• Oct 13, 2008

Click above for high-res gallery of the Japanese F1 GP

Wildcards. That's what racing fans want, isn't it? Yet so many seasons in the recent history of grand prix racing have been down to just a handful of drivers – just one or two, in many cases – contending for race victories and ultimately the championship. Last year's four-way face-off between Kimi Raikkonnen, Felipe Massa, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso put the racing world on notice. But even that free-for-all is paling by comparison to this season, with no fewer than seven drivers (Hamilton, Raikkonen, Massa, BMW's Robert Kubica, McLaren's number two Heikki Kovalainen, double world champion Fernando Alonso and even perennial back-marker Toro Rosso's Sebastian Vettel) taking turns on the top step of the podium, turning the 2008 FIA Formula One World Championship into a heated battle the likes of which we haven't seen for a long time. This weekend's Japanese Grand Prix was no exception. And if you don't have it recorded for future enjoyment, follow the jump to read why.

Arriving in the land of the rising sun, the Japanese Grand Prix could have been anyone's for the taking. Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen have all claimed victories at the event before (although in Kimi's and Fernando's cases, it was at Suzuka while this year's race, like the last, was held at Fuji). But after Saturday's qualifying session was done, it was Hamilton who took pole, with his arch-rival Raikkonen next to him in second place and team-mate Kovalainen right behind him in third. Alonso, Massa and Kubica rounded out the front of the remaining grid. But some hard-core wheel-to-wheel action saw a quick change-up in the succession straight from the green lights.

Coming off the line, Raikkonen pulled away faster than Hamilton, but the British driver tried to defend his position by pushing the Finn wide going into Turn 1. Both drivers skidded off the track, along with their team-mates who were trying to avoid a crash. The four drivers fell back in traffic while attempting recovery, allowing Kubica and Alonso to slip by into the lead positions. On the second lap, while fighting his way back to the front, Massa cut across the curbing at Turn 10 and pushed Hamilton into a spin. Both Hamilton and Massa later received drive-through penalties for their respective incidents, relegating the two title front-runners to the mid-field for the rest of the race, a situation from which they would not recover.

Back at the front, meanwhile, the heat was on between Kubica and Alonso, with the Renault champion ultimately taking the lead in the pits only to open it up even further on the track. Raikkonen managed to pick his way through the field to wage battle against Kubica for third, all the while the second Renault car, piloted by championship scion Nelson Piquet Jr., managed to climb from 12th position on the grid all the way up to fourth, hoping to grab a podium finish from Kubica or Raikkonen as the pair fought each other for position.

In the meantime, Alonso continued to secure his lead, crossing the line over five seconds clear of Kubica. Raikkonen took a solid third place, while Piquet claimed fourth, his second best result since his debut at the start of this season. The unexpectedly dominant finish by Renault demonstrated how much the team has improved in the latter part of the season.

Behind Nelsinho, Toyota's Jarno Trulli took an admirable fifth place, while the pair of Sebs at Toro Rosso surprised yet again by taking sixth and seventh with four-time Champ Car champion Bourdais ahead of Italian Grand Prix winner Vettel. Massa took the final point with an eighth-place finish, closing in on Hamilton's lead by one point, now down to six with only two rounds to go. With both Ferraris, meanwhile, finishing in the points, and neither McLaren claiming a single one, the Scuderia reclaimed its lead in the constructors' championship. Check this space next week for the results from the upcoming Chinese Grand Prix from Shangai ahead of the season closer in Brazil at the end of the month.

2008 Japanese Grand Prix

1. Alonso Renault
2. Kubica BMW Sauber
3. Raikkonen Ferrari
4. Piquet Renault
5. Trulli Toyota
6. Bourdais Toro Rosso-Ferrari
7. Vettel Toro Rosso-Ferrari
8. Massa Ferrari
9. Webber Red Bull-Renault
10. Heidfeld BMW Sauber
11. Rosberg Williams-Toyota
12. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes
13. Barrichello Honda
14. Button Honda
15. Nakajima Williams-Toyota

Fastest lap: Massa, 1:18.426

Not classified/retirements:
Fisichella Force India-Ferrari
Kovalainen McLaren-Mercedes
Sutil Force India-Ferrari
Glock Toyota
Coulthard Red Bull-Renault

World Championship standings
after 16 rounds

1. Hamilton 84
2. Massa 78
3. Kubica 72
4. Raikkonen 63
5. Heidfeld 56
6. Kovalainen 51
7. Alonso 48
8. Trulli 30
9. Vettel 29
10. Glock 20
11. Webber 20
12. Piquet 18
13. Rosberg 17
14. Barrichello 11
15. Nakajima 9
16. Coulthard 8
17. Bourdais 7
18. Button 3

1. Ferrari 141
2. McLaren-Mercedes 135
3. BMW Sauber 128
4. Renault 66
5. Toyota 50
6. Toro Rosso-Ferrari 36
7. Red Bull-Renault 28
8. Williams-Toyota 26
9. Honda 14

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 6 Years Ago
      I don't get angry watching sporting events much, but this crap really got me heated.

      1) I fully concede that Hamilton's move into turn one was overly aggressive, and unsporting, BUT he did nothing illegal. He did not force Kimi off the track, and the track if very wide there. The penalty Hamilton got was for "forcing Kimi off the track". He locked up, and their tires touched, that was all. No penalty should have been given.

      2) Massa was not just kind of at fault in the spin move on Hamilton. He had all four tires off the track. Yes, by F1 rules, tires on the grass, and tires on the rumble strips = fully off the track. For him to not get a harsher penalty than Hamilton is absurd. He should have had a drive through with a 10 second stop and go at least.

      3) Bourdais got robbed, to benefit, imagine this...Ferrari. Bourdais was penalized for making contact with Massa, but he went as far inside as he could, to give Massa all the space in the world. Driving off the track was his only other option. Bourdais had the inside line, and as we all know, inside line = position. Bourdais was screwed to help Ferrari, period.

      I am so fed up with the Ferrari bias, and I am a fan of Ferrari the company, but in racing, they, and the governing bodies surrounding them, are corrupt.
        • 6 Years Ago
        I fully agree.

        I don't even like Hamilton or McLaren but this was the worst officiated race I've ever seen with three bad calls. I've watched about 7 seasons worth of F1 and I have never seen a penalty for 1st corner lockups or running wide because it's impossible to determine who has the racing line. How could you? They typically run 3-4 wide, are bunched up, and it is unclear who is in what position. This is just the nature of the standing start.

        The Ferrari bias was never more clear than with this years Japan GP.

        Let's hope Kubica pulls off a miracle and hands them both their asses in the next two races and wins the championship.
      • 6 Years Ago
      i think there is a lot of pull to deny the championship to hamilton. this is probably not true. the is probably no conspiracy against hamilton but i get the feeling to many things go against him, and his driving is not one of them. masa spins him out from 3rd position rendering him last and he keep his top 10 place? and to this situation the solution is a drive thru the pits? then, next time hamilton should spin masa out and be champion, it would be a good idea to do it at interlagos. because he (masa) is out of the points and all hamilton has to do is go thru pits. and the stewards decision a couple of weeks ago, to give hamilton a penalty and making him drop to third when he actually finished 1st, it's too much emphasis on one driver. I understand that the rule book is there for a reason but when interpretation comes into play and the properties of a driver are put in second place I call for injustice and that’s how I feel about the Hamilton situation.

      READ THAT ALL THIS IS WHAT “I THINK” AND NOT HOW IT IS!!! So no hate please!!! Responds are welcome though.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Hamilton's penalty had nothing to do with the Massa incident... His was for forcing Raikkonen off course in the first turn. Massa's penalty was for the Hamilton incident though - they just happened to be handed out at about the same time.
        • 6 Years Ago
        I became a new F1 fan this year (thank you, Speed!!), and instantly took a liking to Hamilton. However, I was pissed at him for essentially throwing this race away in the first 30 seconds with that needlessly aggressive move. That was all him.
      • 6 Years Ago
      im still learning the sport.... what's with the green in the tire grooves? what does that mean? anything?
        • 6 Years Ago
        They want to make F1 "green" ... So they painted the wheels.. dummest thing ever IMO.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Typically only the softer optional tires have a white stripes in the grooves to differentiate them from the hard prime tires. The green was just a gimick for the weekend.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Hamilton just couldn't keep cool when he was passed at the start. Same foolish mistakes he was making when he had the championship in his grasp last year...
      • 6 Years Ago
      Massa has 79 points, not 78.
      • 6 Years Ago
      It was a good race. Except that the stewards decided that the Massa/Bourdais incident was Bourdais' fault! What? So Massa moves up a spot to 7th.

      Autoblog, you need to update this. Here is the official release:
        • 6 Years Ago
        That's ridiculous.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Ha! Your name is Swede, that automatically invalidates any comment you have about Kimi Raikkonen.

        • 6 Years Ago
        why? because sweden is not finland? if so then by there not being a single american driver on the grid all of your comments on f1 are invalid.
      • 6 Years Ago
      "Hamilton's arch-rival Raikkonen"? Raikkonen is completely out of the championship race. Hamilton was probably jumping for joy when he learned Raikkonen ended up 2nd.

      As for the Bourdais thing, Bourdais was coming out of the pits. Massa had the right of way, and Bourdais didn't give it to him. Now, I wouldn't have given a penalty there, but I certainly get where they are coming from.
        • 6 Years Ago
        bduggy, you're just flat wrong. If another driver is alongside you as you enter a corner then you don't own that corner and you are required to leave enough room and stay to the outside. Alternatively you can try to "over under" the driver on the outside and race him down the next straight. What you cannot do is just turn down into him and force him to back off. That's worse than blocking, that's intentionally causing a collision for which Massa should be penalized.

        Massa is one of the most erratic and worst drivers in F1 and no one should be surprised by any of this. Without a Ferrari under him Massa wouldn't have a single win to his name this season. About the only way that guy wins races is when he starts from pole. Massa, all other drivers and f1 in general, would be better off if Massa were demoted to test driver.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Neither driver has 'right of way' past the white exit line coming out of pit lane. After that it's open track. If Bourdais wanted to jump right out in front of Massa, he certainly could.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Felipe Massa is a dangerous driver and will kill somebody in F1. The shame of it is that the FIA will blame the driver he kills.
      • 6 Years Ago
      no mention on coulthard just going off at the first turn?

      yea...that massa bourdais thing was...weird they penalized bourdais because massa was forced into a spin. Usually, being forced into a spin takes blame off of you in the world of the FIA

      FIA has weird judgments sometimes...the recent banning of Traction Control, standardizing ECU, the ease at which Hamilton, Massa, and Schumacher gets out of trouble...it all sorta shows that FIA is biased towards McMerc and Ferrari sometimes...probably determined by coin toss or something...
        • 6 Years Ago
        Bourdais was exiting the pits and Massa had more than half his car in front of the Toro Rosso when they touched, so... the line was his, I guess.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Bourdais had the inside of the corner, Massa came around the outside and tried to turn in to the corner and hit him. What was Bourdais supposed to do, drive off the track?

        Look at this pic for reference:
      • 6 Years Ago
      Weird. F1 is starting to interest me. When did this happen?
      • 6 Years Ago
      Ha, Texrob. You're name has Tex in it. That must make you part of the double digit IQ club like our ignoramus president. Or would you prefer to be labeled inbred? Either befits you from where we sit.
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