Kimi Raikkonen kept his head and his car in one piece while most around him were failing to do so, and was rewarded with a second career win on the day when Michael Schumacher inked his name even deeper into the record books.

Raikkonen, who started well down the order after a mistake in wet qualifying at Spa-Francorchamps on Saturday, was lucky to escape a brush with Felipe Massa at the opening corner of the Belgian Grand Prix, but thereafter made rapid progress through the field to lead the bulk of the 44-lap event, and eventually come home three seconds clear of Schumacher, despite three safety car interventions.

Although the race started in fully dry conditions, the opening corner - La Source - played its traditional role of scrambling the pack, as Mark Webber left his braking too late and clipped the back of Rubens Barrichello's Ferrari. The impact spun the Jaguar driver around, forcing those behind him to take avoiding action, but also led to debris being spread across the breadth of the corner as several front wings were damaged in the melee.

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While no-one retired at the bottom of the hill, the after-effects of the incident caused no fewer than four cars - Webber's included to be eliminated before the end of the lap. Cresting Eau Rouge, Webber's wingless R5 appeared to clip the back of Takuma Sato's BAR, breaking its rear suspension and pitching the Japanese driver broadside in front for the accelerating pack.

While most were somehow able to take avoiding action, others such as Gianmaria Bruni were less fortunate, with the Italian appearing to receive a nudge from Minardi team-mate Zsolt Baumgartner that left him helpless to avoid the barrier. To make matters worse for Bruni, his car was then collected by Giorgio Pantano, despite the Jordan driver having jumped on the brakes, and both Italians were out on the spot. With Sato parked up on the far side of the track, and Webber soon to pull off, the first safety car of the afternoon was sent out.

The interruption allowed a further six cars to duck into the pits for repairs, with Jenson Button requiring a new nose on his BAR and both Barrichello and Sauber's Felipe Massa in search of attention to their rear wings. Baumgartner, Nick Heidfeld and Olivier Panis completed the early stoppers, with the German going on to make no fewer than five stops en route to a much-lapped eleventh place. Massa and Barrichello both also returned for further attention while the safety car continued to circulate, but were both able to resume before losing a lap to the pack.

Through the chaos, Renault had made its traditional strong getaway, with pole man Jarno Trulli able to fend off Schumacher on the run to La Source, as team-mate Fernando Alonso forced the German onto the wide line. David Coulthard, starting alongside the Spaniard on row two, also took advantage of Schumacher's ill-placement, squeezing his McLaren into third on the run to Eau Rouge.

The safety car remained on track until the start of lap four and Raikkonen, having convinced himself that the brush with Massa had not caused any lasting damage, was soon on the move. The Finn wasted no time in disposing of Schumacher, pouncing on the world champion at Eau Rouge as his Michelin tyres kicked in sooner than the rival Bridgestones. Such was the delay in Schumacher's rubber coming up to optimal temperature that Juan Montoya also managed to close on the Ferrari by Les Combes, although Michael made his Colombian nemesis wait until a daring move at the remodelled Bus Stop before conceding the place.

One lap later and Raikkonen's scintillating pace saw him close on team-mate Coulthard before blasting past on the run from Raidillon to Les Combes. This left the Finn trailing only the two Renaults, which had also made use of the Michelin rubber to pull away at the head of the field, and perfectly placed should the regiehave opted for light fuel loads in qualifying.

As it turned out, only polewinner Trulli had gone light, and the Italian duly followed Jaguar rookie pitwards as the second stopper on lap ten. This left team-mate Alonso out front, but Raikkonen's wait to move into top spot wasn't to be delayed much longer as an unpredictable continued to unfold.

Having circulated for a further lap in front, Alonso appeared to make a beginner's error by spinning under braking at Les Combes, Raikkonen was already close enough to take advantage of the slip, demoting Alonso to second, but the Spaniard's race was not to continue much further, as a second spin two corners later beached his Renault - which had been leaking oil onto its rear wheels - at Rivage.

At the same time, Coulthard's afternoon took a turn for the worse, his McLaren suffering a right-rear puncture just past the pits, presumably on undetectable shards of carbon fibre still lying on the circuit after the first lap incidents. The Scot was fortunate that the damaged Michelin did not break up and flay his bodywork as he attempted to recover to the pits and, having received a new set of boots from the team, rejoined at the tail of the field.

McLaren performed admirably to turn Coulthard around in time to receive Raikkonen for his planned stop a few seconds later, and the Finn's ten-second advantage over second placed Montoya ensured that he was able to rejoin in close contention.

Montoya pitted two laps later, but only enjoyed a 1.5secs gap over Schumacher, who assumed the lead for one tour, before making his own call for fuel and tyres. This left Williams reserve Antonio Pizzonia out front for the first time in his stop-start grand prix career, but the Brazilian only had one lap to enjoy the feeling before he, too, had to pit. The Brazilian's exit allowed Raikkonen back in front, from the yet-to-stop Button, while Schumacher had taken advantage of Montoya coming across Massa on his exit from the pits to vault back into the role of chief pursuer.

Approaching half distance, with five cars having already fallen by the wayside, and various altered pit strategies now in place following the earlier contretemps, the order received another slight shake-up when Montoya attempted to repeat his earlier move on Schumacher by passing Trulli at the Bus Stop. Where the German had wisely allowed his assailant just enough room to get past, Trulli appeared unwilling or unsighted, and the two made contact. The Italian fared worst, spinning through 180 degrees and only just missing heavy contact with the wall, while JPM continued after a short delay, now behind team-mate Pizzonia.

Giancarlo Fisichella, who had escaped his own off, at Fagnes, with minor damage to his front wing and bargeboards, was desperately fending off the recovering Barrichello for fifth, with Trulli regaining the track behind them, and having to keep a weather eye on Ricardo Zonta, who had hauled his Toyota from 20th on the grid to be lying inside the top ten.

Once Button had pitted - and filtered back in behind the soon-to-be-resolved Fisichella/Barrichello battle - Raikkonen was left to enjoy a 13secs advantage over Schumacher, although the German was trying his damnest to close the gap with every lap. Successive half seconds had been slashed from the deficit when Raikkonen headed in for his second and final stop, but the Finn appeared to have enough in hand for when the cycle had played itself out again.

Raikkonen had bargained without the fickle nature of Spa, however, and no sooner had he rejoined, still in second place, than the safety car was required to make a return.

Once again a BAR and Minardi were involved in the incident which required its presence, and once again it was the stretch between Raidillon and Les Combes that was affected by debris. This time, however, the problem had occurred far closer to the braking area at the end of the straight, as Button experienced a blow-out at nearly 200mph. Fortunately - if that is the right term - the Briton's bucking car was arrested before it could reach the retaining wall on the right-hand side of the circuit, but only because the hapless Baumgartner happened to be in the way. Button T-boned the Hungarian, causing instant retirement, but both drivers were able to extricate themselves from their stricken machines once their flight had ended.

Seizing the opportunity to make up time on the leader, Schumacher dived into the pits while the safety car picked up the field, and was able to rejoin in second place - but now right on Raikkonen's tail. The two Williams-BMWs also closed up, but Pizzonia's race was not to progress beyond lap 32, as his car coasted to a halt with no drive, adding to the impromptu car park at the top of the hill.

Raikkonen played Schumacher at his own game as the safety car prepared to pull off, alternately slowing and accelerating in an attempt to warm brakes and tyres. Backing the field right up through Stavelot, the Finn then floored the throttle at Blanchimont, and enjoyed a healthy gap over his pursuers as racing resumed.

Once again, the quicker pick-up of the Michelins allowed the Mclaren to open a gap, while Schumacher had to contend with the close proximity of Montoya in his mirrors.
Further back, Christian Klien moved into the points with a move on Olivier Panis at La Source, while Coulthard, still attempting to recover from his puncture, put the luckless Trulli down a place.

Next time around, the Scot was also ahead of Panis, having demoted the Toyota early in the lap, but, just as the Frenchman believed that he had lost a points position, so he was elevated back into eighth by the demise of the second Williams. Like those before him, Montoya succumbed to a puncture, but, unlike Coulthard, his path back to the pits was too far to prevent the tyre from doing other damage, and he retired with suspension failure.

Coulthard, meanwhile, was on a charge, and, having disposed of Trulli and Panis in quick succession, prepared to do likewise with Klien on his next run through Eau Rouge. The two cars crested the hill nose-to-tail, but Klien did not anticipate the McLaren jinking left at the start of the straight and drifted over to take the racing line. DC had nowhere to run but into the back of the Jaguar, the impact ripping off his front wing and flinging it back over the driver's head, through the onboard camera and into the rear aerodynamics. Fortunately for the Scot, the rear wing escaped intact but, for the second time in the afternoon, he was forced to pick his way back to the pits for attention.

The safety car appeared once again while debris was removed from the track, allowing Schumacher a final shot at sealing his seventh title with a 13th race win of the year. The German only needed two points more than team-mate Barrichello to put the championship battle beyond doubt and, despite the Brazilian having now moved into an unlikely third place, that was exactly how things stood.

Schumacher was not going to settle for second best in a record-breaking season, however, and stuck to Raikkonen's tail as the Finn reprised his warm-up routine. Once again, however, the Michelins proved to be the tyres to have over an 'opening' lap and, after the leader's initial burst had taken him clear of the chasing pack, Schumacher decided to back off and ensure he made the finish. Raikkonen was unaware of this fact and continued to press on to the finish, setting a new lap record for the reworked circuit just two tours from the flag.

Emotions in the McLaren pit were running high, fuelled in part by the indefatigable Coulthard retaking both Trulli and Panis in the closing stages to claim seventh, and the end of a 27-race win drought, prolonged by the woeful MP4-19 at the start of the season was greeted with a mixture of tears and cheers.

Down at Ferrari, the mood was much the same, as Schumacher held off Barrichello to claim another historic crown. Sauber added to the Scuderia's joy by bringing both cars home, in fourth and fifth, while Klien ensured that there were celebrations at Jaguar too, with his first points in F1. Coulthard and Panis rounded out the scorers, but the Toyota man knew that, had it not been for a late engine failure, it should have been replacement team-mate Ricardo Zonta scoring points.