Does anybody really want the 2008 FIA Formula One World Drivers' Championship? The top two points scorers seemed not to Sunday in Round 16 of an 18-race season. Thus Fernando Alonso of Renault won his second successive race after top title ...
Does anybody really want the 2008 FIA Formula One World Drivers' Championship? The top two points scorers seemed not to Sunday in Round 16 of an 18-race season. Thus Fernando Alonso of Renault won his second successive race after top title contenders Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa counted themselves out of the heavy points in the Grand Prix of Japan at Fuji Speedway.
Robert Kubica of BMW Sauber finished second ahead of Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen. Alonso's rookie teammate Nelsinho Piquet was fourth, Toyota's Jarno Trulli fifth, Scuderia Toro Rosso's Sebastian Vettel sixth, Massa seventh and Mark Webber eighth. Hamilton was circulating in 12th at the end. Toro Rosso's Sebastien Bourdais took the checkered flag in sixth, his season's best finish, but lost 25 seconds to penalty because his final pit stop on Lap 50 of 67 put him back on track at the same spot Massa held and the two bumped. The penalty put him 10th behind BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld. Nico Rosberg was 11th for Williams; the Hondas of Rubens Barrichello then Jenson Button followed Hamilton, and home favorite Kazuki Nakajima was in 15th a lap down at the end.
Massa, who bags no points for setting fast lap, cuts Hamilton's drivers points lead by two, leaving the Brazilian five points back. Kubica closes the gap, moving to 72 points to Hamilton's 84 and Massa's 79. Raikkonen and Heidfeld, technically in contention at the start of the race, bow out of the drivers' title chase for which 20 polints remain on offer.
"Obviously, I'm not happy after a result like today's," Hamilton said. "But I'm already getting over it and tomorrow will be another day. "
Back-to-back victories harks to Alonso's glory years with Renault, when he brought the French marque the 2005 and 2006 world titles.
"Difficult to believe," said Alonso, who had thought a top-five finish plausible. "Obviously, the Singapore win was completely unexpected. and after a very sad Saturday coming from retirement in qualifying. OK, you win, it was some special conditions with the safety car, etc. But today we had nothing and we won again on a circuit that maybe is not particularly good for our characteristics, so I cannot believe it right now. Obviously, back-to-back win is a very nice feeling and the team did a great job to improve the car. We are just maybe now behind Ferrari and McLaren and this is something that is truly amazing."
Unlike in Singapore, when a midrace crash by his teammate gave Alonso opportunity to seize, it happened quickly in Japan. In dry conditions but cool temperatures, pole sitter Hamilton made a poor start and was left on the line by front-row sharer Raikkonen. Raikkonen leapt into the lead with Hamilton's McLaren Mercedes teammate Heikki Kovalainen coming along Raikkonen's right side from third on the grid only for Hamilton to push in between them and take them all off. Raikkonen took a McLaren hit and the front-row reps of the best cars in the championship went straightlining away, giving way to opportunists from behind whose cold tires behaved a scosh better. By the end of the lap, sixth-starting Kubica held the lead ahead of fourth-starting Alonso, Kovalainen, Trulli, Massa and Hamilton.
But wait, there's more. On Lap 2, Hamilton sought to pass fifth-starting Massa, who was bundled off track then returned and shoved into Hamilton, letting the McLaren swap ends and leaving Hamilton to watch the field drive by before he could get turned round and start off in 18th place, not worse because David Coulthard's Red Bull was into a barrier with an apparently failed rear suspension from the off, and Kazuki Nakajima had been to the pits for a new front wing. Stewards had seen enough to hand out drive-through penalties, to Hamilton for his Lap 1 antics, to Massa for the Lap 2 incident. Their behavior did little to improve their respective reputations, Hamilton as an overly aggressive -- read dangerous -- driver and Massa as a somewhat wild one.
"I brake really too late and if someone would manage to take apex I would for sure hit him," Kubica said of the all-defining start. "Suddenly, everybody went straight so I locked quite a lot of front wheel and managed to stay on the track and managed to pull out first after Corner 1. I was no't really able to pull away. Fernando was keeping the gap and I was trying everything."
Kubica pitted from the lead on Lap 18. Alonso pitted a lap later, asking his team to put him back on track ahead of his Polish poker pal, which they did by leaving the Spaniard with four laps less fuel. That was the race. Alonso needed to gap Kubica, or take enough of a lead to make sure he kept the lead after his next pit stop, but, hey, he's a two-time world champion, plus the R28's performance has come further in the second half of the season than that of the BMW Sauber.
"The problem is you have to open a gap in the second stint," Alonso said of his ploy. "Sometimes you can do it and sometimes not. Today the car was perfect and I was able to do it."
The first round of stops put first Trulli in the lead, a great coup for course-owning Toyota, then Bourdais, who until the stewards' decision outperformed his younger teammate throughout a race for the first time, then Piquet, who held the position before Alonso took it for good.
Raikkonen made a late charge on Kubica, producing great racing, but tire issues settled it before the Finn could overtake.
"The start was probably the most exciting part of the race, for sure," Alonso said. "So the people in front of me going quite aggressive into Turn 1 and even myself, I locked the front tires and I went a little bit wide. But, it surprised us I think in a way because in these cold temperatures we start with the prime tires, most of us, and we locked the tires and everybody went long. So I took the benefit of that and I put myself behind Robert and from that point the race was a little bit easier. In the second stint we managed to have some free air, no one in front of us, and the car was very, very nice to drive again and I was pulling a nice gap and maybe part of the victory was in the second stint."
Force India's Adrian Sutil didn't complete 10 laps before a tire let go, forcing him to stop while in 10th place. Toyota's Timo Glock suffered a failed suspension before he completed 15 laps. Kovalainen's McLaren gave out with a smoking gasp before the 20th lap. McLaren's failure to score points move Ferrari back to the top of the constructors' race, 142 points to 135. BMW Sauber is third with 128. Renault moves to 66 points ahead of Toyota's 50 in the chase for fourth. Scuderia Toro Rosso outpoints senior partner Red Bull Racing, 36-28.