Victory by 0.070 seconds?

‘In chaos, there is opportunity,’ goes the saying and no where was this better demonstrated than in Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix. Lewis Hamilton was the man to keep his cool while torrential weather conditions, whipped up by Mount Fuji, wrecked havoc with those around him, most notably Fernando Alonso who aquaplaned off the track on lap 42 gifting Hamilton a 12 point championship lead. The weekend will no doubt be remembered for Sunday’s chaotic race and the way it rocked the drivers championship. But in my view it was qualifying that marked the real turning point, not least because it revealed yet another shift in balance between Alonso and Hamilton.

Qualifying the key

The performance gap between the two championship rivals has yo-yoed around all season, often barely existing it all, but it was certainly advantage Alonso coming into the race after dominant showings in Italy and Belgium. A number of commentators, myself included, were already starting to gift the championship to the Spaniard. So credit must go to Hamilton for the way he turned things around under increasing pressure from Alonso. His pole lap was definitely something special if you also consider that he was carrying an extra lap of fuel than his rival.

What a crucial pole position it turned out to be. The decision to start the race behind the safety car played beautifully into the hands of the pole sitter. Imagine if Alonso had taken the top spot, we could have been looking at a completely different result on Sunday. It would have been Hamilton holding three seconds back because of the spray. It would have been Hamilton emerging after his first pit-stop behind a queue of cars in ninth. And it would have been Hamilton under pressure to make up ground not Alonso.

All hypothetical I know, but I do think with hindsight that Hamilton’s pole position – which incidentally, was only his by 0.070 seconds – was absolutely crucial to the outcome of the race. In a small quirk of fate, it may have just won him the championship.

Will he stay or will he go?

Alonso will be having a serious think about his future following Sunday’s Grand Prix. Speculation is rife and there is some talk of him returning to Renault in 2008. Personally, I think it all comes down to the result of the drivers championship.

If Alonso were to win the championship, and this is still a very real possibility despite Hamilton’s advantage, I think he would jump ship. There would be a sense of job done and it would be an opportunity to leave a team he is so obviously uncomfortable with whilst saving face. Should Hamilton triumph, there is part of me that thinks Alonso, the determined racer he is, would want a second go at his rival on equal terms. Only in the same machinery could Alonso truly prove to Hamilton and the world that he is quicker.

Christopher Hayes

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