Alonso wins as Hamilton and Massa stumble (2008 Japanese Grand Prix)

Fernando Alonso won for the second race in a row

Fernando Alonso won for the second race in a row

Lewis Hamilton has been accused of being too hot-headed and risking too much in championship deciding situations. Felipe Massa has been criticised for making mistakes in wheel-to-wheel battles.

Watching the Japanese Grand Prix, it wasn’t difficult to understand why. As the two championship contenders provoked controversy in the opening laps, Fernando Alonso motored through to claim a second, richly deserved victory.

A chaotic start

Lewis Hamilton threw away his hard-earned pole position the instant the lights went out as Kimi Raikkonen zapped past him. Not for the first time, Hamilton seemed to lose sight of the fact that his championship rival was Felipe Massa, not Raikkonen, and risked everything in a do-or-die move to recapture the lead.

He dived for the inside, smoke pouring from locked wheels, and ran wide, forcing Raikkonen to take evasive action. Massa, who was also at the outside of turn one, was similarly delayed, and the mess allowed Robert Kubica and Fernando Alonso into the lead from sixth and fourth on the grid respectively.

Hamilton made a slow recovery and was passed by Heikki Kovalainen, Jarno Trulli and the Ferraris. But on the second lap he got a clear run up the inside of Massa at turn ten and was through. Massa tried to come back at him at the following left-hander, but with two wheels on the kerb and two wheels on the grass he tipped Hamilton into a spin and down to last

McLaren responded by pitting Hamilton straight away to discard his badly flat-spotted tyres and inspect the damage from the collision with Massa – which included the barge boards and part of the floor. When he returned to the track he was 52 seconds behind leader Kubica.

Hamilton was not the only driver in trouble on the opening lap. David Coulthard was swiped sideways into the barrier at the exit of turn one. Kazuki Nakajima lost his front wing and had to pit for a replacement – an ironic development for the Japanese driver at his home race, since he had eliminated Alonso during his home event at Valencia on the first lap.

Penalties

Within a few laps Massa and Hamilton were hit with penalties: Hamilton for the turn one incident, Massa for hitting Hamilton.

That sent Massa plunging down the order from sixth to 14th and cost Hamilton even more time.

Massa and Hamilton?s Fuji crash – the penalty they got right (Video)
Hamilton and Raikkonen?s Fuji clash – the penalty they got wrong (Video)

Alonso gets ahead

Meanwhile Raikkonen had passed Jarno Trulli for fourth on lap seven with a neat move at turn ten. That became third when Kovalainen came to a halt on lap 16 with what turned out to be engine failure.

Up front Kubica was leading Alonso but unable to pull away quickly despite having slightly less fuel. The BMW driver made his first pit stop on lap 15 and although the Renault only stayed out one lap longer, it was enough for Alonso to leapfrog ahead of Kubica. This pit stop switch-around decided the winner of the race.

Jarno Trulli took over the lead (Raikkonen having pitted), and Sebastien Bourdais and Nelson Piquet Jnr also took turns to head the field. But once the first round of pit stops was over, Alonso was firmly in control.

More trouble for Massa

Massa’s penalty and pit stop left him 13th with Hamilton just 10 seconds behind. After being briefly stuck behind Jenson Button he found a way through and Hamilton followed a few laps later.

Hamilton made his final pit stop on lap 41, leaving him with a 26-lap run to the flag. Massa, however, didn’t have to make his last stop until lap 52 and he was setting fastest laps in the run-up to it as the chance of a point or two beckoned.

But on lap 50 Sebastien Bourdais came out of the pits in front of him and the pair collided at the first corner, Massa spinning around. After the race the stewards added 25 seconds to Bourdais’ time.

Bourdais gets 25s penalty

Kubica holds off Raikkonen

Raikkonen emerged from his final pit stop directly behind Kubica in a battle for second place. The Ferrari was clearly quicker than the BMW, and the long, wide straights of Fuji gave him little chance to run an hide.

Still, Kubica gave a master class in defensive driving: he covered the inside of the hairpin when he had to, and took care to slow Raikkonen’s pace at the apex of the corner to deny him a run at the next bend.

After several laps of careful and utterly clean defending by Kubica, Raikkonen’s attacks began to fade and he settled back into the third place he would keep until the flag.

Further back Massa was finding his rivals’ defensive tactics either irrelevant or inadequate. He made light work of the other BMW of Nick Heidfeld, passing him on the main straight as if his Ferrari had an extra gear.

That brought Massa onto the tail of Mark Webber on lap 64. Webber covered the inside line on the right but Massa dived to Webber’s extreme right, over the pit lane exit, to get alongside the Red Bull.

Had Webber continued straight ahead Massa would have been obliged either to lift the throttle or run out of road. But Webber backed down, pulled left and gave Massa the space to take the position.

Alonso wins

Alonso took the chequered flag after 67 laps to score his second consecutive win of the season. At Singapore he rode his luck, but here he beat Kubica in a straight fight and capitalised magnificently on Ferrari and McLaren’s problems.

Kubica’s defence of second place was gritty stuff, and the eight points leaves him 12 behind Hamilton with two races to go. But for that penalty at Singapore, he would be an extremely convincing championship contender.

Raikkonen salvaged third for Ferrari and that, along with Massa’s seventh place (promoted from eighth after Bourdais’ penalty) put the Italian team back in the lead of the constructors’ championship. After Ferrari’s failure to score in Singapore, the same fate befell McLaren at Fuji.

Nelson Piquet Jnr took fourth on merit despite a hiccup on lap 62 when he spun at turn five, losing four seconds. He still kept Jarno Trulli behind which was a major blow for Toyota on home ground. With Timo Glock retiring early on, Toyota are now 16 points behind Renault in the battle for fourth in the constructors’ championship.

Sebastian Vettel was promoted to sixth ahead of Massa and Webber. Heidfeld was tenth, Nico Rosberg 11th and Hamilton was the final runner on the lead lap – he un-lapped himself from Alonso on the final tour in the forlorn hope four or more driver might stop on the last circuit.

Both the Honda drivers oddly set their fastest laps of the race on the final lap, Rubens Barrichello 0.7s ahead of Jenson Button after a miserable home outing for the team. Nakajima limped in 15th and last in his first home race, though he at least fared better than the Force Indias, neither of which finished.

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80 comments on Alonso wins as Hamilton and Massa stumble (2008 Japanese Grand Prix)

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  1. This season has seen the most idiotic driving by title contenders.. Canada (LH), Silverstone(FM), Monaco (KR)

    How could, I mean, HOW COULD all, I mean ALL 4 : Both Ferrari, Both Mclaren drivers think; that going over the outside of turn 1 would be good?

    Kubika, Alonso, Trulli must be baffled at such stupidity by the guys in front of them..

  2. Neither Hamilton nor Massa looked like champions today.

  3. Why Hamilton was penalized, Massa’s move on Hamilton reminded me of Michael Schumacher move on Jacques Villeneuve in 1997. I think Massa should be DSQ.

  4. Lady Snowcat said on 12th October 2008, 11:24

    Hamilton’s move endangered the whole field and such extreme foolhardiness had to be penalised…

    The “coming through regardless attitude” at a first corner without any thought as to the possible carnage has to be sat on very very hard by the stewards or it will become an increasingly dangerous situation…

  5. Architrion said on 12th October 2008, 11:36

    I will try encouragly not engage on a debate about penalties, cause there is a pair of posts to do it.

    But of course, I would like to say What the hell was Lewis thinking? Didn’t he knew he wasn’t racing Kimi? (Ron Dennis TM copyrighted words). That kind of damage limitation and the use of brain while racing is what rates a WDC, IMHO.

    On the other hand, Lewis has made everything he could to prove Kubica’s words right….. He made his talk on the track, really.

  6. f1fanatic said on 12th October 2008, 11:38

    my god this championship is getting more interesting. I hope massa and ham leave china GP with equal points..then it would be a real nail biter…

    i still havent seen the race i am waiting for rerun at 3pm…

  7. CarlitosF1 said on 12th October 2008, 12:18

    Really thrilling race. Agree with Keith, after a proper dry race in Fuji, that there’s not much more about it than the finish-start straight, what a terribly dull 3rd sector. Some unanswered questions for me:

    - How did Nelsinho climb to 4th?
    - Why did Lewis fight Alonso in last lap? I mean, it was looking like such obvious non-sense that I’m inclined to think there was some proper reason for it, or that Lewis thought so…
    - Is Webber’s behaviour while being passed by Massa at the straight punishable? Didn’t he get a little too Steve McQueenish before leaving room to Massa?

    Check the start videos carefully. I think Massa brakes late too and loses a golden chance to grab the inside line and so instead he gets blocked, ironically, by Kimi himself.

    And as I just read somewhere else…

    Alonso 2 – Montezemolo 0

  8. Dorian said on 12th October 2008, 12:34

    ‘Hamilton’s move endangered the whole field and such extreme foolhardiness had to be penalised…’

    Completely agree with you there Lady Snowcat, he nearly took out his own team mate FFS!!! His penalty was totally deserved as was Massa’s. Though I think Bourdais’ penalty was ludicrous!!

    As for the race, it was one of the better dry races we’ve seen in a while. Stirling drive by Alonso, a thoroughly deserving victory. Inspiring defensive driving by Kubica and thus reminded us all of what kind of future this man has.

    Even Piquet has to get a mention, though he made a bit of a slip up towards the end, he still did a good job for Renault and brought home some valuable points for the team. I’m really hoping Renault finish in 4th and they just might do it.

    Have to say that I can’t stand the track, very very boring. Can’t wait for the switch back to Suzuka in 2009!!!

  9. Seedy001 said on 12th October 2008, 13:18

    Great site, Keith: I’ve always enjoyed reading your articles but for the first time I felt I had to leave a comment with regards to the Hamilton penalty.

    I agree the stewards are very inconsistant but I think they got it right in this case. As you said:

    Not for the first time, Hamilton seemed to lose sight of the fact that his championship rival was Felipe Massa, not Raikkonen, and risked everything in a do-or-die move to recapture the lead.

    He dived for the inside, smoke pouring from locked wheels, and ran wide, forcing Raikkonen to take evasive action.

    Unlike at Monaco (where Kimi made an unintentional mistake and consequently involved Sutil in his own accident) in this instance this was a deliberate attempt to pass – and a bad one at that. Then, as you’ve said in your other article, there was no contact as there was between Massa and Hamilton but there WOULD have been unless Kimi had taken that fairly severe avoiding action and this ruined Kimi’s race.

    So I have to say I agree with all but the bewildering Massa/Bourdais penalty.

  10. Scott Joslin said on 12th October 2008, 13:20

    Lewis was a shambles today, he again proved his achile’s heel is cracking under pressure in the final few rounds of the championship. He didn’t need to get involved in any of these incidents today and there are a few over the season that start to suggest that Lewis has a long way to go to prove the doubters wrong in this area. I believe his penalty at the start was deserved, you cannot have a wild attempts like that at turn 1 – That is what GP2 drivers do. Not impressed one bit and I am starting to think that the 2008 world champion is not really going to be a truly valued world champion, just the chump that made the least mistakes!

    Well Done Fernando a brilliant drive!

  11. Cameron aka. SkinBintin said on 12th October 2008, 13:37

    I really don’t want to say it, but is this sport really corupt? Because to me, penalising Boudais is nothing but an excercise to gift Massa another point. This sport is a joke. I’m beginning to hate it.

    —-

    As I said during the live blog:

    Sometimes this sport is like watching a really bad movie. No matter how bad it gets, I still want to see what happens.

    —-

    So, despite my current distaste with Formula 1, I just can’t bring myself to stop watching it.

  12. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 12th October 2008, 13:57

    Thanks for your comments guys, sorry to those of you who’ve seen a few disappear but one or two remarks made were potentially the type of thing the type of thing I could get in trouble for.

  13. Fer no65 said on 12th October 2008, 14:00

    How a championship contender can be THAT stupid?.

    Both, really, but most important, Lewis.

    He’s the favourite here, with 7 points lead and a pole position when the runner up started 5.

    So, what do you do?. You loose the lead when the lights go off and loose your mind 600 meters after.

    Then he said he’s agressive style is okey, because that’s how he is, that other drivers should keep opinions to themselves…

    If he had listened to Kubica he would have raced a good race, with no dramas, at a dull event.

    He’s fast, but he’s an *******…

  14. the limit said on 12th October 2008, 14:29

    The start of the race reminded me, in everyway, of Brazil last year. All Hamilton had to do then, was stay behind Alonso in fourth place and he would have become champion. Instead, he risked everything by trying to overtake the Spaniard when it really wasn’t necessary!
    When Raikkonen beat Hamilton off the line at Fuji, it was obvious that he was going to back the pack up to aid Massa in fifth. We discussed this on this site two weeks ago on how the team mates of Hamilton and Massa could play a part in the championship.
    It would seem that Hamilton’s brain just cannot take being beaten in certain circumstances, cannot fathom that a race is longer than one corner, that a championship is not won by only looking at the small picture.
    His move on Massa was simulary predictable, as was the shunt that followed. Massa running abit wide through the chicane, Hamilton seeing the space, and going for it. The irony for me was, that Hamilton was already under investigation by the stewards for what happened at the start, and was always going to get a penalty. Massa was unaware of this however, and really shot himself in the foot by running into Hamilton.
    For McLaren, the race was a disaster, but could so easily have been a catastrophe had Massa not chosen to nudge Hamilton’s rear tyre going through the chicane.
    As for Alonso and Kubica, they really showed their pedigree. Alonso has now won as many grands prix this year as the defending champion, Kimi Raikkonen. The last time he won two back to back races was in 2006 in his championship winning year. All this, in a car that, two months ago, appeared to be completely inept.
    Kubica’s battle with Raikkonen, was pure class. Even Raikkonen had to admit afterwards, with a wry smile on his face, that there was nothing he could have done to pass the Polish driver. Robert, like at the poker table, seldom makes an mistake.
    The great thing about this race, for us fans atleast, is that we now have a possible three way shootout for the title. Both the top two, once again, proved that they can break under pressure. Bring on China, and lets see who can make amends.

  15. BTW, did anyone see the on-board views of the Mclaren; their extended pod wings / fins are moving around A LOT ! !

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