Japan Flashback 2007 - Hamilton reigns at sodden Fuji 09 Oct 2008
After 20 years at Suzuka, Formula One racing returned to the Fuji Speedway for the 2007 Japanese Grand Prix. With the revamped circuit new to almost all the drivers - and with the world championship still wide open - it promised to be an exciting event.
Four men still had a chance of winning the drivers crown. Lewis Hamilton led the way on 97 points from McLaren team mate Fernando Alonso (95), but it was Ferraris Kimi Raikkonen (84) and Felipe Massa (77) who appeared most confident, arriving in Japan on the back of an emphatic one-two in Belgium.
Sure enough it was Ferrari who initially led the way, with Raikkonen and Massa setting the fastest Friday morning times, ahead of Alonso, Hamilton and Williams Nico Rosberg. After lunch, however, McLaren got into their stride, with Hamilton finishing top from Alonso, both more than half a second clear of third-placed Massa.
With Raikkonen fifth, the two Ferraris were separated by Jarno Trulli, who flew for Toyota. Williams, however, looked to be struggling, with Rosberg only 13th. To make matters worse, the young Germans car also had to undergo an unscheduled engine change after the session - and incur the subsequent 10-place grid penalty.
On Saturday morning only three drivers were able to set a time after torrential rain descended on the circuit. Williams Alex Wurz was quickest ahead of Rosberg and Trulli, but the paddock was far more interested in whether qualifying would be wet too.
The rain did indeed continue to fall after lunch and it was Hamilton who shone in the tricky conditions to take his fifth pole of the season, snatching P1 from Alonso during Q3s dying moments. The Ferraris seemed to suffer from a relative lack of grip, but still locked out row two in convincing fashion, Raikkonen heading Massa.
Other notable qualifying performances included fifth place for BMW Saubers Nick Heidfeld, sixth for Rosberg (his penalty dropped him to 16th) and seventh for Hondas Jenson Button. There were celebrations too at Toro Rosso, as Sebastian Vettels ninth place gave the team their first-ever top-ten grid slot.
In contrast, Renault had a taxing day with Giancarlo Fisichella 11th and Heikki Kovalainen 12th, as did Toyota, with Trulli finishing 14th and Ralf Schumacher only 16th following a collision with Spykers Sakon Yamamoto.
Saturday may have seemed wet, but it was nothing compared to what the heavens had in store for the drivers on Sunday, with the paddock waking up to hammering rain. Indeed, so drenched was the circuit that the entire field was told to start on extreme wet-weather tyres and the first 19 laps of the race were run behind the safety car, until the rain eventually abated.
The conditions did little to faze pole-sitter Hamilton, who took his fourth win of the season in dazzling style, ahead of a hard-charging Kovalainen, who scored his maiden F1 podium. Alonso had a much tougher time in the second McLaren. Significantly off the pace of his rivals, the Spaniard slipped back through the field and crashed out on lap 42 (of 67) at Turn Six, prompting a second safety-car period.
What of Ferrari? Both cars were hamstrung by a mistake on the grid, after a communications mix-up saw Raikkonen and Massa start on standard wets instead of the required extremes. The duo was therefore forced to make early, unscheduled pit stops and although Raikkonen recovered to take third, Massa could only manage sixth, despite winning a spirited fight to the line with BMW Saubers Robert Kubica.
As well as excitement, there was controversy too. After the Ferrari tyre blunder, Vettel and Red Bulls Mark Webber were in line for some serious points. That was until Vettel ran into the back of Webber under the second safety car and ruled them both out of the race. The young German was penalized for his error and given a 10-place grid penalty for the following round in China.
Saving Red Bulls blushes was David Coulthard, who finished fourth ahead of Renaults Fisichella. The final point, meanwhile, eventually went to Spykers Adrian Sutil after Toro Rossos Vitantonio Liuzzi - who finished ahead of Sutil on the road - was handed a 25-second penalty for overtaking under yellow flags. Toro Rosso lost their subsequent appeal over the incident.
In terms of the championship, the results of the Japanese race were critical. Hamiltons dominant victory helped boost his standings lead from two to 12 points over the luckless Alonso, 107 points to 95. Raikkonen kept himself in contention on 90, but with just two races left, Massas 80-point tally finally ruled the Brazilian out of the title chase.