Although his post-race demeanour suggested that he was taking his first lap retirement in the Japanese Grand Prix largely in his stride, Fernando Alonso did find time to question the reasons for his early exit.

The Spaniard, having been affected by Kimi Raikkonen's spin in qualifying, found himself in close proximity to the Finn as the field filed into turn one, with the Ferrari attempting to find space ahead of his rival's Lotus in the melee. The Suzuka circuit is notorious for being narrower than some of its more modern contemporaries and, with the two cars vying for the same space, contact was almost inevitable, with Raikkonen's front wing clipping the right rear tyre of the Ferrari. With a puncture now destabilising his car, Alonso slewed wide onto the grass, before spinning back into the pack. Somehow, further contact was avoided, but the championship leader's race was over.

"I had no space on the right, as I had [Jenson] Button there I think, and, on the left, I had Kimi," Alonso told Sky Sports F1, "I don't understand why Kimi didn't lift off as there was no room out there and it was only the first corner. But that is the way it is, and this time it was us [came off worst]."

With Sebastian Vettel winning the race at a canter, Alonso's championship cushion was shredded over the next 90 minutes, leaving the pair just four points apart heading to Korea next weekend. The Spaniard's phlegmatic response, however, showed that he was not giving up on the chance to beat the German to three world championships just yet.

"This time I retire, next time maybe it will be Vettel who will retire," he shrugged, "You never know - this is motorsport. With five races to go, it will be like a mini championship. We will start with [almost] the same points and we need to score one more point in the five races than the others, so we will try to do that."

Underlining what may have been possible at Suzuka, Alonso's under-fire team-mate Felipe Massa vaulted from tenth to second and came home as a comfortable runner-up behind Vettel, his first top three finish for almost two years.

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