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)

  1. Regarding penalties I would be interested to see if Keith can find an example of when a driver outbraked himself into a corner, goes off but hits no one, and is penalized. I have seen untold numbers of turn 1 pile ups in my 20 years watching this sport without a peep from any stewards.

    Its clear to me that the stewards needed to punish Massa for his Dale Earnhardt imitation, but wanted to balance matters. So they invented a penalty for self-out-braking. Of course Massa ruined the balance by running over Bourdais and they are forced to penalize the non-red car to keep the natural order intact.

    I can criticize Hamilton for his choice of braking point but not for the move. Attempting to with the WDC by not losing it means earning the latter. He is not 20 points ahead. If he had demurred to Kimi, Massa obviously would have swept around both into the lead… and cut the WDC lead to 3. And we would be now maligning Hamilton for his limp driving.

  2. Kevin Queally said on 12th October 2008, 14:57

    I think the Bourdais penalty was disgracefull. There is absolutely no consistancy in stewarding in F1 whatsoever. Take the incident between Montoya and Schumacher in Imola 2004, and Schumacher v Frentzen 1998, no penalties, let the guys race, the FIA are completely discouraging overtaking by imposing rediculous penalties. These guys are racers, let them race.

  3. MacademiaNut said on 12th October 2008, 15:17

    WOW, Bourdais got 25second penalty? Why did they not give him the drive through when they had more than 10 laps to go in the race?

    If they are making any decisions after the race, then such a decision should impact the following race, not the current one. They should have given a 5-place grid penalty for Bourdais. The stewards simply wanted ways to increase points for MAS and they just did it.

    And to top all of this, I visited formula1.com and there’s a nice video of Ferrari and shell. FIA is coming out of the closet with its relationship with Ferrari.

  4. Architrion said on 12th October 2008, 15:23

    You can thrash all you want here, but I would prefer to discuss something constructive about the race, winners and loosers. To talk about the penalties I think Keith made two post to get full of space.

    But this is Keith’s blog. Excuse me.

  5. 25 Seconds for Bourdais for racing his line and doing a fine job of it all race and Massa racing around like and idiot closes the door and runs into him and the GIVE BOURDAIS 25 SECONDS !!!
    Why doesn’t the FIA change their name to Ferrari and get it over and done with.
    They only gave Massa a drive thru for taking out the leader of the championship by putting for tyres of the track but a guy who’s keeping his line on the track 25.
    I’m almost quitting this great sport because it is so biased, there are rules for Ferrari and there are different rules for everybody else. I just hope Massa does what he does best “choke” in China and Lewis wins it and rubs it in the FIA’S FACE. He’s black, he’s young and he drives a silver car.

  6. Before the race I thought that maybe Kubica has said too much commenting to La Gazzetta couple of days ago that Hamilton shouldn’t drive so aggressively. I was proved wrong today by the Brit himself on the very first corner of the very first lap. What shocked me more even was when Hamilton tried to fight Alonso who kept his head cool and let him go through to avoid some freak-last-lap clash. Massa was lucky to get those two points instead of the one he earned himself as the penalty for Bourdais was just preposterous. I’m very glad to see Kubica still in championship contention and happy to have seen the second consecutive Alonso’s win.

  7. verasaki said on 12th October 2008, 16:14

    hey, that alonso guy isn’t a half bad driver is he?

  8. Matthew said on 12th October 2008, 16:34

    To be honest. I seriously hope Kubica wins this championship. Hamilton is too rash to deserve the crown. Massa is more deserving i think (purely based on his driving) but after constant intervention by the FIA, it wouldn’t really be right for him too. Also, if Kubica won, it would mean that everyone would stop whining.

  9. Not just Alonso; even Renault seemed very competitive on Sunday.

    They were clearly quicker than BMW; may be at par with Mclaren.. only slower than Ferrari

  10. Steve said on 12th October 2008, 17:06

    I have been watching GP racing now for over thirty years and have never been so appalled with the way the authorities are (supposedly) managing our sport.
    I remember a day when drivers were allowed to race, when a fist corner incident was just a first corner incident and the stewards let the drivers get on with it.
    I keep hearing that the drivers are supposed to remain within the confines of the race track, but only penalise those who don’t drive red cars.
    The authorities do not realise how much damage they are doing to their credibility in ruling they way they do. Joe Public could do a lot better.
    I feel that the only way forward is to paint all the cars red which would, in my opinion, confuse the pants of those idiots who we call themselves stewards.
    And my last point is what an appalling commentator James Allen is.

  11. Have to agree with you Steve. Chatting about Brunle’s shirts-that’s what Allen’s good at.

  12. Doris said on 12th October 2008, 17:19

    What a load of rubbish F1 is turning in to. I have watched F1 since 1983 and i have really enjoyed it apart from the last 2 years where the FIA have definately got it in for Lewis and McLaren I think for the future of the sport no matter what team you support that we should all boycott the sport until the FIA make it fair for every team and not be biased to Farrari.

  13. Shashi said on 12th October 2008, 17:35

    To those who are heaping praise on Kubica and Alonso and bashing Lewis, Kimi and Massa, I want to say: wait till those guys find themselves under intense pressure at the front of the grid and then we’ll see how calm and composed they are.

  14. I just think everyone here is a bit paranoid. When Hamilton was being 90’s Schumacher cover last year and playing dirty and the FIA was just banging Alonso’s head it was OK. I agree they have had this inclination to overlook Ferrari’s mistakes since Schumi got there but I think it’s not always like that anymore – sometimes it’s just “honest mistakes”.

    And I’m still rooting for Kubica – he’s the best driver though he doesn’t have the best car (After Alonso that is – that one is magic, he really brings 1 second to the team he’s in. POINT.)

  15. Matthew said on 12th October 2008, 18:11

    ‘wait till those guys find themselves under intense pressure at the front of the grid and then we’ll see how calm and composed they are.’

    Alonso is a double world champion and is rated by many as the best all round f1 driver currently in f1, so surely that is ‘front of the grid’ and we don’t have to ‘wait’, he’s already suffered the intense pressure

    Kubica is still in contention for the world championship, took a brilliant win earlier this year and has made the least mistakes this year and you can’t really say f1 racing isn’t a high pressure job so I really don’t think your point makes sense Shashi.

    The simple fact is Alonso and Kubica have made far less mistakes than the guys in front, and i firmly hope Kubica wins this year.

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