Fernando Alonso was effusive in his praise for Renault after producing a truly magnificent performance to ascend the top step of the rostrum for the second race in succession in the Japanese Grand Prix – an event held, he acknowledged, around 'a circuit that was not supposed to suit us'.
Though his Singapore Grand Prix victory a fortnight ago owed something to luck with the fortuitous timing of the first safety car period fitting in perfectly with his strategy, Alonso dominated the Japanese Grand Prix on sheer pace, seeing off the challenges of Robert Kubica and Kimi Raikkonen to record the 21st success of his top flight career.
Having qualified fourth, from where he had modestly predicted 'a top five finish' [see separate story – click here
], the double Formula 1 World Champion made a good start and avoided the chaos created by former McLaren-Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton into the first corner to slot into second place behind Kubica, where he would remain – closely shadowing the BMW-Sauber – throughout his opening stint.
Impressive work from his Renault crew enabled Alonso to jump Kubica during the first round of pit visits, and when all the stops had shaken out he was in the lead – and pulling away. Seemingly effortlessly eking out a gap of 13 seconds over his pursuer, the Spaniard had more than enough in-hand to retain his advantage when the pit-stops came round again, and he would take the chequered flag just over five seconds to the good after backing off over the last tour.
“It's still difficult to believe what we have done today!” the 27-year-old confessed at the end of a drive of remarkable consistency. “Winning in Singapore was unexpected, but we benefited from special conditions. Today we won again on a circuit that was not supposed to suit us.
“The team has really done a remarkable job to fight back this season, and we are now the third-strongest team. It's unbelievable, and I am extremely happy.”
Not only did Alonso's victory propel the man from Oviedo to within sight of fifth place in the drivers' standings – or even fourth at a push, should Raikkonen suffer a repeat of his failing-to-score streak in the final two races – it also surely all-but secured the highly-coveted fourth position in the constructors' rankings for Renault, who now travel to Shanghai for next weekend's Chinese Grand Prix with a healthy 16-point advantage over Toyota, their chief rivals for the spot.
“I am very happy as this is a superb result for the team, Fernando, Nelson and Renault,” underlined the Régie's
managing director Flavio Briatore, also alluding to Alonso's team-mate Nelsinho Piquet's strong fourth place.
“The victory is well-deserved – Fernando and Nelson had great drives, our strategy worked wonderfully and after our difficult start to the season I want to thank all the members of the team for their efforts. We had said that we could come back to the top, and we confirmed that here today.”
“Winning the last race was very welcome,” added the Enstone-based outfit's executive director of engineering Pat Symonds, “but it's much more satisfying to win here in two ways – firstly it was a more straightforward race that showed our true capability, and secondly because both cars achieved a good result today.
“Our lap times were good, better than Ferrari and McLaren, and most certainly better than those of BMW. Congratulations to the team and to both our drivers.”