Following on from his Singapore triumph, Fernando Alonso sent out a clear message that former Formula 1 World Champions Renault are back with a bang in the top flight, by storming to a sensational second consecutive success in the Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji.

On a day when title protagonists Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa made critical errors, Alonso made none - and his victory was as well-deserved as it was unexpected. With Robert Kubica in the BMW-Sauber having manoeuvred himself back into contention for glory too with a strong second place, the scene is now set for a barnstorming conclusion to the campaign in the final two races.

With predictions that race day's cooler temperatures would favour McLaren-Mercedes over Ferrari, Massa was clearly eyeing a strong start by beginning the grand prix on Bridgestone's softer rubber - a tactic that had worked so well for Alonso in Singapore, but the very same tyres the Brazilian had been unable to get up to temperature sufficiently quickly the previous day in qualifying.

As pole man Hamilton bogged down when the red lights went out, fellow front row sitter Kimi Raikkonen shot into the lead at the start and Heikki Kovalainen moved alongside his team-mate in the second McLaren, but the world championship leader wasn't done yet.

Leaving his braking dangerously late into the first corner, Hamilton locked up his wheels and went in very deep, forcing Raikkonen wide and causing the following Ferrari of Massa to run wide too - and giving the lie to his pre-race claims that he would henceforth be playing things calmly and conservatively in the run-in to the end of the season.

That allowed Kubica in the fast-starting BMW to assume control of the race, ahead of surprise Singapore Grand Prix winner Alonso, Kovalainen, the Toyota of Jarno Trulli, Massa, Hamilton and Raikkonen, as further back Red Bull Racing veteran David Coulthard suffered a sizeable shunt after his rear suspension broke on the exit of turn one following contact as the field concertina-d up, pitching the experienced Scot off the circuit and heavily into the tyre barriers - albeit thankfully without injury.

Those who gained most from the opening lap chaos were inarguably Jenson Button and Adrian Sutil, up into tenth and eleventh positions respectively from down in 18th and 19th on the grid, whilst home hero Kazuki Nakajima in the Williams found himself having to pit after collecting debris from Coulthard's accident.

There was then further drama on lap two as Hamilton endeavoured to get back ahead of chief title rival Massa, and he was handed the perfect opportunity when the Brazilian ran wide into turn ten. As the McLaren dived up the inside, though, Massa attempted to defend his place, driving across the grass and into the side of Hamilton, tipping the Briton into a spin and down to the very rear of the field.

Pitting at the end of the lap, Hamilton's tyres were so badly flat-spotted from his first corner lock-up - practically down to the canvas of the rubber - that they needed changing, whilst the suspension was also checked over to ensure no lasting damage from the contact with Massa. Being slow away from his 'box didn't help his cause either, whilst Massa had also lost out, slipping behind both team-mate Raikkonen and the Scuderia Toro Rosso of S?bastien Bourdais to seventh.

Back at the front, meanwhile, Alonso was pressing Kubica hard for the lead, with the top five beginning to break away slightly as Bourdais frustrated Massa's progress and Timo Glock, Nelsinho Piquet and Sebastian Vettel completed the early top ten.

The luckless Glock, however, would become the race's second retirement when he dropped out on lap six - the legacy of having picked up debris from Coulthard's accident. Raikkonen, though, was the man on the move, scrabbling past the remaining Toyota of Trulli into fourth and going on to chase down countryman Kovalainen at the rate of half a second a lap.

Sutil became the grand prix's next retiree when he pulled off into the pit-lane exit with a delaminated rear tyre, as Force India team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella impressively battled his way past both Rubens Barrichello and Nico Rosberg up into 13th and Kovalainen responded to Raikkonen's challenge by setting a new fastest lap, with Hamilton now languishing - disastrously for his title challenge - more than a minute off the lead.

Kubica was the first man to blink at the end of lap 17, closely followed by Raikkonen, promoting Alonso to the head of the field ahead of Trulli. Raikkonen had to forcefully defend his position against the one-stopping Mark Webber in the Red Bull Racing upon exiting the pits, whilst both Hamilton - for his first corner aggression - and Massa - for having caused an avoidable collision - were meted out drive-through penalties.

Alonso pitting next left Trulli in the lead from Bourdais, as the unfortunate Kovalainen - driving well and a strong bet for victory - pulled off the circuit with smoke coming from his McLaren, the result of a suspected hydraulics failure.

To make McLaren's already black day worse still, Hamilton's woes were crystallised when he went a lap down less than a third of the way into the race, whilst Fisichella's charge came to an end as the second Force India was wheeled into the garage.

Following Trulli's pit visit at the end of lap 21, Bourdais moved into the lead, with Alonso having leapfrogged Kubica during the pair's respective stops - albeit with five laps less fuel on-board his Renault.

As Bourdais led Piquet, third-placed Vettel came in for his first stop, rejoining the fray just in time to fend off the attentions of the progressing Nick Heidfeld - the experienced German coming off his worst starting position in some 61 outings - at the base of the top ten and making it a Renault two-three. That would become, incredibly, a Renault one-two when Bourdais also came in for fuel after 25 laps, and Piquet would succeed in getting past the STR by running three laps longer - until lap 28 - and demonstrating excellent pace on another extremely strong day for the resurgent R?gie.

Once the first round of stops had all shaken out, Alonso led Kubica by a growing margin of seven seconds, the Spaniard knowing he had to push and responding in magnificent fashion as he sought back-to-back victories in a car that - back at the beginning of the campaign - has been more than a second away from the front-running pace.

Not only was the former double world champion devastatingly quick, but he was also impressively consistent with it as he extended his margin over Kubica to more than ten seconds, with a subdued Raikkonen a further four seconds in arrears.

Webber finally made his one and only stop of the grand prix on lap 34 - having manoeuvred himself into strong contention for points - whilst Massa and Hamilton still lay some way down the field, just under eight seconds apart in 14th and 15th places respectively.

As the second round of pit-stops began to approach, Piquet was slowly inching up behind Trulli for fourth position, whilst Massa re-appeared inside the top ten by darting past Webber along the pit straight. Team-mate Raikkonen, for his part, had now fallen a full 17 seconds shy of the race lead, with Alonso pitting with 24 laps left to run - taking on the softer tyres and a tweak of front wing, but re-emerging in traffic as Kubica eyed his chance.

Rather than the Pole, though, it was Raikkonen who was now the man on the move, living up to his 2008 record by setting a new fastest lap as he endeavoured to close down the 3.7 seconds that separated him from Kubica and second place. The BMW in fact only ran three laps longer than Alonso had done - rather than the expected five - promoting Raikkonen into the lead from Trulli, Piquet and Bourdais.

The defending world champion continued to push hard as his second pit-stop similarly neared, coming in with 20 laps left on the counter, and crucially he rejoined still just behind his quarry Kubica - meaning the chase was back on.

The sister F2008 of Massa subsequently shattered Raikkonen's fastest lap as the Brazilian moved into the points, as second-placed Piquet closed down the gap separating him from new leader Trulli to just eight tenths of a second - and significantly the Toyota was the first of the pair to pit, rejoining seventh.

The flying Massa's progress was suddenly halted, however, when he made his second key mistake of the race by pulling across on Bourdais in the Ferrari-powered STR as the Frenchman exited from his pit-stop, with the scarlet machine being tipped into a spin much as he had done to Hamilton some 50 laps earlier.

Up at the front, though, Piquet continued to lead as Raikkonen had reduced Kubica's advantage to nothing at all, darting about frantically behind the BMW in his efforts to steal second place.

Piquet rejoined from his stop ahead of Trulli for a net fourth place - from down in twelfth on the grid - whilst Kubica and Raikkonen were providing some spectacular action in their fraught dice for second place, the pair going literally wheel-to-wheel as the latter ran briefly off-track in their entertaining side-by-side duel.

Indeed, so poor was Kubica's pace in the latter stages of the race that the charging Piquet was closing in onto the back of the battle for the runner-up spot, and dragging the displaced Trulli and Bourdais along with him. With ten laps remaining and Renault team-mate Alonso holding a 13-second lead, Piquet was right with Raikkonen for third place - and lapping impressively quickly - to afford Kubica some much-appreciated breathing space.

Massa, meanwhile, was now chasing down eighth-placed Webber and ninth-placed Heidfeld as he sought to limit the damage of his error-strewn performance, and the Ferrari's vastly superior straight-line speed enabled him to simply breeze past the latter along the mile-long pit straight - and set off after Webber, seven seconds up the road with as many laps left to run.

An 'off' for Piquet at turn five dashed the Brazilian's podium hopes and dropped him back into the clutches of Trulli, whilst compatriot Massa was fairly decimating the gap to a grip-less Webber, and lay just three seconds behind the final points-paying position with four laps to the chequered flag.

The Australian ultimately - and predictably - had no answer to the Ferrari's devastatingly superior pace, but when Massa did make his move, along the start-finish straight with three laps to go, it was a risky one, diving up the inside and almost being squeezed into the pit wall as he passed the RBR effectively in the pit-lane.

After allowing former team-mate and bitter rival Hamilton to un-lap himself on the final tour, though, Alonso was unquestionably the man of the moment once again, as the 27-year-old brilliantly triumphed for a second consecutive race to send out a firm signal that Renault are well-and-truly back - and that, should he remain with the French concern, he will arguably be a title contender once again in 2009.

With Raikkonen's charge having been blunted as his tyres faded - and the Finn's challenge for the crown finally and irrevocably shot - Kubica was able to hang on to second place and with it the eight points that have vaulted him right back into contention for the drivers' laurels, especially if Hamilton and Massa continue to make mistakes under pressure in China and Brazil...

Piquet marked himself out as a candidate for 'driver of the day' by coming home a superb fourth - quite possibly saving his season as predecessor Kovalainen so memorably did at Fuji this time twelve months ago - with Trulli a solid fifth, the STRs of Bourdais and Vettel double-scoring once again in sixth and seventh and Massa taking the vital last point for eighth place.

Webber, Heidfeld, Rosberg, Hamilton, Barrichello, Button and Nakajima completed the 15 finishers in the final reckoning, but all talking points at the end of the race were focussed on a day when the chief title contenders got things badly wrong - and a reborn former world champion reminded the watching world that maybe, just maybe, he is still the best in the business after all...

To see the race result in full, click here

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