Sunday, 12 October 2008

Japanese Grand Prix: Two Out Of Two For Brilliant Alonso

Fernando Alonso sensationally made it two race wins in a row for his Renault team with a superb performance at the Fuji Speedway. The former champion showed title contenders Hamilton and Massa the way to keep your head under pressure, as the two young pretenders to the throne both had disastrous races with Massa collecting a single point and Hamilton ending up empty handed. Robert Kubica took a hard-fought and thoroughly deserved second place ahead of Kimi Raikkonen.

The start was predicted to be all important, but few would have predicted we'd get the kind of fireworks that resulted. The key factor that started it all off was Hamilton getting a poor start off the line. Within 100 yards Raikkonen was ahead of him, and Kovalainen was right alongside him with Massa in close attendance. Going into the first corner Hamilton decided to gamble and threw his car up the inside of Kimi's Ferrari, and ended up throwing the race on its head. He locked up both tyres and ran wide and off the track, forcing the two Ferraris and a few others to run wide and lose masses of time. This was great news for the likes of Alonso and Kubica who were able to avoid the mayhem in front of them and get ahead of the Ferraris and McLarens. Further down the field there was contact involving David Coulthard in the pack, and although it didn't knock him directly, his right rear suspension was broken and he was a passenger as he flew off the track and hard into the safety barriers.

Hamilton's front tyres were both badly flat-spotted, but that didn't stop him being able to put a move on Felipe Massa, as the Brazilian out braked himself mid way through the lap. Hamilton took the place in routine fashion, but Massa decided to fight back immediately. He did this though by leaving the race circuit on the inside, bouncing on the mud and bouncing straight into the side of Hamilton. A rash and very poor piece of driving from Massa. Getting too hot into a corner and out braking yourself is one thing; driving straight off the race track and into another driver to try and win a place back is quite another, and it was to cost him dearly. Hamilton was spun 180 degrees, and had no choice but to sit and wait for the entire field to pass him before he could spin back around and rejoin. His car was damaged, and his race was more or less in tatters already. Things got even worse when he was given a drive-through penalty for his part in the first corner melee. The only sugaring of the pill was that his big rival Massa was penalised for the move that spun Hamilton around.

So far, neither driver was doing much to show their world championship credentials.

Out front Kubica, Alonso and Kovalainen looked the favourites to take the victory, with Raikkonen recovering well and looking dangerous. Kovalainen was soon out of the equation though, as a very rare Mercedes engine failure ended his race prematurely as things seemed to be going from bad to worse for McLaren. Jarno Trulli was also looking in a strong position, much to the delight of the home fans, although fellow Toyota driver Timo Glock was unlucky to see his race ended with reliability problems after looking so strong all weekend.

At the first round of pit stops Kubica surrendered the lead to Alonso by taking on a few laps more fuel, and it was a strategic decision which may have cost him the race. Alonso was out in the lead with clear air, and he was where he feels he belongs and where he clearly thrives. The former double world champion showed all his class as he started firing in lap after lap of ruthlessly consistent pace, all the while edging away from Kubica. This was classic Alonso, and it was a race winning second stint.

Massa and Hamilton were both trying their best to fight their way through the field in the hope of securing a small amount of points. Massa struggled initially to make it past the slowest man on the track Jenson Button, but eventually found his feet and started putting in some good laps. By the end of his second stint he had made it up into the points positions ahead of Mark Webber, but Webber was on an ambitious one-stop strategy so Massa would have to pass him again if he wanted any points.

At the front Raikkonen was looking threatening for the win and was lapping extremely quickly. Nelson Piquet, who was having an excellent race in what has been a largely forgettable season, was now out of contention for a podium position down in fourth ahead of Trulli, Vettel and Bourdais. Sebastien Bourdais was having an eventful yet strong race. His right front tyre got stuck during his first stop which cost him valuable time, and then leaving the pits after his final stop he emerged alongside Felipe Massa. The Ferrari driver wrecklessly attempted a move around the outside of turn one, and while Bourdais held his rightful line Massa clipped him and spun himself around. The move is to be investigated by the stewards after the race and may yet yield some kind of penalty for Massa, although a slap of the wrists seems the most likely outcome.

The key battle out on track was between the two men vying for the third place position in the World Championship, and for second place in the race. Raikkonen had what looked like the faster car and closed onto the back of Kubica with ease. However, the young pole is made of stern stuff and was not willing to give up his position without a fierce fight. Down the epically long pit straight Kimi was able to slipstream up behind Kubica time and time again, but the BMW driver showed some truly superb defensive driving skills to fend off every attack from the much faster Raikkonen. It was a great battle, and one deservedly won by Kubica when Raikkonen was forced to back off and settle for third as his tyres began to degrade badly.

Tyres were to play a large part in the end of Felipe Massa's race too. After dispatching Heidfeld he now had Mark Webber's Red Bull between him and a crucial World Championship point. Webber though had been out on his soft tyres for pretty much half the race due to his one-stop strategy, and the on-board footage showed that his tyres were shot to pieces. Massa closed up to the Red Bull and looked like he should be able to cruise past with ease. Webber wasn't giving up his point without a fight though, and went defensive down the home straight. Massa decided to go down the inside, and in doing so looked as though he actually left the race circuit altogether and passed Webber whilst in the pit lane exit area. It seemed unnecessarily risky from Massa, who had such a speed advantage he could have taken his time and picked Webber off at will. This didn't seem to be a race where common sense and restraint had any place.

Except perhaps for Fernando Alonso, who due to his brilliant second stint and due to the battle between Kubica and Raikkonen had built himself such a lead he was able to cruise to his second victory in succession. It's a truly remarkable result for him and for the Renault team with Piquet in fourth place. A couple of months ago if anyone had suggested Renault were capable of winning two races consecutively they would have been laughed out of town, probably even by Alonso himself. Although there was an element of luck in both races in terms of the other drivers shooting themselves in the foot, they were both brilliant performances from Alonso. Renault will be now be desperate to hold onto him for next season. I wonder if Ferrari or BMW are kicking themselves for not pursuing his signature now that Alonso is showing himself to be a true class act?

With Hamilton ending up empty handed and full of regret for his moment of madness at the start and Massa collecting just one point, the lead at the top has been cut down to just 6 points with two races remaining. Remarkably, it also means that Robert Kubica is now just 12 points behind Hamilton and still with an outside chance of winning the title! With two races to go both Hamilton and Massa will need to regroup and get their heads back together quickly. Any more wrecklessness and foolishness in China and Brazil could see their title chances ruined. With a 6 point lead Hamilton in particular needs to learn that discretion is the better part of valour. Fortune does not always favour the brave.

Provisional Race Result

1. Alonso
2. Kubica
3. Raikkonen
4. Piquet
5. Trulli
6. Bourdais
7. Vettel
8. Massa
9. Webber
10. Heidfeld
11. Rosberg
12. Hamilton
13. Barrichello
14. Button
15. Nakajima
ret Fisicehlla
ret Kovalainen
ret Sutil
ret Glock
ret Coulthard

1 comment:

Savan nah said...

In that race I did not expect a superb performance from the Renault team. I was expecting Hamilton as winner but he result was shocking. When the race start Hamilton gets poor start off the line.

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