| Hamilton jubilates after winning the Japanese Grand Prix in Fuji
Fuji: McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton has won the Japanese Grand Prix and in doing so has taken a massive step towards becoming the first rookie to win the Formula One driver’s world championship after closest rival Fernando Alonso failed to finish in Fuji.
Hamilton, 22, overcame terrible conditions, two safety car periods and all manner of incidents with a mature drive to claim his fourth win of the season and open up a 12-point lead over his teammate at the top of the drivers’ standings with just two races to go.
Alonso saw his title chances all but washed away after losing control of his McLaren on lap 42 and crashing into the safety barrier, while Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen kept his slim hopes alive by finishing third.
Continuous rain had left large amounts of standing water on the 4.563km circuit, and with the possibility of a serious accident as the cars sped down to a tight turn one enveloped in spray, the race organisers decided to order a safety-car start with Hamilton leading the grid off in formation.
The terrible conditions saw Ferrari’s Felipe Massa spin on just the second lap before heading into the pits for extreme weather tyres. Massa’s teammate Raikkonen also came in at the end of lap three to change tyres, meaning the two Ferraris were now running 20th and 21st.
Raikkonen then left the circuit on lap six before pitting a second time at the end lap 14, while Massa also took on fuel and changed tyres shortly afterwards. But the safety car came in at the end of lap 19 and, after a game of cat and mouse between Hamilton and Alonso in the run-up to the start-finish straight, it was the Briton who led after the first corner.
Hamilton quickly opened up some breathing space over his championship rival, while Massa’s afternoon took a turn for the worse with a drive-through penalty for overtaking under the safety car before the Brazilian was hit by Alex Wurz at turn one after the Austrian had lost control of his Williams on the home straight.
The McLaren pair then made their only pit stops of the race within a lap of each other, Alonso coming in first on lap 27 but sliding down the field to ninth when he emerged again, while Hamilton rejoined in third.
Raikkonen was by now moving his way through the field and had pushed up to 10th from the back of the field.
Hamilton then suffered his most anxious moment of the race when he banged wheels with Robert Kubica on lap 35 after an intense battle for third place, and the two cars slid off the track to allow Kovalainen to speed past. Hamilton dropped down to sixth after being passed by David Coulthard before fighting his way back up the field, while Alonso and Sebastian Vettel collided on lap 36, forcing the Spaniard off.
1. Lewis Hamilton (McLaren) 2 hrs 00 mins 34.579; 2. Heikki Kovalainen (Renault) +00:08.377; 3. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) 00:09.478; 4. David Coulthard (RedBull-Renault) 00:20.297; 5. Giancarlo Fisichella (Renault) 00:38.864; 6. Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 00:49.042; 7. Robert Kubica (BMW Sauber) 00:49.285; 8. Vitantonio Liuzzi (Toro Rosso-Ferrari) 00:55.622; 9. Adrian Sutil (Spyker-Ferrari) 01:00.129; 10. Rubens Barrichello (Honda 01:28.342) 11r. Jenson Button (Honda) 1 lap; 12. Sakon Yamamoto (Spyker – Ferrari) 1 lap; 13. Jarno Trulli (Toyota) 1 lap; 14r. Nick Heidfeld (BMW Sauber) 2 laps; 15r. Takuma Sato (Super Aguri-Honda) 2 laps r. Ralf Schumacher (Toyota) 12 laps r. Anthony Davidson (Super Aguri-Honda) 13 laps r. Nico Rosberg (Williams-Toyota) 18 laps r. Sebastian Vettel (Toro Rosso-Ferrari) 21 laps r. Mark Webber (RedBull-Renault) 22 laps r. Fernando Alonso (McLaren) 26 laps r. Alexander Wurz (Williams – Toyota) 48 laps
Drivers (TOP 10): 1. Lewis Hamilton (McLaren) 107; 2. Fernando Alonso (McLaren) 95; 3. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) 90; 4. Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 80; 5. Nick Heidfeld (BMW Sauber) 56; 6. Robert Kubica (BMW Sauber) 35; 7. Heikki Kovalainen (Renault) 30; 8. Giancarlo Fisichella (Renault) 21; 9. Nico Rosberg (Williams) 15; 10. Alexander Wurz (Williams) 13
Constructors: 1. Ferrari 170 points; 2. BMW Sauber 92; 3. Renault 51; 4. Williams-Toyota 28; 5. RedBull-Renault 23; 6. Toyota 12; 7. Super Aguri- Honda 4; 8. Honda 2; 9. Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1