Formula One went back to Fuji after a 30-year absence and it was a rather watery affair. Much of the race was spent under safety car conditions due to the torrential rain and McLaren's Lewis Hamilton slogged around in his wellies to take the win. Heikki Kovalainen was a superb second for Renault and Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen picked up third.
The race started under safety car conditions as the rain was terrible. The Ferraris were on intermediate tyres but had to pit to change as the stewards had decreed that all cars must use extreme wets -- apparently Ferrari didn't get the message that everyone else did. That put Raikkonen and Felipe Massa to the back almost straight away.
Both Kovalainen and Honda's Jenson Button were on the radio telling their engineers that the conditions were getting worse. Toro Rosso's Tonio Liuzzi was early in the pits, while Toyota's Jarno Trulli spun and Raikkonen and Massa were back in the pits again, followed by the Williams of Alex Wurz.
Massa got a drive through penalty for an unknown reason and eventually the safety car went in. BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld had got up to third but had some kind of misfire problem that was dropping him back and Massa and Wurz collided, Wurz going into the back of the Ferrari after being hit by someone else.
Massa went along the pits to serve his drive through and, meanwhile, Toro Rosso's Sebastian Vettel was up to third -- yes really. Hamilton and Alonso were behaving themselves in first and second but Button and the beleaguered Heidfeld were not, bumping heads further down the field. Takuma Sato's Super Aguri had picked up front wing damage and had to pit for a change.
Pit stops started reeling through and Red Bull's Mark Webber found himself in the lead. Meanwhile, Raikkonen had got his Ferrari up to 12th and Robert Kubica's BMW had a moment with Hamilton's McLaren. Likewise Alonso and Vettel had a synchronised spin -- by this time it was virtually impossible to keep up with what was going on.
Kubica got a drive through, presumably for the Alonso moment, and it was then Giancarlo Fisichella's Renault in the lead. Don't ask, I have no idea, but it was short lived anyway as he pitted soon after and Hamilton was back in the top spot. Next thing we knew, Alonso was in the wall at turn six.
Err, what? You couldn't look away for a second without something else mad happening. There was a fair amount of debris on the track, although thankfully none of it was Alonso's own bits and pieces. The safety car made another appearance and at that point it was Hamilton leading from Webber and Vettel.
Bizarrely, Webber then went off under the safety car after he was hit from behind by Vettel and they both retired. Not a great moment for either team when the podium was beckoning. So then the running order was Hamilton, Kovalainen, Massa -- where the heck did he come from? - Coulthard (ditto) and Fisichella.
Restart! Yes, all this was happening under the safety car. The spray was atrocious and Rosberg had a spin, while Schumacher retired for an unknown reason. Too wet, probably. Anthony Davidson's Super Aguri spun and Raikkonen had a bit of a wide moment. Massa pitted yet again and dropped to ninth.
Raikkonen was harassing Kovalainen but not finding a way past and Heidfeld eventually retired but was classed 14th. And that, soggily, was it. Great drive by Kovalainen for second behind Hamilton and a worthy mention to Coulthard in fourth. Massa managed sixth behind Fisichella, Kubica was seventh and Liuzzi eighth [*].
"A very eventful race," said Hamilton. "I think there were so many times during the race where it went through all of the drivers' heads that we should stop the race. It was sometimes very tricky, and then there were some times when it was easier to drive. We obviously had the safety car at the beginning, and I was so eager to get going. After the safety car at the beginning I got off to a decent start and wasn't particularly feeling pressure from Fernando."
"I was saving fuel and easily driving away, and I could have, if I needed to, pushed more if he was on my tail. And then we came to do the pit stops, and I came out and heard that he had been off but came back on, and then he was five places behind me or something like that. So that was a plus, and I had to just try to keep it on the track. Obviously I collided with Robert. It was just so tricky out there -- I couldn't see in my mirrors, and my visor was all fogged up and it was very foggy, so I couldn't see that he was inside of me. I'm very fortunate that I still finished."
Kovalainen, unsurprisingly, was very happy. "This weekend again we made a little bit of a gamble with the car yesterday hoping it would be dry today, and then this morning it was raining probably more than yesterday," he commented. "So things didn't look fantastic at the start of the race, but you always keep going -- you never know what can happen. Our strategy worked out really well today, and so I think the team deserves one podium at least through this year."
Raikkonen was not terribly pleased about the tyre fun and games. "After the race, I heard there were some rules or they forced everybody to start on full wets but the FIA or the race control forgot to tell our team, and we had to pit again under the safety car," he said. "So it cost us a lot but there was nothing we could do at that point. All race I couldn't do much because I couldn't really see anything."
It was nuts, it really was crazy. Adrian Sutil's Spyker was an excellent ninth and the Hondas were line astern, Barrichello 10th and Button 11th. The second Spyker of Sakon Yamamoto was 12th and Trulli, as usual, went backwards to 13th. Sato was the last classified finisher in 14th --bravo, even just reaching the flag was no mean feat today.
So Hamilton has stretched his championship lead to 12 points over Alonso, who must surely need a miracle now. Raikkonen, thanks to Alonso's retirement, has homed in on the Spaniard and is just five points behind. Too little too late? Anything can happen -- and there's rain forecast for China. Final top eight classification: Hamilton, Kovalainen, Raikkonen, Coulthard, Massa, Kubica, Liuzzi.
[*]Liuzzi was later penalized 25 seconds for overtaking under yellow flags and dropped to ninth, meaning Sutil was promoted to eighth. Toro Rosso is to appeal.