Kimi Raikkonen did what he had to do to keep his championship hopes intact at Spa-Francorchamps, but victory for the McLaren man was tempered by the fact that team-mate Juan Montoya was again unable to hold on to second place.

The pair ran at the front of the field from the start, with polewinner Montoya getting the drop on the field as it headed towards the tricky La Source hairpin that opens the Spa lap. Raikkonen, meanwhile, was struggling to hold on to second, with Jarno Trulli pushing the nose of his Toyota up the inside of the McLaren into the right-hander. Raikkonen's wider line, however, paid dividends on exit, the Finn able to ease ahead again on the run to Eau Rouge, Trulli settling for third ahead of Fernando Alonso as the top four settled back into grid order.

Remarkably, given the damp conditions that greeted the grid, all 18 regular starters made it through the opening combination of corners unscathed, while the two Minardis joined the tail of the field from the pit-lane, having opted to keep their options open right to the end. There had been a slight reshuffle in the middle order, however, with Takuma Sato gaining three positions off the line, at the expense of BAR team-mate Jenson Button, Mark Webber and Felipe Massa.

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The Japanese would then find himself in sixth at the end of the lap, capitalising on a dust-up between the two Schumacher brothers approaching the Bus Stop to vault Ralf's Toyota, which also fell behind Button before crossing the line. Ralf had succumbed to brother Michael's advance in the opening sector, dropping in behind the Ferrari after the pair had filled row three, and now had Massa and Webber in close attendance.

Further back, Giancarlo Fisichella had made slight progress, from 13th to twelfth, after suffering an engine change penalty before qualifying, but found himself sandwiched between the Red Bull cars of David Coulthard and Christian Klien on the opening lap, the Austrian having made Sato-like progress up the order. Klien's rise accounted for Rubens Barrichello, Antonio Pizzonia and Jacques Villeneuve, with the Canadian finding himself coming under pressure from Tiago Monteiro's Jordan.

Despite the McLarens easing away at the front, Fisichella was the man on the move, passing Coulthard and Webber in short order, before adding Massa to his tally on lap seven. Button's eighth place followed on lap ten, but that was as far as the Renault would get, Fisichella putting a front wheel on the wet kerb at Eau Rouge and being fired off into the barriers at Raidillon.

The impact was sizeable, the R25 swapping ends after contact with the wall, but Fisichella was able to climb out unaided. The look on his face showed the real pain he was feeling, however, a good result - and chance to help team-mate Alonso's title campaign - having gone begging.

The accident also prompted the stewards to call for the safety car, negating the break that Montoya and Raikkonen had been building, but also causing a degree of confusion in the ranks. The forecast for raceday had not been good and, indeed, the morning support races had already been badly affected by torrential rain. By start time, however, the track was merely very damp - enough for plumes of spray in parts - but not wet enough to consider full wets.

The recovering Ralf Schumacher started the pit-stop cycle, but the luckless German called in for fuel a lap before Fisi's accident and was thus unable to benefit from the safety car. However, courtesy of the length of the Spa lap and the fact that Raikkonen was obliged to drive tactically at the head of the queue, the Toyota emerged from the chaos in third place.

Montoya continued to lead after the stops, the Colombian having been able to bolt away from the pack in the final sector as Raikkonen backed the field up in order to avoid arriving at the McLaren pit directly behind his team-mate. Montoya was away and gone by the time Kimi arrived for his stop, albeit only able to get as far as the safety car before having his lead checked.

Up behind the McLaren was the only man not to stop under the reduced pace, as Villeneuve decided that he had enough fuel on board to remain on track. The soggy crowd was thus treated to the unusual sight of McLaren leading Sauber and Toyota - the trio split by one of the already-lapped Minardis - before Raikkonen and Alonso restored some sense of normality in fourth and fifth.

Behind them the order remained much the same as it had before the stops, albeit with Trulli now behind the Spaniard, but the timing screens were to get a quick shake-up as no fewer than six drivers decided that the tyres they had received were not the most suitable for the still tricky conditions. As a result, both Williams-BMWs, both BARs plus Schumacher's Ferrari and Coulthard's Red Bull appeared back in pit-lane, the races apparently sunk by the miscalculation although not entirely destroyed because of the continued presence of the safety car.

The pace remained under control until the end of lap 13, but Ralf appeared a little eager to steal a march on Villeneuve, passing the Sauber on the run to the Bus Stop... The German duly rectified his mistake in time to avoid drawing a penalty, but the situation helped to catch JV out at La Source, the Sauber running wide enough to allow both the Toyota and Raikkonen's McLaren through.

In their wake, the field was cut by another two, as Sato misjudged his braking on the slippery surface and planted a heavy kiss on the rear of Schumacher's Ferrari. The impact was enough to brake the world champion's suspension, and the BAR's front, Schumacher able to issue an immediate reprimand to his assailant as the two cars came to rest nose-to-nose in the La Source escape road.

No safety car was required this time around, and the world champion's brother made the most of being able to run free near the front. Initially forced to watch Montoya open out a gap on him, Schumacher Jr quickly began lapping faster than the McLaren, getting to within a second between the occasional twitches provoked by the wetter sections of track.

Montoya managed to hold firm, however, and, by the time Schumacher was forced to make his second stop, the field was down to 16 as Coulthard's engine let go. The Scot was therefore spared any further debate over which tyres to take, but that was not the case in the Toyota camp, as Schumacher was fitted with a set of slicks in an attempt to capitalise on the drying surface. Unfortunately for the German, the choice proved premature, and he duly skated off the road at Les Combes. Recovering from the error, Schumacher decided that discretion ought to be the better part of valour and pitted for a third time, his race now seemingly in tatters as he dropped towards the rear of the field.

With the Toyota out of the equation, the race again settled down with the two McLarens leading the way. Alonso remained in third place but, mindful of his championship position, was not about to chase and challenge Raikkonen too hard. The Finn, however, knew that he needed to gain as many points as possible in his quest to close the gap at the top of the table, and began to reduce the six-second gap between himself and his team-mate.

With overt team orders out of the question, and McLaren insisting that there would be no signal from the pit-wall, the two leaders drivers knew that they would have to be careful if they were to engineer a switch of position. The second round of pit-stops proved the ideal cover and, as Montoya ducked off, Raikkonen floored it, promptly setting the fastest lap to that point in the race - nearly two seconds quicker than anything seen before.

Although the risk probably out-weighed the chances of being accused of anything underhand, McLaren was determined not to be seen to be affecting the result, but Raikkonen duly completed his pit-stop with enough in hand to emerge well ahead of Montoya. The Woking team now had the best it could have hoped to receive, with the Colombian between its title contender and the one man able to stop him taking the crown.

The second round of pit-stops also presented another chance for teams to get their tyre choice very right or very wrong. Among those to gamble, the otherwise impressive Massa found himself dropping like a stone having switched to slicks. The Brazilian had looked well on course for a points finish before the switch of rubber, but a lap 15secs off the pace culminated in a half-spin at the Bus Stop and a third stop was required to get him back on track.

Most of the field opted to stick on another set of intermediates, the 'halfway' rubber providing better results than either of the polar opposite options, but those that had lost ground making a second stop immediately after their first chose to just take on fuel, elevating themselves up the order, if only slightly at this stage. Rising in this way, Button, Webber and Pizzonia all found themselves back on the edge of the points, while Villeneuve was moving in the opposite direction as his tyres went off, the Sauber finding itself under threat from both Jordans, and sending Narain Karthikeyan on a bumpy ride across the Les Combes infield as the Canadian defended his position.

The final ten laps saw the track drying more and more, to the point that several of the leading midfield runners opted to try their luck on slicks for the final time. Barrichello, Webber and Pizzonia were among those to make the switch, and immediately found benefits as they carved into the gap to cars ahead of them. The two McLarens, Alonso and Button, meanwhile, decided to stick with the rubber they had, even if the intermediates were beginning to wear down.

Raikkonen and Montoya appeared out of reach by this stage, but Alonso was being reeled in by Button, and the Briton by Webber and Barrichello behind him. Just as the result appeared set, however, the podium party received a shock when Montoya's McLaren appeared in the barriers at Fagnes.

On first glance, it appeared that the Colombian had repeated his error from Turkey, dropping it when second - and valuable points kept from Alonso - appeared secure. The McLaren's rear suspension was in bits, however, and the sight of Pizzonia's Williams appearing with damage to its front left suggested that there would be two sides to the story...

With two cars scratched from potential points positions, the battles in what had been the lower reaches of the top ten took on new meaning. Villeneuve's second stop had allowed him to stop the rot at Sauber, and the Canadian now ran sixth, ten seconds adrift of Barrichello, while, behind him Schumacher Jr received some reward for his efforts by moving into seventh. Behind the Toyota, however, was one of the stories of the race, as Monteiro gave the revised Jordan EJ15B its first points, maintaining his 100 per cent finishing record through a remarkable 16th event. The Portuguese may have been a lap down, but he was ahead of Klien's Red Bull and Massa's Sauber, as well as his regular companions Karthikeyan, Albers and Doornbos.

Out front, Raikkonen could only wonder what he had to do to get a break in his battle with Alonso, Montoya's exit allowing the Spaniard to inherit another second position and keep the damage to just two points in the battle for the championship. Button, meanwhile, gratefully accepted a rare podium for BAR, the 007-Honda living up to his claim that it would be better in the race.

With three rounds to run, the Spaniard now holds a 25-point advantage, and has already gained eight of the 14 points needed to install himself as the youngest world champion in F1 history. Raikkonen knows what needs to be done and, in fairness to the Finn, keeps doing it. All he needs now is a little help from his friends.