Japanese GP – Fuji Speedway 2007

Lewis 4th win

Last time F1 was at the Fuji track, I wasn’t even into F1, in fact I hadn’t even got into Star Wars yet! So I’m not going to get all sentimental about it as seemed to be trend everywhere I looked. However, it was quite amusing that the old footage showed wet conditions, and apart from fast forwarding 30 years, we could of been watching the same thing.

When the ‘race’ started behind the safety car, the water didn’t seem to be lifting from the track much with the cars going so slow, and I must confess I had horrible visions of the majority of the race being run like that, by lap 10 I was getting worried. The main excitement was watching the Ferraris squirm having put intermediate tyres on, and slip off the track a few times. All the teams had been instructed to use the full wet tyres, but Ferrari did not, later claiming they did not receive the message – I have my doubts about that and would of likes to see some sanctions. Come lap 14 the rain was coming down heavier, and with a number of drivers complaining it was looking likely that the race could be postponed or even abandoned. Whilst watching I was amazed at the poor visibility, whilst of course at the front the drivers had no problem with less spray to contend with, and must of been wondering what all the fuss was about. Then the rain seemed to clear again, and the race officials allowed a lapped Tonio Liuzzi to unlap himself, once past the snake, he was able to drive round and re-join the pack, setting a time of 1m 36.4 sec, conditions had improved sufficiently that the safety car came in and from the start of lap 20 it was race time. There was of course some shenanigans going into turn 1, but no major accident, Button who had seemed poised for a good race hit Hedifeld and consequently moved back from 5th to 10th, whilst Wurz slid under braking taking Massa with him and sending him spinning. Button continued without his front wing, and was setting reasonable lap times, but by lap 24 conceded defeat and pitted for a new nose.

Hamilton began to gently ease away at the front, making use of the best visibility and picking his way around the track, taking somewhat unusual lines to find the best grip, with Alonso remaining close behind. Amazingly behind him were Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, giving a remarkable showing for both Red Bull teams. Meanwhile Raikonnen was proving to be the star of the show, making up numbers from the back of the grid rapidly, he was almost in a whole different race, easing past people almost as if on a dry track compared to them. Things could certainly get interesting if he carried on like that, particularly after taking on plenty of fuel whilst changing tyres.

Having spent so long behind the safety car at the beginnging, it was going to be interesting to see when cars would be pitting, and Alonso showed his hand on lap 27. He hadn’t put in enough work though and came out just behind a string of cars led by Fisichella. Hamilton promptly pitted next lap, and came out ahead of the cars. Alonso exacerbated the situation by taking a little journey off the track. Meanwhile Vettel now found himself leading the race, and performed a good job keeping Webber behind him. With Alonso back in 8th now I found myself willing Hamilton on to a good finish that would put him clear ahead again in the championship race, and then the camera showed Hamilton pointing the wrong way! What had happened? As he got going again events were quickly picked up on the replay, and showed Hamilton taking a wide line round corner 14 for better grip, whilst Robert Kubica took the more conventional line, and then seized the opportunity to try and overtake. Perhaps a little overzealous, Kubica then lost the back end and slid into Hamilton causing him to also spin, rejoining the track Kubica was ahead of Hamilton, and worryingly Hamilton seemed slow. It would later transpire that he was conerned about any damage, and had a vibration, but the team assured him all was OK. Ultimately Kubica earned a drive penalty for this, which I felt was little unfair. He didn’t need to pass, as he pitted soon after, but both drivers were able to carry on, and really it was just a driving incident, although perhaps he should of allowed Hamilton to get going first under the circumstances.

A lap later Alonso had his share of trouble as Vettel ran into him causing minor damage. The drivers that had been fuelled longer began to pit, and so Hamilton resumed the lead of the race, and then disaster struck for Alonso, suddenly we were presented with an image of a McLaren in pieces across the track and facing the wrong way. My heart leapt, then I noticed no yellow helmet and realised it was Alonso, once I saw him move and knew he was OK, I must confess to being slightly happy that he was out. This incident led to the safety car making it’s 2nd trip to the circuit, and in turn led to the next major incident of the race. With the cars still circulating behind the safety car, but getting ready for it to come in, Webber was running 2nd and Vettel third, as the drivers warmed brakes and tyres, Vettel ran into the backof Webber. Again when the camera first caught it, I caught the back of a stricken car and feared Hamilton was out, almost feeling relief when I saw it was Webber. However, also felt disappointment, having the opportunity of a podium from that position having struggled this year with mechanical problems, to then be taken out by the Red Bull B team, it was clear he wasn’t happy when quizzed about it minutes later.

Webber and Vettel crash

With Hamilton now happily ensconced in first place, and just needing to finish the race, it was the turn of the Ferraris to provide the entertainment, first with Raikonnen scything his way through the field. He took fourth from Coulthard with an impressive outside overtaking manoeuvre through turns 4 and 5. The he snatched 3rd when Massa had to pit for a last splash of fuel, or was it to avoid team orders? This just left Kovalainen ahead in 2nd, and Raikonnen set about pushing hard to get past, resorting to the run off areas a number of times, and seemingly not losing any pace despite these offs, eventually though it wasn’t to be, the other young Finn having soaked up the pressure remarkably well to hold off Raikonnen. Meanwhile in the final lap it seemed it was Massa’s turn for some fun, as Kubica passed him, only for Massa to come back and the 2 to go wheel to wheel through the last series of corners with Massa just gaining the upper hand by the finish line – a truly exhilarating finish, the likes of which has not been seen for a long time.

I should also mention Adrian Sutil taking the last point in 8th for Spyker after Liuzzi received a 25s penalty for overtaking under a waved yellow flag.

So in all, what started out looking like a rather furlorn race, turned out be a cracker, and quite possibly the most significant of the season with Hamilton gaining 10 points over Alonso, he now needs to come 2nd in the next race to take the championship, whilst Alonso is at risk of losing 2nd place to Raikonnen. Will Alonso receive team orders to help Hamilton? And if he is – will he heed them?

I’m hoping that Hamilton will become champion next week, and fully suspect that a few weeks after the end of the season we will hear that Alonso is moving, most likely back to Renault, although Ferrari may be a possibility, but would he receive Number 1 driver status there alongside Raikonnen? Unlikely. I was also going to suggest that Ralf Schumacher will more than likely be out of a seat, and I doubt we’ll see him on the grid in 2008, but now I find he has announced he will leave Toyota at the end of the season. So whilst driver movements seem to be waiting for any decision from Alonso, there could be some discussions beginning as seats free up now.

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