Hamilton takes crucial win at soaked Fuji

2007 Japanese Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton, Heikki Kovalainen, Kimi Raikkonen, Fuji Speedway, 2007 | Ferrari MediaAtrocious conditions a the Fuji Speedway and a collision with Robert Kubica failed to put Lewis Hamilton off his stride.

The rookie put in a performance worthy of a ten-year veteran, triumphing in pouring rain in Japan to score a magnificent – and vital – victory.

A crash ended Fernando Alonso’s race and dropped him 12 points behind Hamilton in the title race.

The sight of the Fuji Speedway shrouded in mist and drenched in rain evoked memories of the first Japanese Grand Prix at the circuit in 1976.

But safety standards are much tougher these days and race control elected to start the race behind the safety car. The start didn’t come until lap 19, however, with the field spending over half an hour queued up.

This caused an understandable amount of confusion, not least at Ferrari, who claimed they had not heard a warning from the stewards instructing all teams to start the race on extreme wet tyres.

Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa were the only drivers to pull away for the grid on intermediate wet tyres and the folly of that decision became immediately apparent.

Massa spun off on his second tour of the circuit at reduced pace and both drivers quickly pitted for fresh tyres. But once the start was finally given Massa was summoned into the pits for a drive-through penalty for overtaking Nick Heidfeld after coming back onto the track.

But even the drivers on full wet tyres were having trouble pointing their cars straight. Jarno Trulli pirouetted his Toyota on lap 13 with the safety car still on-track.

For a long time it looked as though the race would never get a proper start but the race was finally green-flagged after 18 laps behind Bernd Maylander’s Mercedes.

At the front of the field Lewis Hamilton gave Fernando Alonso plenty to think about, repeatedly making fake starts before finally nailing the throttle and sprinting down to the first corner well clear of his team mate.

Almost inevitably there was a tangled further back. Alexander Wurz lost control under braking and swiped into Felipe Massa’s car. That put the Wiliams out but the Ferrari was able to continue.

Jenson Button and Nick Heidfeld had also clashed at the start, knocking Button’s front wing off. He stayed out for a couple of laps – possibly expecting the re-appearance of the safety car – before pitting.

After his delay Raikkonen began to make his way up the order. By lap 23 he was 13th but already 36s behind leader Hamilton. He made up two places over the next three laps – but lost another nine seconds.

Up front the McLarens were the only cars lapping under 1’30s, with Sebastian Vettel in the Toro Rosso slipping backwards. Mark Webber was fourth ahead of Giancarlo Fisichella, who had a string of three cars within four seconds of him.

That gaggle of cars became crucial when the McLarens made their pit stops, because Alonso came out behind them but Hamilton stayed out in front of them. Hamilton’s three second advantage before his pit stops stretched as Alonso made a mistake on his out lap.

Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso, Fuji Speedway, 2007 | GEPA / Mathias KniepeissAlonso then got stuck into Heidfeld – passing the BMW on lap 33 but losing the place again on the next tour. Vettel – who had been leading – pitted at the same time and on lap 35 made a move on Alonso – the pair collided, and although both of them continued Alonso was passed by the flying Raikkonen.

Just as Alonso was cursing his luck much the same was happening to Hamilton. Robert Kubica perhaps misjudged the line he was taking through the penultimate bend – but the result was the BMW driver knocking Hamilton into a spin. Again, both continued, but Kubica picked up a drive-through penalty for the move.

Hamilton’s delay meant that when new leader Mark Webber pitted the Red Bull driver returned to the track right behind him. However, the McLaren driver returned to the lead after the Giancarlo Fisichella’s pit stop on lap 41.

It was still raining hard and lap times had begun to increase once again. Nevertheless Alonso was attacking the gap to Hamilton, taking over a second off him on one lap.

But he pushed too hard and on the very next lap smashed into the barriers behind the pits. He had picked up damage in his collision with Vettel, but later denied it played a role in the crash.

The safety car returned to the car as Alonso’s wreckage was cleared. Behind Hamilton the order was quite unusual – Webber had taken up second with Vettel third and Vitantonio Liuzzi fourth, until he made his pit stop on lap 44.

Two Red Bull-backed cars on the podium would have been a dream for the team – but a lamentable mistake by Vettel on lap 46 put both himself and Webber out of the race. The only consolation for the German was that he was able to creep back to the pits and avoid Webber’s wrath. It was a bitter end to a fine performance by both drivers.

That promoted Heikki Kovalainen to second and Massa third. Raikkonen was seventh behind David Coulthard, Fisichella and Heidfeld.

The race got going once more on lap 48, with Hamilton again backing the field up and keeping Kovalainen at bay.

Ferrari certainly wanted Raikkonen to get maximum points and he put himself in contention by passing Coulthard with a brave move for fourth on lap 56. That put him behind Massa. Conveninetly Massa was then brought into the pits which apparently was needed despite the fact he’d bee in three times already – although at least once for a drive-through penalty.

Raikkonen took up third and his next target was Kovalainen. But his compatriot drove carefully – never wasting his time with unnecessary defensive moves – and kept the faster Ferrari at bay until the end.

Somehow the rain got even harder towards the end of the race – the drivers lapping over five seconds slower than the had after the first start. But Hamilton, despite driving on more worn tyres than most of his rivals, put in a peerless drive, stretching a lead and maintaining it until the flag.

Coulthard finished fourth ahead of Fisichella’s Renault. But behind them Massa prevailed in a thrilling last-lap tussle with Kubica, the pair running each other up to and beyond the edges of the circuit.

A late pit stop for Rubens Barrichello dropped him out of eighth place, promoting Liuzzi into eighth place after the Italian had passed Adrian Sutil.

Barrichello finished tenth ahead of his team mate Button, who retired on the last lap after a despondent race that had promised much. Behind him were Sakon Yamamoto, Jarno Trulli, the retired Heidfeld, and Sato who survived a brief fire after his pit stop.

But Hamilton’s magnificent fourth career victory sets him up to clinch the drivers’ championship in his rookie year. Say what you like about the McLaren team, after today’s drive there’s no question he deserves it.

Update: Following the race Liuzzi was given a 25-second penalty for passing Sutil under yellow flags. That promoted Sutil to eighth giving the German the first point of his career.

Race rating

It was frustrating watching 18 laps behind the safety car, but the rest of the race was a nailbiter.

Photos: Ferrari Media | GEPA / Mathias Kniepeiss

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41 comments on Hamilton takes crucial win at soaked Fuji

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  1. Its funny that Torro Rosso drop liuzzi at the end of the season but keep Vettel, liuzzi gets their so far only point of the year and Vettel stopped a almost certain podium for Webber, its safe to say that Vettel is off Webbers christmas card list this year.

  2. Really great race. Are you sure about the 2 out of 5 rating? Yes, the half-hour dafety car period was dull, but the race was great after that.

    A massive shame about Webber, Vettel and Button. I really wanted good results from those three drivers…

    A supreme drive from Hamilton today. The championship is within his grasp, I hope he can take the title in China.

  3. Sarhan said on 30th September 2007, 8:55

    Kubica’s penalty was unfair. It was clearly a racing accident and I would say that if there was a fault it was Hamiltons returning on the racing line not using mirrors.

  4. oliver said on 30th September 2007, 9:03

    When it rains heavy,…there is no such thing as a racing line

  5. Magnus said on 30th September 2007, 9:05

    Bah, I’m disgusted. Here we had a proper championship battle shaping up for the end of the season and Alonso and Raikonnen just throws it all away (or in Raikonnen’s case, perhaps the Ferrari team threw it all away).

    Since I can’t stand Hamilton and his plucky Mr British nice guy, rookie saviour of the sport, I love my team attitude I’m gonna say he wasn’t that impressive. Alonso didn’t really challenge him before the pit stops and when Hamilton opened the door for Kubica to take them both off the track he was lucky Alonso was quite capable of wrecking his race by himself further back.

    The Webber-Vettel moment was absolutely brilliant and if I was a Red Bull executive I’d probably fire the driver responsible on the spot (didn’t see any good replay of who was to blame).

    At least the Ferrari drivers put on a show at the end though, especially Massa’s fight with Kubica. It’s just a shame he had to pit that last time, could’ve ended up much higher… ;)

    Now let’s just hope for a Hamilton DNF next time and Raikonnen-Alonso in a 1-2 of some sort for a proper ending to this season, not likely it’s going to happen I guess. :(

  6. the cameras missed both the cause of Alonso’s crash and the Vettel – Webber clash …

    Vettel looked great till THE moment … haven’t read his explanation of the situation yet, but feel a bit sorry for the guy … what looked like a dream day for him turned into a nightmare …

    re Ferrari – Raikkonen had some strange remark at the press conference about their tyre situation at the beginning of the race:
    “We made a decision to start on intermediates, but it started to rain harder. After the race I heard there was something from race control to force everyone to start on full wets but the FIA or race control or whoever forgot to tell our team before the start.”

    “That meant we had to pit at the start to change tyres and had to catch up from there,”

    weird …

  7. Eric M. said on 30th September 2007, 9:51

    Hmm, I would have thought in that sort of situation Ferrari would be the first to know…;)

    It is a shame that the standings couldn’t have stayed a little closer after this race, but it was a great drive by Hamilton, and it was nice to see great results by Kovalainen and Coulthard. Hopefully both McLaren’s get DNF’s next time so we have a chance at a last round shoot-out between the two drivers who really deserve the title, Hamilton and Raikkonen,

    Go Raikkonen!

  8. http://www.formula1.com/news/headlines/2007/9/6899.html

    nr 7 Magnus: not that impressive? Take your red tinted Ferrari lenses off please. Virtually all the drivers said that it was the most difficult condition that they have ever been through on a racetrack, including the most experienced ones such as Coulthard and Barichello.

    Meanwhile I also root for our old friend Kimi. He really showed that he can drive when all the shackles are off. One of his most impressive fights and drives since Japan 05. Come back to McLaren Kimi! I’ll happily swap him for Alonso.

  9. Observer said on 30th September 2007, 13:06

    I seen LH embrace his father at the end of the GP. Under current rules this is not allowed…..never heard that mentioned…..the drivers are not allowed to do that before they are weighed………… What is his punishment???

  10. Vertigo said on 30th September 2007, 13:33

    Sutil was promoted to a point?
    If so, that’s great, he did really well today and has been pretty good all through the year. Hope he doesn’t end up at Toyota like the rumours say or he won’t win any races.

  11. Jian: I said I can’t stand Lewis, had it been any other driver I probably would’ve been impressed. ;)

    A Kimi-Alonso swap would be interesting though, I’d love to see him in a Ferrari.

  12. best race of the season,i think,
    sums up the season,Alonso trying to hard,Hamilton faultless and the Ferraris fast but not good enough!

  13. Observer said on 30th September 2007, 15:15

    I think whoever had started from the front in that race would have won. Clearly being able to see was the advantage.
    The title is not over this year, remember last year, Alonso and Schumi both had bad luck in the remaining races. Anything is possible.

    Looking forward to next year I see a good battle between Kov, Rai, Ham, Alo, Mas, Kub, and Vettel. I think things will be alot closer, and Ham will not be as fortunate as he has been this year!
    Schumi would have walked that race, and no way would he have allowed his car to start on inters!!!

  14. Would have to agree with Magnus. I liked the rookie at the start of the year, but since then, he would do anything to preserve his nicer than nice attitude.
    We hear quotes of him slating Alonso, then more quotes of him denying his words, or clarifying the statements.
    I think it is disgusting the way Alonso has been treated for so called whistle blowing! The British sporting press are equally as bad.
    I am not an Alonso fan, but the word ‘team’ and ‘Mclaren’ should not be used together, teams would simply not allow such treatment of a team member.
    I am with Luca di Montezemolo, in the opinion that Ferrari will in some way have won both titles regardless of which driver wins.

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