded throughout the weekend.
Hamilton, for his part, appeared out-classed at Spa until, late in the race, both he and Raikkonen were on the harder Bridgestone tyres, whereupon he closed in on the Finn to set up the nail-biting denouement
. The gap in general terms, however, was less than it had been in 2007, underlining the parity between the top two teams.
The Briton finished second on his Monza F1 debut last season, as McLaren took a 1-2 result to upset the tifosi
, and is expected to be frustrating the Ferrari fans again in 2008 as McLaren shows that its MP4-23 is pretty well suited to any circuit. The outcome, however, will rely as much upon what developments the title contenders produce for the fastest circuit on the schedule, a specific test for which was held in the week before Spa, and whether the Italian temperatures play ball as far as the F2008's tyre usage is concerned.
Although BMW Sauber ended up with the fastest time in testing, both McLaren and Ferrari were in the thick of it, with Hamilton, rear-gunner Heikki Kovalainen, Raikkonen and Massa all in the top seven across the three days. The Brazilian's fortune in Belgium means that he has now 'won' the past two rounds, and probably went some way to making up for the disappointment of Hungary, where he was perhaps the most dominant anyone has been all season but ended up on the sidelines three laps from home.
Last year's trip to Monza will not be one that Massa remembers fondly, as he retired after just ten laps with a 'rear suspension' problem related to some development dampers, but the Brazilian must surely be Ferrari's focus of attention as Raikkonen slips even further adrift in the championship chase. The Scuderia is not confirming that it will back Massa with five races to go, but his two-point deficit compared to Raikkonen's 19 must begin to focus minds at Maranello before too long.