12 October 2008
Japan 2008: Alonso stuns for two in row.
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 Sébastien Bourdais to seventh.
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