Destination of Formula 1 title thrown into confusion in Brazil

KIMI Raikkonen was presented with the trophy and celebrated what everyone thought was his first Formula 1 world title by winning the Brazilian Grand Prix yesterday, but in a dramatic and farcical conclusion to proceedings in Sao Paulo a steward's inquiry last night raised doubts about his triumph.

Confusion surrounded the destination of the title last night and incredibly raised the possibility that Lewis Hamilton could be crowed champion after all when it emerged that three cars were under investigation over fuel temperature irregularities. BMW Sauber and Williams were the teams under the microscope, and the possibility that they could both be disqualified from the race meant put Hamilton back in contention.

Raikkonen appeared to have grabbed the title by one point from Hamilton and McLaren team-mate Fernando Alonso after taking the chequered flag at the end of the 71-lap race. Hamilton could only finish seventh due to a gearbox malfunction suffered on lap eight, with the problem relegating him from sixth to 18th and so wrecking his dreams. However, team representatives from BMW Sauber and Williams were last night in the process of meeting with stewards to discuss a technical infringement.

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The issue relates to Williams driver Nico Rosberg, and the BMWs of Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld, who finished fourth, fifth and sixth respectively. It is understood fuel temperature issue can give a car extra horsepower advantage, and so is a clear breach of the rules.

The stewards meeting last had to decide whether or not to disqualify all three cars, which would elevate Hamilton up to fourth, and thereby make him world champion. A precedent was set 12 years ago at this race when Michael Schumacher, then driving for Benetton Renault, and David Coulthard who at the time was with Williams, were initially disqualified as their fuel did not conform to samples approved by the FIA after finishing first and second respectively.

However, a week later the FIA chose to reinstate the drivers' points, while the teams were not allowed to keep the points in the constructors' championship.

Raikkonen won the grand prix, taking advantage of Hamilton's mistake on the first lap and Alonso's disappointing run.

The Ferrari driver took the lead with 17 laps to go, coming from third in the drivers' standings to win the tightest race for the championship in 21 years. Team-mate Felipe Massa was second in yesterday's race.

Hamilton, trying to become the first rookie to win the title and F1's youngest champion, went off the track on the first lap and later had problems with his McLaren to finish seventh. Team-mate Fernando Alonso finished third.

Alonso would have had to finish second and Hamilton fifth to keep Raikkonen from winning the drivers' championship after his victory. Raikkonen erased a seven-point gap from Hamilton coming into the race to finish with 110 points, one more than Hamilton and Alonso.

The race got off to a fittingly dramatic start. Hamilton, who started in the front row beside pole-sitter Massa, was passed by Raikkonen and Alonso in the first turn of the Interlagos track. He then made a mistake trying to recover the position from Alonso three turns later to drop to eighth spot after the first lap was completed. "When I saw Hamilton going off, I knew that maybe we had some chances," Raikkonen said. "

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The Englishman moved back to sixth place after six laps, but his car slowed dramatically with a gear box problem two laps later and he seemed on the verge of retiring from the race. His car suddenly picked up pace again, but he had already dropped to 18th.

Hamilton's car seemed to be without problems for the rest of the race as he moved past the slower cars with ease. By lap 18 of 71, he was 11th, but he couldn't manage to move up past seventh. He had needed a top-two finish to guarantee the title yesterday without depending on other drivers.

Massa and Raikkonen stayed 1-2 from the start. Raikkonen took the lead after a final pit stop, coming ahead of Massa as the Brazilian apparently slowed his pace.

The season - the first without the great Michael Schumacher - was marred by a spying scandal that led to a record 70 million fine for McLaren, who were found guilty of using leaked data from Ferrari. The British team was kicked out of the manufacturers' championship, which was easily clinched by Ferrari.

There was also a heated internal dispute in the McLaren team, with Hamilton and Alonso trading accusations during most of the season. Alonso complained he deserved more respect as a two-time world champion, and hinted McLaren were favouring the English rookie. Alonso and Dennis didn't speak to each other for a long period, and FIA was forced to summon an official to oversee the team at the Brazilian GP to make sure all drivers were treated equally.

The controversy led to speculation that Alonso would leave McLaren next season, sparking rumours about his future. Renault, the Spaniard's home when he won the last two championships, said it would welcome his return, and even Ferrari was thrown into the mix.

The parity on the track was also refreshing, with at least four drivers in contention in almost all races. McLaren and Ferrari dominated and traded wins from the beginning. Both teams arrived at the season finale with eight victories each.

It was the third year in a row the F1 season was decided at the Brazilian GP. Alonso won both of his titles at Interlagos in 2005 and 2006.