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

  1. I consider Ferrari’s mistake poetic. With additional though, Vettel’s mistake was poetic as well.

    I’m not sure I agree with all the odd black flags that were handed out; it’s not like the drivers had complete control of the cars out there.

    I also wonder how the race would’ve been different without asphalt runoffs.

  2. Alonso’s 2nd place in the championship looks more under threat from Kimi than it is to challenge for the championship now.

    When I saw the McLaren off I thought it may have been Lewis, which would have made things much more interesting for the next couple of races.

    Nonetheless, an excellent race – a shame it had to be in the wet. Good to see other would-not-be-covered-otherwise drivers getting some deserved viewing.

  3. William Wilgus said on 30th September 2007, 18:50

    Best drive of the race Hamilton? Naw, it was Kimi coming from the back to capture 3rd.

  4. Here here Kimi was fab, afterall Lewis just kept it on the road. No real overtaking, just drove with a clear view….nothing special!

  5. Tommy B said on 30th September 2007, 19:37

    Webber what a t*sser! Driving up Hamiltons ass for the safety car then shouts at Vettel when he gets hit up the back. Lost all respect for him now. Best bit was Massa and Kubica battle, great to see them shake hands at the end of the race rather then moaning about it like other drivers do

  6. before we go slating drivers, lets not forget the press has an ability to invent things and manipulate words, most of the statements attributable to both hamilton and alonso, might be a complete mystery to them, as far as im concerned the two problems hamilton has are that, 1, he is british. and 2, he is black…it is obvious from most of the comments u read here that many are not comfortable seeing a black young chap taking over a white mans sport and dominating it. a lot of people would have been happier if he was a total write off, but unfortunately or fortunately for others, he has been real consistent, and i think its that consistency that most people cant stand.

    as regards the situation between the drivers, i would say alonso must take some responsibility for that, yes he may not feel very comfortable in the team, but i think the consistency of lewis, really had a profound effect on his psychology and he has made many regretable decisions and actions. spy scandal apart, i believe he really brought morale in the team to a very low point and i believe hamilton would have been surprised by it all..despite that…alonso is one of my favourite drivers, and i would rather see alonso win, than see kimi win.

  7. Eric M. said on 30th September 2007, 21:35

    Oliver, from what I read, I think most people (myself included) have a hard time accepting that a complete rookie will become world champion, especially one who at times has seemed quite ungrateful and even snotty towards those who have done so much for his young career. I don’t think that fact the Hamilton is black is even an issue here.

  8. who was doing the broadcast? Wasn’t it Fuji TV? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a worse race broadcast in my life. Nothing ever worked all weekend; they missed all the crashes and pivotal moments; the timing and scoring only showed up about five times the entire race; they followed Hamilton’s meaningless final lap the entire way while there was crucial racing going on for points. Oh, and they nearly cut away to Hamilton idling on his victory lap while that Massa battle was going on.

  9. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 30th September 2007, 22:14

    It was poor coverage. They had my sympathy because of the conditions, but they missed Alonso’s crash, Vettel and Webber’s crash, and several passes.

    If it was Fuji doing the coverage, it must be one of few races now that doesn’t use FOM.

    As for the Hamilton stuff…

    Snotty towards his team? When? Ungrateful? No idea what gives anyone that impression. Are they perhaps thinking of Alonso?

    But regardless what you think of someone as a person, give credit to Lewis for his performance today. It was damn good. I never cared for Schumacher’s attitude, but there were many days, usually when it rained, when you simply had to applaud him for being much better than everyone else. There was only one person who could beat Hamilton today, and he crashed trying.

    I don’t think any of the other remarks above have been said because of racism. That’s not to say there has never been any. I have access to the spam folder which is where the (very few) racist remarks that have been made about Lewis Hamilton on this site have ended up.

  10. Richard C said on 30th September 2007, 22:26

    I don’t think racism accounts for his dislike in some quarters other reasons could be :
    Ageist : Isn’t he too young to be that good,
    Plain envy : An impression he has had a sheltered cosseted life supported by McLaren but they did it because he is potentially a great driver, some envy of the considerable positive publicity he has garnered often in parts of the press who only report F1 in the context of personalities (eg Schumacher, Ecclestone, Briatore) and of course the inevitable put him on a pedestal and then knock him off,

    Rookieist : Don’t we hate it when someone new comes in and makes our sport look too easy.

  11. Eric M. said on 30th September 2007, 22:33

    “Snotty towards his team? When? Ungrateful? No idea what gives anyone that impression. Are they perhaps thinking of Alonso?”

    Didn’t he behave that way towards Ron Dennis in Hungary?

  12. Christopher said on 1st October 2007, 1:23

    I agree with Sam. I only just saw the highlights but from what I saw, the coverage was awful.

    Related: I noticed that a countdown timer replaced the lap countdown on-screen at one point (showing around 9 minutes).

    In the end, the race time was 2:00:34.579 — i.e. the race went over the two-hour limit by 34 seconds.

    Just to clarify in this case, am I right in saying that the race just ends as normal upon the first point where the leader crosses the line after two hours? i.e. everyone can race on (Massa vs Kubica) until every car crosses the finish line.
    OR, does everyone just receive the position they were in as the clock ticks over to two hours?

    If it were the latter, there could have been implications for that battle — i.e. Kubica beating Massa. It did seem a bit harsh of an initial move by Massa, though Kubica certainly got his own back at the last corner. I wonder if there’ll be consequences…

  13. Daniel said on 1st October 2007, 1:47

    It’s funny that you criticize Hamilton for being “nicer than nice”, the good guy, and for being ungrateful! Who is he, after all? For those who criticize him, no matter what he does, it’ll be bad, because he did it!

    Yes, many of you are furious with the lucky rookie… Let’s not forget that the only other real tittle contender rookie, Villeneuve, back in 1996, won only four races to Hill’s eight victories, and Damon is a nice guy, but is far from being as good as Alonso… And don’t forget that Villeneuve was reigning CART Champion…

    Hamilton, this 22 year old boy, is a true genius, and a very lucky one, who had an early chance to show his full potential, and didn’t waste it.

    What he did in Fuji was the ultimate proof of his value: a faultless drive in a rain-soaked track.

    And yet I was happy to see Massa’s brave battle against Kubica, remiding, and even the official F1 site pointed that, Dijon 1979 fight between Gilles Villeneuve and Rene Arnoux…

  14. John F said on 1st October 2007, 3:31

    It was a great race for the fan. Not much fun for the driver. Hamilton showed his talent. Regardless if he is said to be the messiah or not he drove a fantastic race. Also this moniker of savior was not his idea, it was the press. He is who he is-a young very talanted ROOKIE driver. This race showed the fact that much of the real racing was back in the pack. Because of the race conditions we were shown more of it from the producers of ITV. This has been a problem for the TV coverage since the start. If they show us more of the racing in the race we enjoy it more. Was this race really better because it was wet or was it produced better, maybe a mix of both. I would certainly enjoy seeing Kimi in a better position to challange but I can’t criticize Hamilton for it. I do think that with Alonzo being so unstable mentally Hamilton needs to double his efforts for his own safety.

  15. From my calculations, and from several comments on here, opinion changed about Lewis around the point of Hungary.

    There was a rumour at the time that he swore at Ron Dennis, several journalists have reported listening to the transcripts and it having only Ron Dennis swearing not Lewis.

    He wanted pole and so he stayed out an extra lap, it was unfortunate but I don’t think it could possibly be seen as “betrayal” of McLaren.

    Alonso as retaliation then said he was going to take e-mail evidence that he had to the FIA. Ron called his bluff and told the FIA first. Then Alonso’s management told Dennis that it was nothing which Dennis relayed to Max. The issue (bizarrely) was then dropped, which meant that the next time Alonso was mad he took the e-mails straight to Bernie. Is it whistle blowing? Is it betrayal? Or is it petulance?

    I think the politics is all bogus. I think we have no real steer on any of their personalities. Not with the amount of mind games that they are trying to run on each other through the press. All that’s important are these facts:

    1 – Alonso is the reigning double world champion
    2 – Lewis is a rookie
    3 – McLaren give equal treatment to their drivers
    4 – Lewis is about to win the world championship

    People saying, “it’s easiest from the front” might wonder why Alonso with less fuel wasn’t on pole. People saying, “it’s harder to change team and adjust for tires than it is to learn from scratch” should remember Lewis was in a different team, on different tires, in a different Formula no less last year.

    The boy is mega, if you can’t see that then you’re mad. And here I am – somebody who wanted Kimi to wipe the floor with everyone this year. I now want Lewis to win because he deserves it. He has been the best this year.

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