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. thus another thread turned into the by now patented Hambashing, how refreshing! Yes he drove like an idiot on Sunday and paid the price with no points. I for one reserve my judgment until after Shanghai and Interlagos. If he bins it again then some of the critique is highly valid. That is a big if. Right now some of the critics are just typical kneejerkers and others are plain pointless bashers.

    Ending on a high note, Alonso drove brilliantly and he is certainly more at ease in Renault than anywhere else. Kubicas piece of defensive driving against Kimi was the highlight of the race for me, what composure that was. Most of us enjoy our overtakings but that was something equally special.

  2. Cameron aka. SkinBintin said on 13th October 2008, 19:40

    Someone metioned if Massa wins the Championship by less than seven points he won’t be the ‘real’ champion. I agree… Come on Massa, win by 7 or step asside and hand it to Robert!

  3. Yep kubica is the man of the moment-when you think about sauba and where they have come from.
    fantastic job-if kubica wins it would make f1 proud.

    proud that the big 2s monopoly had been broken-by a world class driver.

  4. Martin said on 13th October 2008, 20:02

    I’m inclined not to focus on inconsistent rule enforcement (is this anything new?), but rather trying to fit the current crew of drivers into F1 history, as they are making it. I welcome knowledgeable disagreement, it’s how I learn :).

    Kimi – at this point, the previous Golden Boy will really have to show something next year, or will be seen as a short career-arc might-have-been – talent + deficits = 1 narrowly won championship and out(oh, and lots of fastest laps – ???)

    Massa – has matured a lot, BUT the inconsistency of early career (putting the car off) has been replaced by periodic bad judgement – in the end will probably be judged unfairly by history, but after all, without consistency…

    Hamilton – has shown the range of skills that only the greatest have – aggressiveness + incredible car-handling + driving in the wet – has also shown (this is almost two full seasons now) utter inability to control himself, and complete disinterest in LEARNING to control himself – in every other race (at at minimum) he demonstrates the clear connection between the the publicly expressed “attitudes” and the on-track problems – in the end, will probably be the greatest disappointment of all –

    Kubica – the true grand prix racer, attitude/style – in the right car his consistency will trump the “talent” of any other driver out there, except

    Alonso – mature, complete package, I could certainly go on, but is there any real dispute that he is the most complete and potentially the greatest driver of his generation? If he had still been in that McLaren this year, I suppose Most Likely: he and Hamilton crashing out a lot, but that aside, who among these others could stay with him, in a car that is performing at that level?

  5. Jolene said on 13th October 2008, 21:01

    Hi Andy, I can definitely see your point of view but dont really agree with it. You are describing Hamilton to be some maniac on the track and I just dont see it that way. I see a young driver deparately wanting to win the championship and giving it his all. So what if he never wins a WDC. I would rather watch someone with some spunk above a “nice guy” any day. I just feel that every time he does something stupid it is blown way out of proportion. Kimi lounged around F1 for years before winning the WDC and throws it away the next year! I dont see such harsh words towards him. Lewis still needs to learn a lot ( how to be diplomatic at times being one of them ) so let us all give him a break and give him time to mature. I love F1 but lately its becoming a pain as I’ve never, not even with Schumi, encountered such hatred/dislike of a driver.:)

  6. David - BR said on 13th October 2008, 22:50

    Andy

    Alonso treated appaling at McLaren? Complete opposite. Alonso was part of a section of the McLaren team pilfering Ferrari information, costing the non-dishonest part of the team a lot in terms of cash, reputation, the WCC and probably the WDC. Even worse was his blackmailing threat to expose malpratice that he himself was in on. Actually serious stuff which in many other professions would have led to civil or even criminal proceedings against him on a number of counts.

    I was actually warming to Alonso this year and think he’s a great driver. But the declaration that he’ll help Massa is both small-minded and anti-sporting. In fact, it should receive a reprimand from FIA but undoubtedly won’t.

    All of this stems back to Monaco 2007 and Hamilton rightly challenging McLaren over their order for him not to race Alonso. I think he believed that McLaren and Alonso had more or less a done-deal that Alonso would be de factor number 1, despite McLaren’s equal status policy. Hamilton called them on this. I think he was right – otherwise McLaren would have been guilty of deceit when contracting him. The fact Alonso couldn’t accept this was the exclusive problem of himself – and McLaren if had did indeed worked out a tacit deal. The rest was his problem in seeing a rookie drive better than him form more than half the year (compare and contrast with Piquet this year).

  7. Hey im no alonso fan here-but just try and out yourself in alonsos shoes here.
    He was recruited as a 2 times world champion.
    Hamilton when brought in (rightly or wrongly I BELIEVE button should have got the seat)should have been made to tow the line.
    He didnt-poor management thus we have the situation where hamilton thinks HE IS NOW f1.
    alonso should never have been put in that situation.
    unprecidented in f1 where you have a rooky thinking he and the team thinking he is no1!!!
    not on
    It will be a bad day for f1 if he wins the championship (exept for the politically correct)

  8. David - BR said on 14th October 2008, 2:40

    andy

    I’m not completely unsympathetic to Alonso’s plight last year, but that doesn’t mean I think he was right. Take a look at Renault at Fuji. In the final runs during Q2, there was a moment when Alonso was in provisional 10th place with one run to go. Piquet was on his run and looking like he was beating Alonso’s time – meaning Alonso would be dumped out of Q3. Strangely – and here I’m repeating what the Brazilian commentators were saying – Piquet’s last sector was down and he finished in 12th (or so, don’t recall). This was made irrelevant by Alonso improving (to 8th I think). What happenened? This was precisely where the ‘rumour’ emerged that Hamilton had blocked Piquet – which Hamilton found bizarre as nobody has passed him, he said. Renault subsequently said it’d just been a ‘problem’ with Piquet or his car.

    Work it out for yourself. Difference between Piquet and Hamilton. I know which Alonso clearly prefers.

  9. David - BR said on 14th October 2008, 3:16

    And note how Hamilton was used by Renault in this incident. And who was it who spread the rumour that Hamilton had badmouthed Dennis on the radio at Hungary 2207, a Renault engineer? (Where really it was Dennis – apparently – who said ‘that’s what ******* happens when you don’t do what you told’ in response to Hamilton’s simple and sardonic ‘thanks guys’ after Alonso’s cute little sit-in in the pits.) A probably false rumour which severely dented Hamilton’s public image, painting him as a ‘spoiled brat’ and which let loose a wave of persecution, including racist, which was subsequently latched onto by other drivers, teams and FIA.

    I really wouldn’t bring this all up again, but Alonso is apparently still feeling aggrieved (unjustifiably) and claims to be set to interfere ‘somehow’ in this year’s title decision in favour of Massa. My opinion of him reaches a new low.

  10. Martin said on 14th October 2008, 4:20

    well, yes, these public comments (like Lewis’ thoroughly arrogant crap, Felipe’s always blaming someone else, Alonso’s “I’ll help Massa”) are really out of line, and Fernando did act like a baby last year, and Kimi is a huge disappointment this year which leads to a lot of tifosi wishing Fernando had taken the Red, but is the Spaniard truly not the best? Really?? (maybe I shouldn’t drink vino prior to comments)

  11. the limit said on 14th October 2008, 4:26

    David – BR.

    Ofcourse Alonso does not want to see Lewis Hamilton succeed, and I seriously doubt he wants to see Felipe Massa win either. His comments are what they are, comments, words to get inside peoples heads.
    When the visor comes down and the lights go out, their are no friends on the race track, just rivals. Michael Schumacher was a genius for unnerving rivals with clever little comments made to the press, which often got the better of his rivals. Its the same in any, professional sport when there is alot at stake.
    I am not going to judge too harshly Alonso on his tactics concerning is profession. That is the way he is made, and why should he change? As Aryton Senna once said; “You cannot be a person who others want you to be, you gotta be yourself”.

  12. David-BR,

    Any thoughts on the much-talked about “McLaren Equality Policy” now; is there any dispute that Hamilton is their No 1 driver? And has also said as much in public. So let’s not just look at things from a British point of view, where Hamilton probably walks on water and also turns it into wine.

    And here’s another thought – Alonso saying what he did about helping Massa seems anti-sporting to you; how would you react to something similar said by Hamilton? In that case, I suppose, it would just be his ‘aggressiveness as a true-blue racing driver!”.

    Hamilton is a sublime driver, but with a huge attitude problem, and hopefully will not be able to hide behind Ron’s apron for ever.

    Cheers,

    Quirky Indian

  13. The last part of your comment quirky indian you are so right!!
    hamilton has been protected by ron for to long.
    previous comments about alonso are right as well.

    i JUST HOPE FOR F1s sake that the man who has gone about his buisness quietly kubica wins as he is a true role model for all drivers.

    Hamilton and alonso started all this bitching other drivers are involved now THIS is what i mean by bringing f1 into disripute.

  14. jason said on 14th October 2008, 10:27

    could you see fangio or schumaccer having DADDY say goodbye every race?

    what a horrible little upstart this guy is.
    overprotected by mr dennis-not responsable for his own actions.

    im ashamed to be called british if this twerp is representing us (oh i forgot he is swiss now).

    He has brought nothing but arguments and shame to f1 because of his attitude and the way he trys playing the race card I.e the appeal!!

    I look at f1 now with all this bitching and arguing and it reminds me of the prost senna era its gone back in time.

    mr ecclestone or mad max needs to lay the law down on all this to the teams.

  15. mikel said on 14th October 2008, 10:58

    here here jason.
    trouble is which parlour would you find max to call the teams?lol

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