F1: Japanese Grand Prix live blog

By LJ Hutchins

CalendarSunday, October 12th, 2008

 
 

After a series of drama-soaked races, Formula One has landed at the Fuji Speedway – where last year Lewis Hamilton’s title challenge survived the torrential rain.

This year, the weather is expected to be better – and, with Hamilton sitting on pole and his closest rival Felipe Massa stranded in fifth, the McLaren driver’s championship prospects look sunny too.

But with reigning world champion Kimi Raikkonen next to him on the front row and former team-mate Fernando Alonso lurking one row back, the slightest mistake by the boy wonder will be pounced on with glee.

The battle for midfield honours is hotting up. Toyota owns the circuit and wants to perform well before its home fans, Nelson Piquet will be trying to save his career at the same time as backing up Alonso, and both Williams and Red Bull will be hoping not be put in the shade again by the upstarts at Toro Rosso.

Oh – and somewhere at the back will be Jenson Button, poor sod.

Stay with us to find out what happens next. Keep hitting refresh to get the latest, don’t forget you can comment on this post, and you can also email us with your thoughts on the race.

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Post race: James Allen sums it up well (yeah, I know, shocker): “Hamilton needed to keep out of trouble – and didn’t.” His subsequent remark about Alonso reigning from Spain is best left unreported. However Mark Blundell does point out that Hamilton is damned if he fights and damned if he drives conservatively. Good point but, as he goes on to say, avoidable accidents and world championship wins are concepts that do not often sit together.

Lou Goodman, interviewing a subdued Hamilton, asks whether his first corner shenanigans were a mistake. “Yup,” he replies. At least he can never be accused of blustering his way through an error.

He goes on to say: “You can always look back and wish you did something – but I made a mistake and paid for it. You’ve just got to keep your head up and keep trying.”

He said the result made little difference to the championship as he had only conceded a point to Massa, and pledged to chase victory in both remaining races.

Less convincingly, he suggested the stewards had not been even-handed in penalising both him and Massa for their incidents on the first lap: “We got the same penalty but I didn’t hit anything.”

More by luck than judgement, Lewis – more by luck than judgement…

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Points:

  1. Fernando Alonso, Renault: 10 points
  2. Robert Kubica, BMW Sauber: 8 points
  3. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari: 6 points
  4. Nelson A Piquet, Renault: 5 points
  5. Jarno Trulli, Toyota: 4 points
  6. Sebastien Bourdais, Toro Rosso: 3 points
  7. Sebastian Vettel, Toro Rosso: 2 points
  8. Felipe Massa, Ferrari: 1 points

Drivers’ championship:

  1. Lewis Hamilton, McLaren: 84 points
  2. Felipe Massa, Ferrari: 78 points
  3. Robert Kubica, BMW Sauber: 72 points
  4. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari: 63 points
  5. Nick Heidfeld, BMW Sauber: 56 points
  6. Heikki Kovalainen, McLaren: 51 points
  7. Fernando Alonso, Renault: 48 points
  8. Jarno Trulli, Toyota: 30 points
  9. Sebastian Vettel, Toro Rosso: 29 points
  10. Timo Glock, Toyota: 20 points
  11. Mark Webber, Red Bull: 20 points
  12. Nelson A Piquet, Renault: 18 points
  13. Nico Rosberg, Williams: 17 points
  14. Rubens Barrichello, Honda: 11 points
  15. Kazuki Nakajima, Williams: 9 points
  16. David Coulthard, Red Bull: 8 points
  17. Sebastien Bourdais, Toro Rosso: 7 points
  18. Jenson Button, Honda: 3 points

Constructors’ championship:

  1. Ferrari: 141 points
  2. McLaren: 135 points
  3. BMW Sauber: 128 points
  4. Renault: 66 points
  5. Toyota: 50 points
  6. Toro Rosso: 36 points
  7. Red Bull: 28 points
  8. Williams: 26 points
  9. Honda: 14 points
  10. Force India: 0 points

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Lap 67: Hamilton has managed to recover a few shreds of dignity by unlapping himself. Renault mechanics heading for the pit wall. And it’s a deserved 21st victory for Fernando Alonso. Kubica second, then Raikkonen, Piquet, Trulli, Bourdais, Vettel, Massa. But two of those drivers are under investigation so the result could change.

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Lap 66: Massa had all four wheels in the pitlane exit during that manoeuvre, after being forced there by Webber. Surely this can’t be investigated too?

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Lap 65: The commentators point out that Massa’s going to be handed a pretty big advantage if things go down to Interlagos. Webber tries his best to defend eighth place but has no tyres and Massa is now set to pick up a point with two laps left.

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Lap 64: Massa, on the harder tyres, is having a good look at Webber and is almost certainly going past him.

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Lap 63: McLaren, in what looks very much like a damage limitation exercise given how close they usually play their cards, have been saying Hamilton can’t do much because his car was damaged at the beginning of the race.

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Lap 62: Rather than Piquet looking at Raikkonen, Trulli is looking at Piquet. All the tension has gone out of things at the front, since people’s tyres have started to lose grip. Alonso’s look to be in a better condition than most. It appears Piquet had an off-camera excursion and lost four seconds but held onto his place.

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Lap 61: So much for the same pace – Massa’s taken two seconds out of Webber on that lap. But there’s still this small matter of the incident with Bourdais to consider. Webber showing considerable tyre wear.

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Lap 61: In a mirror of the battle happening up at the front, Massa cruises past Heidfeld for ninth – and starts looking at Webber. The Red Bull driver has a seven-second lead and is lapping at around the same speed as the Ferrari, so a point may still be more than Massa can dream of.

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Lap 60: With eight laps to go, order is Alonso, Kubica, Raikkonen, Piquet, Trulli, Bourdais, Vettel, Webber, Heidfeld, Massa, Rosberg, Hamilton, Barrichello, Button, Nakajima.

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Lap 58: Piquet being told that he’s going a second faster than Raikkonen and should be trying to overtake him. Well, that should be fun. As you were in front of them. Massa in tenth and closing quickly on Webber in ninth – but more than a point or two will be more than he could hope for.

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Lap 55: Kubica and Raikkonen battle doesn’t come alive on this lap because Raikkonen’s still dealing with the aftermath of the last lap. Stewards announce that the Bourdais/Massa incident will be investigated in the race. Trulli has ceded his fourth place to Piquet, who is (whisper this) catching Raikkonen. There’ll be a wild party in Enstone tonight. Kubica, whose car we have heard is handling evilly, is acquiring his very own version of the Trulli train.

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Lap 54: Raikkonen has a cracking battle with Kubica but can’t take the place, goes wide and ends up three or four car lengths back. Massa pits. Alonso’s second win in two races would appear to depend on whether he can conserve those soft tyres.

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Lap 53: Piquet pits from the lead. Alonso, Kubica, Raikkonen at the front. Raikkonen is faster on the straight and tries to take Kubica in the first corner. He doesn’t make it, but that’s going to happen on every single lap until the end now.

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Lap 52: Whoa! Massa’s had a crash with one of the Toro Rossos – whichever one that’s just left the pits. The Toro Rosso has gone up the road unhindered – it’s Bourdais. Massa spins. Consensus is that the young Frenchman has done little wrong here, and it’s beginning to look like the old ‘wild man’ Massa is back with us. He appears to have got away without losing position. He’s currently seventh but needs to stop. Hamilton 12th and doesn’t need to.

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Lap 51: Trulli pits, so Piquet leads from Bourdais. The Brazilian will almost certainly have to do a second stop, however…

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Lap 50: Massa in eighth has just put in the fastest lap of the race. Trulli, who hasn’t pitted, is currently leading.

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Lap 49: Ferrari slightly slow to get the fuel rig out of Raikkonen’s car. Kubica has – by a couple of car lengths – held the effective second place through the pitstops. But Raikkonen’s going like the wind. How’s he going to get on with those softer tyres?

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Lap 48: Ferrari mechanics are out for Raikkonen. Trulli currently second, followed by Piquet and Bourdais but those three are yet to pit. Raikkonen pits from the lead.

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Lap 47: Kubica rejoins behind Vettel in seventh. His chances of winning the race don’t look particularly clever at present.

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Lap 46: Kubica’s pit crew is out, and in he goes. Raikkonen leads and will be so far up the road that it’s untrue. BMW Sauber pull off a good, clean and above all rapid stop. Kubica on soft tyres.

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Lap 45: If Kubica can score a big shed-load of points and Massa and Hamilton can’t sort themselves out then the Pole’s looking handy for the championship again. Raikkonen’s putting in fastest laps for the race now.

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Lap 44: Alonso pits from the lead and it’s up to Kubica to try to win himself the race. Alonso comes out in sixth, in traffic, and on the less effective softer tyres. The Pole is complaining loudly on the radio about the handling of his car while Raikkonen sets a fastest personal lap of the race.

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Lap 43: Commentators are speculating as to why Raikkonen, whose race this should be for the taking, hasn’t brought the fight to Alonso and Kubica. They conclude that’s the question of the entire season. Possibly the ‘Raikkonen remote’ charge is about to start, however. Hamilton needs a couple of goes to overtake Barrichello.

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Lap 42: Hamilton pits for what should be his only remaining stop. Massa must pit again.

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Lap 41: Massa takes Webber for tenth. The Australian has driven straight through the debris that litters the start-finish straight.

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Lap 40: Back from ads and Raikkonen has just been shown lapping a Honda, from which you will deduce that nothing much has changed. Alonso’s last four laps or so have been bang on 1:19.2 – metronomic is the word that keeps being used. Heidfeld pits from eighth place for his single pitstop.

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Lap 37: Alonso is slowly pulling away from Kubica in second, in preparation for the fact that he will pit first. He’s picking up two to three tenths of a second per lap at the moment, trying to build his lead, but will it be enough? Nakajima has just pitted from last place and only in Japan would this merit telly time.

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Lap 36: Order after first pitstops is as follows: Alonso, Kubica, Raikkonen, Trulli, Piquet, Bourdais, Vettel, Heidfeld, Rosberg, Webber, Barrichello, Massa, Hamilton, Button, Nakajima. Hamilton’s trying to get back on terms with Massa.

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Lap 34: Hamilton manages to overtake Button on the start-finish straight without incident for 13th. He’s lost ground to Massa thanks to the time he’s lost. Webber finally pits from fourth with his rear tyres in a mess. Raikkonen appears to be fuelled longest of the leaders, and could be on for a win – but only the foolish would discount Alonso. This is the halfway point.

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Lap 33: Mark Webber still hasn’t pitted and is running fourth. One-stopper?

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Lap 30: Massa takes Button for 12th place. Hamilton still stuck behind that shed of a Honda. Nothing quite like getting up before dawn to watch McLaren try to throw away both championships, is there? We restate: if Alonso had been in a halfway decent car this year neither Ferrari nor McLaren would have been able to get away with fucking about as they have.

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Lap 29: Piquet pits from the lead. Now things have sorted themselves out at the front – Alonso, Kubica, Raikkonen. Piquet comes out of the pits wheel to wheel with Bourdais. He hangs on to the position – sixth place – and Bourdais briefly ends up in the dirt. Coulthard interviewed and says contact broke his suspension, but won’t speculate as to who hit him. “For sure it’ll be a new chassis for the next grand prix.” Too right, Dave – as anyone who saw the wreckage of your car would agree. Have the James Allen Award for Drivers Stating the Bleeding Obvious.

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Lap 27: Speculation about Piquet’s chances of a Renault drive next year. We’d easily back Renault to be the manufacturer that’s slated to pull out altogether – so it’s debatable whether Alonso would have a drive, never mind Nelsinho.

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Lap 26: Nelson Piquet, who has a habit of staying out hours longer than other drivers, currently leads. The only other unpitted driver at the front is Webber is fifth. Hamilton in 14th is lapping eight tenths of a second faster than Massa in 13th thanks to strategy differences. He’s 11 seconds behind.

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Lap 25: Rosberg and Barrichello wheel to wheel. Bourdais pits – appears quite a slow stop. Comes out behind Trulli, for seventh place.

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Lap 24: Vettel pits and comes out side by side with Nick Heidfeld. Vettel hangs onto the position, which is eighth. Alonso has really got the hammer down. Behind the kids at the front, the net leading positions are held by Alonso, Kubica and Raikkonen. Kovalainen is interviewed – he’s talking about an engine failure.

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Lap 23: Fisi being wheeled into the garage which means Force India joins McLaren as another team that might as well not have turned up. However he’s still in the car and they’ve put tyre warmers on, so all might not be lost. For a moment there it was Bourdais, Piquet, Vettel – if the race had been red flagged there…

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Lap 20: Massa’s doing his drive-thru and emerges in 14th. Hamilton’s just been blue-flagged and lapped by Trulli. Renault on the radio yelling at Alonso that Kubica is fuelled longer for the second stint. The Spaniard managed to overtake the Pole in the pitstops. Kovalainen’s woes appear to be hydraulic rather than engine-related. Trulli pits from the lead and Bourdais is in the heady heights of first place. Commentators are arguing about the justification for the Hamilton penalty but it appears to us that he didn’t need the stewards’ help to fuck this one up – he did it himself.

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Lap 19: Hamilton, at the back with nothing to lose, takes his penalty straight off. Alonso and Raikkonen have pitted leaving Trulli in the lead and some happy Toyota fans. Massa pits for tyres and stays on the softer option. Ferrari are using a lollipop (small and apologetic, you could almost think they’re embarrassed) and gets out of the pitlane without incident. Kovalainen is out of the race and his engine appears to have packed up – this is the cause of the yellow flag. The stewards must be pleased to hear that Brundle endorses their decision about Massa – he’s a bit more ambivalent about Hamilton’s.

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Lap 17: Yellow flag is out and both Hamilton and Massa have been given drive-thrus. Hamilton for his attempt on Raikkonen, Massa for the nudge that sent Hamilton spinning. Well, at least it’s even-handed. Kubica has also pitted. TV pictures are not good and the feed keeps cutting out, so if you’re reading this as we type, you’re not missing too much.

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Lap 16: Alonso, in second, is marginally faster than Kubica, in first. But it’ll probably be a while before he can make that count. Kovalainen hanging on in third. If you’re bored to tears with the world championship dramas (surely not!) then this is actually a great race at the moment, a chance to see all kinds of unexpected people at the front.

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Lap 15: …but it’s not set to last since Hamilton is gaining on him at the rate of two seconds a lap. So much for his ill-advised pre-race statement to Louise Goodman that he might score points.

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Lap 14: Order is Kubica, Alonso, Kovalainen, Raikkonen, Trulli, Bourdais, Massa, Piquet, Vettel, Webber, Heidfeld, Barrichello, Fisi, Rosberg, Button, Hamilton, Nakajima. Glock, Coulthard and Sutil have retired. Button currently the leading Brit. Go Jense!

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Lap 13: Kovalainen is having an almost unprecedentedly good run in third with Raikkonen in fourth and the commentators are now characterising this as the Grand Prix of Finland. Personally, for all the McLaren driver’s such a likeable chap, we’d back Raikkonen in that battle.

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Lap 12: Stewards are investigating both Ferraris and Hamilton. Hard to avoid the conclusion that the Boy Wonder might as well park up now…

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Lap 11: Debris all over the main straight, blamed for Sutil’s puncture and Fisi plus the Hondas seem to have driven straight through it. Brundle on Hamilton: “I think he got off the line badly and lost his head and did everything he shouldn’t do… you have to stand on and do the job and that was a poor job.” Hard to argue with…

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Lap 9: Massa is eyeing the back of Sebastien Bourdais’ Toro Rosso for sixth place. Much discussion of Hamilton’s inability to perform under pressure.

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Lap 8: Kubica slowly building a lead over Alonso. Raikkonen is up to fourth and five seconds off the lead. Hamilton believed to have switched to a one-stopper and is up to 17th. Adrian Sutil’s Force India is in trouble with a shredded back right tyre and he’s stopped in the pitlane exit then got out of the car.

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Lap 6: Looks like Coulthard went out with a huge suspension failure. Yellow flag in. Hamilton reportedly had to pit because his tyres were ruined after he braked so hard on that first corner. Glock appears to be last, after Hamilton, after an unscheduled pitstop, so it looks like he’s had contact with someone. Kubica’s lead is 1.6 seconds.

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Lap 4: Kubica has a 1.3 second lead. Then Alonso, Kovalainen, Trulli, Raikkonen, Bourdais, Massa, Glock, Piquet and Vettel in the top ten.

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Lap 3: Hamilton pits with suspected suspension damage but seems to get away OK. Massa finds himself in an unexpected fight with a Toro Rosso. Because Massa has come into Hamilton sideways from the grass verge, we could be looking at yet another intervention from the stewards.

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Lap 2: Order at the top is Kubica, Alonso, Kovalainen, Trulli, Massa, Hamilton, Raikkonen after the leaders went wide and all the second/third row sitters cruised past. Then Hamilton drops it after an overly aggressive overtaking manoeuvre, spins and is now last and pointing the wrong way. He’s tried a move, been rebuffed and ended up in the gravel. Why would Massa want to avoid an accident?

– – – – –

Lap 1: Raikkonen’s got in front of Hamilton at the start, the Brit tries to take him back and forces Raikkonen back down the field. DC’s had a really big bang and his race is over – yellow flag. Nakajima, who looked to be in for a lot of coverage from the director, is limping back to the pits for a new nose. Massa’s start does not look to have been particularly clever.

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Parade lap: And they’re off. Tyre choices might be a little more diverse than it appeared in the pits, but Massa definitely on the ‘less desirable’ softer option, saving the better tyres for a point in the race when they may count.

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On the grid: It’s all over – the fat lady is singing… Button points out that it’s getting really cold and Nick Heidfeld blames tyre choice for his abject qualifying yesterday.

Brundle remarks that Our Jense, at the back of the grid, will be “racing the medical car”. Then he points out that Sebastien Buemi is driving the medical car, and managed to spin it this morning, so things could be more intense back there than we imagine.

Teams said to be favouring the softer tyres for the start.

Just how far is Raikkonen prepared to go to help his team-mate Massa? Pre-race speculation suggests that the Finn is not wildly enthusiastic about the rear-gunner role, but the first corner at this Fuji Speedway circuit could be crucial. Add an energised Alonso into the mix on row two and it all starts looking a little incendiary.

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Pre-race: No grid walk today, we are told. But it has been dying on its feet all season.

Ron Dennis pictured on the pit wall and it’s easy to imagine that this could be the last few occasions on which we see him. If McLaren win the championsip it’s easy to imagine that he will finally hand over to Martin Whitmarsh and retire with his reputation somewhat rehabilitated after Spygate.

In other news, catch this in the Sunday Telegraph: “The truth about Tony Blair’s actions during the notorious Ecclestone Affair – New Labour’s first sleaze scandal – can be revealed for the first time after the release of previously secret Government documents.” More here.

Raikkonen thought to be running a bit lighter, track and air temperature said to be dropping in the run-in to the race, which is not good news for Ferrari. Tyre wear slated to be a big issue for everyone, especially rear tyres – and we all know the boy Hamilton is hard on his tyres.

It’s a pared-down ITV crew this weekend – no sign of Steve Rider and Brundle’s put on a suit to take his place. At least he’s left the hairspray alone…

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