Words: Matt Master
We look back at the flying Finn’s world title triumph 10 years ago
In the early afternoon of 21st October 2007, Kimi Räikkönen rolled slowly to a halt alongside Fernando Alonso’s McLaren to take up third place on the grid at Interlagos, his prospects of a first world championship looking decidedly dim in the bright Brazilian sun.
Räikkönen had scarcely been in contention until Lewis Hamilton reduced his own fourteen-point lead over teammate Fernando Alonso to a meagre four by finding the gravel in China two weeks earlier. This left Räikkönen a further three points adrift and, although technically in with a shout, still something of an outsider.
Hamilton, in his rookie year, was already revealing much of the precocious talent that would quickly earmark him for greatness. He had just qualified in second, behind local hero Felipe Massa, at his first ever outing at Interlagos.
Meanwhile Alonso, regarded by many as generational lodestar, enjoyed the massive psychological cushion of being the only driver in contention to have already won the title.
The mercury was nudging 36 degrees Celsius as the lights went out over the recently resurfaced São Paulo circuit. Massa pulled away strongly on smooth new asphalt, but it was Räikkönen who made the best start, leapfrogging Hamilton into turn one.
Alonso would also pass his teammate two corners later in an aggressive move that forced Hamilton to run wide and drop to eighth.
Hamilton immediately responded, scything his way through the field, but encountered gearbox problems that would force him back down to 18th place. The Ferraris were soon controlling the race from the front with a sizeable and growing lead over an out-of-sorts Alonso in third.
Hamilton, meanwhile, needed to finish at least seventh to have a numerical chance of winning the championship.
His gearbox reset from the pit, the Briton redoubled his efforts, passing a series of stragglers and taking advantage of Mark Webber’s retirement to recover to 11th by lap 15.
But as it stood, teammate and rival Alonso would win the championship for McLaren, with Massa taking the coveted last race win of the season.
During the Brazilian’s second stop, however, Räikkönen, light on fuel and having conserved his tyres, put in a stunning series of fastest laps which were to prove more decisive than he imagined.
Not only did they give him the lead in the final stage of the race, but they also ensured that Hamilton would now need to finish fifth to become world champion.
All eyes were on the McLaren, running a risky three-stop strategy but now cutting its way through tired two-stoppers on fresher rubber. With Barrichello retiring and Coulthard’s Red Bull demoted by a spin, he was able to find that once coveted seventh spot, but it was now no longer enough.
Räikkönen’s pace had pulled the championship from Hamilton’s grasp and cut a 17-point deficit from Shanghai to a single point advantage here. He swept to an improbable victory and one that could hardly have been tighter or more memorable for the famously phlegmatic Finn. Both Hamilton and Alonso finished on 109 points to Räikkönen’s 110.
In his first year at Ferrari, his first win at Interlagos had also brought him his first World Championship, and by the narrowest of margins.