|Fernando Alonso celebrates his 2nd win in a row|
Championship pressures began to show today in Fuji as the Japanese Grand Prix got off to a chaotic start as the championship's closest rivals, Ferrari and McLaren, ended up being too close for comfort on more than one occasion. In the end, the Prancing Horse came off better than the Silver Arrows, as Kimi Raikkonen finished third and Felipe Massa seventh to bring home enough points to retake the lead in the Constructors' championship, while McLaren failed to score.
The result was certainly unexpected, with victory for the second consecutive time this season going to Fernando Alonso in the Renault, followed home by Robert Kubica in the BMW-Sauber, who got the better of an exciting battle with Raikkonen. Massa's race was all about fighting his way back up the order after a drive through penalty. In the end, he crossed the line in eighth place, but moved up to seventh after the Stewards decided that Sebastien Bourdais, who spun Felipe around as the Frenchman emerged from pit lane, should be penalized 25 seconds.
After a sunny start to the day, the skies clouded over at the Fuji Speedway and the temperatures dropped dramatically as the 1.30 start time approached.
|Lewis Hamilton pulls one of his unfair dive-bomb moves on Kimi Raikkonen at the start that forced Raikkonen wide and the Race Stewards penalized Hamilton for it with a drive-through penalty|
As the lights went out, for the start of the 67 laps, Kimi from the outside of the front row, got the best start to go ahead of pole man Hamilton, but the McLaren man retook the lead at the first corner, pushing Kimi wide and leaving Felipe stuck behind his teammate. But this caused a ripple effect through the bunched up pack with several spins and Coulthard crashing heavily. The order was instantly changed and not favorably for the Scuderia drivers, as Kubica, Alonso and Kovalainen now became the main trio, while Hamilton was now sandwiched between the two Ferraris. The Englishman and Felipe made contact with the McLaren spinning and therefore dropping down the order.
On lap 9 the order was now Kubica, Alonso, Kovalainen, Kimi, Trulli, Bourdais, Felipe, Piquet, Vettel with Webber completing the top ten. There were now only 17 runners with Coulthard, Glock and Sutil all out.
On lap 12, Kimi was 4.2 seconds behind the leader in fourth and Felipe, seventh was 15.8 down. Having pitted after his spin, championship leader Hamilton was now in penultimate and 16th place. On lap 16, third placed Kovalainen parked his McLaren at the side of the track, moving Kimi and Felipe up to third and sixth respectively. Kubica and Raikkonen refueled on lap 17, but at this time the Stewards indicated Massa had been given a drive-through penalty for the incident with Hamilton, but the Englishman was also given one. Alonso who had taken over the lead, was the next to pit followed in by Felipe, handing the lead to Trulli, who had Bourdais behind him in second at this point, with Piquet third and Vettel fourth, while Kimi and Felipe were now 7th and 10th, but Felipe dropped further back to 14th, one place ahead of Hamilton as he took his drive through penalty on lap 19. As Trulli made his stop on lap 21, Bourdais inherited the lead, ahead of Piquet and Vettel, as Fisichella retired the Force India in the garage. Vettel refueled on lap 23. When Bourdais came in next time round, it left a Renault one-two in the lead, with Piquet heading Alonso. Kimi was now fourth behind Kubica, with Felipe twelfth still one place in front of Hamilton. At this point, of the top six, only leader Piquet and fifth placed Webber had not refueled, with the Renault man eventually coming in on lap 28. This meant the order was now Alonso, 7.2 ahead of Kubica who led Kimi by 4.6. In 13th place, Felipe passed Button to go eleventh on lap 30.
Ten laps later, Kimi still third was now 5.1 behind Kubica and 17.8 behind leader Alonso. Felipe was now tenth over 13 seconds behind Rosberg. Lap 42 saw Felipe up to ninth. Kubica was the new leader on lap 45 after Alonso pitted, so Kimi was second, followed by Trulli, Piquet, Bourdais, Alonso, Vettel, Felipe up to eighth, putting in a quickest lap, with Webber and Heidfeld completing the top ten. Kimi then put in a fastest race lap as he pushed to close on the leader, who pitted on lap 46, so that Kimi led the race for the first time since the opening moments of the race. The Finn made his final pit stop on lap 48 rejoining in seventh place and but for a backmarker on his in lap, he might have got ahead of Kubica. Trulli and Bourdais came in from second and third on lap 50, but as the Toro Rosso man came out of the pits he tangled with Felipe sending the Ferrari into a spin. Meanwhile, in fifth place, Kimi was right up Kubica's gearbox.
Piquet came in from the lead on lap 52, when Kimi nearly got alongside Kubica at the end of the main straight, but couldn't quite get past. He tried the same move one lap later, and out of Turn 1 he got alongside the Polish driver but was forced wide, dropping back a bit as he rejoined the track. Felipe now made his final pit stop, as the Stewards announced that the incident between him and Bourdais would be investigated after the race.
With ten laps to go, the order was Alonso, Kubica, Raikkonen, Piquet, Trulli, Bourdais, Vettel, Webber, these eight all in the points, followed by Heidfeld and Felipe in tenth. The Brazilian moved up a place when he dispensed with Heidfeld with seven laps to go, but he was a considerable 5.4 seconds behind eighth placed Webber. One lap later and the gap was already down to 3.9. Lap 62 and it was 2.5. Lap 63, 0.9! Then in a stunning move at the start of lap 65, Felipe bravely squeezed the Ferrari between the pit wall and the Red Bull car to get into eighth place and one possibly very valuable point. At the front the order remained unchanged and Fernando Alonso took a second consecutive victory having won in Singapore a fortnight ago. Then came Kubica, Kimi, Piquet, Trulli, Bourdais, Vettel and Felipe the last of the points scorers. However, the Stewards gave Bourdais a 25 second penalty for the incident with Felipe, thus promoting Vettel, Felipe and Webber to sixth, seventh and eighth places.
After a fortuitous Singapore victory, Fernando Alonso emerged an unlikely back-to-back winner with a thoroughly deserved win at Fuji Speedway, aided only by the wild antics of the championship contenders. "We are now the third strongest team," the Spaniard proclaimed. Nelson Piquet finished fourth with a strong drive.
Dark horse Robert Kubica breathed life into his own title charge, now just 12 points from the championship lead with 2 races to go, but unable to match Alonso's pace in Japan. "We have been struggling a little bit recently so this is a real boost," said the Pole, who inherited an early lead after the first lap incidents. Nick Heidfeld improved his 16th grid spot to tenth at the checkered flag.
Felipe Massa had arguably the most incident-packed race of his career; a penalty for tipping championship challenger Lewis Hamilton into a spin, prodigious pace to fight back to eighth place, a tough fight against the pit straight wall with Mark Webber, and then an extra point after a stewards' investigation for his collision with Sebastien Bourdais. "Definitely not a disaster given that my closest rival failed to score points," said the Brazilian, whose deficit decreased from 7 to 5 points with two races to go. Kimi Raikkonen finished third, after a tough fight with Kubica while carrying light damage from a McLaren scrape.
Jarno Trulli finished fifth for circuit-owners Toyota, failing to keep Piquet behind him. "The lower temperatures didn't help us," said the slightly disappointed Italian. Timo Glock had a short afternoon; damaging his car on David Coulthard's crash debris and then losing it over a curb.
Sebastien Bourdais finished a notable sixth, but a post-race stewards investigation added 25 seconds to his time for his clash with Massa. "There was nowhere else I could go," said the angry Frenchman, demoted out of the points. Sebastian Vettel followed Bourdais home after a bad first lap.
A point-less run to ninth for Mark Webber following an appalling start off the line. He ultimately defended hard against Massa's advances but lost the final championship point -- before winning it back amid the post-race Bourdais penalty reshuffle. David Coulthard was not injured in a heavy crash, triggered by a broken suspension picked up in the tussle of the opening lap.
The only Japanese driver in the Fuji field had a good weekend but picked up heavy damage in the first lap carnage and finished dead last. A minute behind the winner, Nico Rosberg finished 11th, lamenting an awful run off the line. "Our starts were great at the beginning of the season, but now they are poor," technical boss Sam Michael said.
A very bad race and no points for championship leader Hamilton, but rival Massa's problems mean he is still leading the drivers' table by 5 points with two races to go. The Briton locked up and pushed Raikkonen wide in the first corner, incurring another controversial penalty, before a collision with Massa attracted a penalty for the Ferrari but dropped Hamilton to the back of the field. "I guess things could have been worse," said team boss Ron Dennis. Heikki Kovalainen retired from third place with a rare Mercedes engine failure.
The only finisher behind the lapped Hondas, led again on Sunday by Rubens Barrichello, was Williams' Nakajima. Jenson Button enjoyed an excellent start off the grid, as did his teammate, but finished just 14th with the uncompetitive RA108. "The tires quickly grained and he lost all of that advantage," team boss Ross Brawn rued.
Of the five non-finishers, two of them were Force Indias. Adrian Sutil had burst up to 10th from a great start when a tire failed on lap 9. Giancarlo Fisichella also raced off the last row of the grid amid the start chaos but retired with a broken gearbox. "At least we are fighting again," he said.
Bourdais penalized and moved to 10th, moving others up one spot