McLaren’s star Lewis Hamilton is edging closer to his dream result of winning this season’s drivers’ title after an awesome display of wet weather driving in the rain-drenched Japanese Grand Prix.
His main championship rival, team-mate Fernando Alonso, crashed out after aquaplaned into the tyre wall on the approach to Turn 6 on lap 42. The Spaniard had earlier suffered a spin losing him track position as well as colliding into Sebastian Vettel’s Toro Rosso into the first corner…
With Lewis winning the wet Fuji race, Alonso now faces a difficult challenge of sustaining his championship honours over his British rookie, who is now leading the standings with 12 points. If Hamilton finishes ahead of his Spanish team-mate in the following Grand Prix at Shanghai next weekend, he will become world champion of 2007.
Renault’s Heikki Kovalainen finished in his career-best position of second, followed by the determining Kimi Raikkonen in the Ferrari. The ‘Iceman’ had earlier fallen to the rear of the field in the first part of this dramatic Grand Prix.
With the treacherous wet conditions at the Fuji Speedway, the first 19 laps of the race were run behind the Safety Car due to the appalling visibility. Even though the whole Formula One field were instructed by race control to start on extreme wet tyres, the Ferraris were both fitted with intermediates, forcing Kimi Raikkonen and team-mate Felipe Massa to make necessary pit-stops during the caution period.
How come the Ferraris were starting the Grand Prix on intermediates despite everyone else was on the extreme wet Bridgestone tyres? Team boss Jean Todt claims he didn’t receive an email from Charlie Whiting, the race director. But everyone else got the message…
So it was hardly a surprise to see Raikkonen and Massa struggling in the soaking wet conditions. Massa even had a spin under the Safety Car! The track wasn’t suitable for the shallow-grooved intermediates so when Ferrari brought in both drivers for the right tyres, the pair returned back on circuit at the rear end of the field…
Meanwhile at the front, the two silver cars were leading the field but the race still wasn’t under way. It looked like the Japanese Grand Prix would become a parade of racing cars travelling slowly behind the Safety Car… But when the race officials decided to assess the conditions by allowing Tonio Liuzzi, who was a lap down, to unlap himself and catch up to the back of the racing pack, it was then the lap time from the Toro Rosso driver became significant enough for Charlie Whiting to let the racing commence.
The Safety Car came in at the end of lap 19 and the race resume with Lewis Hamilton leading Fernando Alonso. Behind, there was chaos as Nick Heidfeld was hit from behind by Honda’s Jenson Button. In addition, Alex Wurz lost control of his Williams under braking into Turn 1 which resulted in the Austrian colliding into the back of Massa, who went into another spin!
Button, amazingly continue his race without a front wing and was setting reasonable times. But after a few laps, the Honda driver was forced to come into the pits to repair the damage.
In the mean time, Lewis Hamilton was pulling away from his McLaren team-mate at a steady rate – thanks to the clear road and relatively good visibility. It was at this period of the race that Alonso was struggling to keep up and after his pit-stop, the Spaniard fell ever further behind his main championship rival. In fact, he lost vital track positions after taking on more fuel and it certainly didn’t help when he collided with Sebastian Vettel’s Toro Rosso some time later…
Speaking of Sebastian Vettel, the young German was driving a superb race. He actually led a couple of laps when the McLarens were in the pits and it would have been a wonderful result for the team to finish on the podium. But alas, he made a rookie mistake when he crashed into Mark Webber’s Red Bull during the second Safety Car period… Webber was furious as he was heading for a podium and that incident cost both Toro Rosso and Red Bull Racing a chance of scoring big points in Fuji.
Why was the Safety Car out on track again? Well, it was called out as Fernando Alonso suffered heavy damage after losing control in his McLaren on the wet surface. His shunt could be the deciding factor in this year’s world championship and it was a shame for the Spaniard as he was recovering from his earlier pit-stop.
Once the debris was cleared away, the race restarted and Hamilton continued to lead from the front. The British driver was driving brilliantly at the point of the race despite a lack of knowledge of racing in the wet. Lewis even survived a scary moment when he was hit from behind by Robert Kubica’s BMW-Sauber, which resulted in both cars spinning. But luckily, Lewis kept the engine running, rejoined back on track and went onto win the race. As for Kubica, he was given a drive-through penalty for the racing incident.
Behind the victorious Lewis Hamilton was Renault’s Heikki Kovalainen, who was driving his best-ever race of the season. His fellow countrymen Kimi Raikkonen, who was driving the wheels off his Ferrari, pushed the Finn all the way to the chequered flag
Finishing in fourth was David Coulthard in the Red Bull. The Scottish driver was racing with a special Colin McRae-themed helmet as a tribute to the late World Rally Champion. It certainly helped Coulthard’s luck in the wet conditions as he recorded yet another points finish for his team.
Giancarlo Fisichella finished fifth after a so-so race in the Renault, while Nick Heidfeld lost sixth position when his BMW-Sauber began to misfire and was forced to retire just two laps from home.
That position went to Ferrari’s Felipe Massa, who drove a storming race from the back. The Brazilian even had an exciting wheel-to-wheel battle with Kubica on the final lap that was reminiscent of Dijon 1979 and the battle between Gilles Villeneuve and Rene Arnoux.
And finishing in the last remaining championship point was Toni Liuzzi. After starting the race in the pit-lane, the Italian scored Toro Rosso’s first points of the season. But race stewards decided to penalise the driver for overtaking under yellow flags. So it was Spyker that scored its first point of the season instead, courtesy of another strong drive from Adrian Sutil.
Hamilton’s fourth Grand Prix victory means he leads the title chase with 107 points to Alonso’s static 95, while Raikkonen is now up to 90 points. Massa, on 80, is now officially out of the title chase with two races remaining.
The next race follows immediately at Shanghai for the penultimate race of this exciting season. Lewis Hamilton’s dream of winning the title in his first season of becoming a Formula One driver is only a week away. Can he do it? It certainly looks like it judging by his commanding drive here at Fuji.
Revised Japanese Grand Prix result – 67 laps
1. HAMILTON McLaren 2h00m34.579s
2. KOVALAINEN Renault +8.4s
3. RAIKKONEN Ferrari +9.5s
4. COULTHARD Red Bull +20.3s
5. FISICHELLA Renault +38.9s
6. MASSA Ferrari +49.0s
7. KUBICA BMW +49.3s
8. SUTIL Spyker +1m00.1s*
9. LIUZZI Toro Rosso +1m20.6s*
10. BARRICHELLO Honda +1m28.3s
11. BUTTON Honda +1 lap
12. YAMAMOTO Spyker +1 lap
13. TRULLI Toyota +1 lap
14. HEIDFELD BMW +2 laps
15. SATO Super Aguri +2 laps
R. SCHUMACHER Toyota +12 laps
R. DAVIDSON Super Aguri +13 laps
R. ROSBERG Williams +18 laps
R. VETTEL Toro Rosso +21 laps
R. WEBBER Red Bull +22 laps
R. ALONSO McLaren +26 laps
R. WURZ Williams +48 laps
Fastest lap: HAMILTON 1m28.193s (lap 27)
* Liuzzi given 25s penalty, promoting Sutil to 8th