Renault ace makes it two in a row as Lewis and Felipe collide in Japan
Fernando Alonso stormed to his second consecutive victory of the season after championship contenders Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa were hit with drive through penalties in an incident-ridden Japanese Grand Prix, the latter picking up crucial championship points in the closing stages.
UPDATE: Felipe Massa has been promoted to seventh place following stewards decision to reprimand Sebastien Bourdais with a 25-second penalty for his tangle with the Brazilian on Lap 50. See separate story HERE
Robert Kubica fought of Kimi Raikkonen for second place after leading the race in the early stages, but he was eclipsed by the charging Alonso at the first round of pit stops.
Pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton caught the attention of the stewards almost immediately after making a poor start and out braking himself into the first corner trying to overtake Kimi Raikkonen. That flat-spotted his tyres and dropped him to sixth behind Massa.
“The start was probably the most exciting I have seen in motor racing for sure,” Alonso noted. “The drivers in front of me were very aggressive in Turn 1 and even I dropped the tyres and went a little bit wide. I think it surprised us. We locked up the tyres and everyone went long. I took the benefit of that.”
Trying to make up ground Hamilton dived up the inside of his Brazilian rival at the chicane only for Massa, who ran wide at the corner entry, to come back at him and punt him into a spin.
Both drivers received drive through penalties for their respective actions which effectively wrote of their chances of a decent points haul.
Massa managed to claw his way into the final points paying position after overtaking Mark Webber in the closing stages, but the Brazilian’s point hangs in doubt after stewards announced that they will investigate a tangle he had with Sebastien Bourdais as the Frenchman left the pitlane.
When asked by ITV sport if he felt it was fair that both he and Massa were dealt drive through penalties, Hamilton said: “We both got the same penalty, but I didn’t hit anyone, he did.”
Hamilton acknowledges that his startline move was risky, but is adamant that it won’t effect his chances of winning the world championship.
“Of course, you can always look back and wish you did something different. I made a mistake and you pay for it.”
“I don’t think it makes any difference, I lost only one point which I guess is damage limitation. We just have to make sure we win the next two races.”
A one-stopping Nelson Piquet, who led the race momentarily before his pit stop, affirmed the underlying pace of the Renault R28 to finish fourth after taking advantage of the opening chaos and setting a searing pace when in clear air.
Renault’s points haul bolsters their position in the constructors championship with rivals Toyota unable to make a serious impression on the French team; Jarno Trulli finished fifth and Timo Glock retired with a suspension failure.
Alonso managed to leapfrog Kubica at the first round of pitstops courtesy of a searing pace around the Fuji International Circuit as well as quick thinking from the Renault mechanics.
“We were P2 when we stopped for the first time and I asked the team if we can exit the pits in front of Robert (Kubica), so they put less fuel to enable me to do that, but said you need to open a gap. Today the car was perfect and I was able to do it.”
Alonso was delighted with his second consecutive victory which was made all the more sweeter by the fact that he won under more normal circumstances compared to the chaos of Singapore a fortnight ago.
“It’s difficult to believe,” said the double world champion. “The Singapore win was completely unexpected after Saturday.” Ok, it was special conditions with the safety car, but today we had nothing: we won again at a circuit which is not particularly good for our characteristics.”
“Obviously back to back wins is a very nice feeling. The team did a great job to improve the car, which is maybe now just behind Ferrari and McLaren. This is completely amazing.”
The Toro Rosso pairing of Bourdais and Vettel once again both finished in the points, the former having the upperhand for the first real time this season after running on a one-stop strategy.
Mark Webber was ninth ahead of Nico Rosberg, while Lewis Hamilton trailed home in eleventh.
Massa closes the gap to Hamilton to six points ahead of the penultimate grand prix in China as a result of his eighth place. But with Hamilton failing to pick up a point, and Heikki Kovalainen dropping out of the fray on Lap 29 as a result of an engine failure, Ferrari have re-taken the initiative in the constructors championship courtesy of Raikkonen’s third place.
David Coulthard and Kazukia Nakajima were notable casualties of the first corner chaos triggered by Lewis Hamilton’s move on Kimi Raikkonen. Coulthard’s suspension had been damaged in the first corner contact and he was pitched into the barriers, collecting Nakajima in the process.