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GP Week : Issue 32
>>F1Japan seventh after the stewards intervened, Hamilton finished a lowly 12th to see his championship lead cut to five points. But the surprising championship twist was created by Robert Kubica F who, in finishing second, just ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, moved into very real title contention, sitting just 12 points off Hamilton’s lead with two races to go. Hamilton’s afternoon began to go wrong at the start. Beaten off the lights by Raikkonen, the McLaren driver tried to re-take his lead into the first corner. He braked unbelievably late on the harder compound tyre and cold track, locking up and running wide and taking Raikkonen, Kovalainen and Massa with him, allowing Kubica into the lead, with Alonso close behind in second. The order saw Kovalainen sit third, with Trulli fourth, Massa fifth and a pumped up Hamilton sixth. The Briton made his move on lap 2, jinking to the inside at turn 11. Massa out-braked himself and ran wide, allowing Hamilton through and into fifth. But the Brazilian wasn’t about to let the position go and, in attempting to hold onto fifth, tagged Hamilton into a spin which left him plum last and dropped Massa down to seventh. The positions remained unchanged until lap 17 when Kovalainen suddenly slowed and retired with an engine failure, and Hamilton and Massa were both slapped with drive-through penalties, the McLaren driver for his first corner incident and the Ferrari man for his aggression on Hamilton. Next time through both Kubica and Raikkonen took their first stops and Hamilton took his drive through, and on the very next lap Alonso took his first stop. Filling with less fuel than Kubica, the Spaniard emerged ahead of the Pole and started pulling away from him at around half a second a lap. By lap 28 the majority of drivers had pitted, save for race leader Nelson Piquet, who was driving a blinder on a heavy fuel load. He took his first stop the next time through and emerged in sixth as Alonso led ahead of Kubica, Raikkonen the non-stopped Webber and Trulli. When the second stops had all played out, and Webber had taken his sole jump in for fuel and tyres, Piquet found himself a brilliant fourth, with Trulli fifth, the Toro Rosso duo of Bourdais and Vettel sixth and seventh and Webber eighth. As Raikkonen and Kubica indulged in an epic tussle for second, Piquet caught up to the back of them. But as the laps wore on, the pace of the fight could only decrease and the status quo was maintained. Massa, meanwhile, had fought his way through from the back following his drive-through, and despite making contact with Bourdais and spinning as the Frenchman had exited the pits, pulled off a great move on Webber for the final point nine laps from home. Alonso crossed the line to win at ease for his second victory in a row. If his Singapore win had been born of random circumstance, this one had been won on merit. While one can debate the race-winning potential of both Hamilton and Massa, the fact remains that they both made mistakes in a race where Alonso made none. And that was the result. Only being 2008, it wasn’t. Bourdais was handed a post-race drive through penalty after being found guilty for causing Massa’s spin. The result moved Vettel up to sixth, Massa to seventh and Webber to eighth. With the sun setting on Mount Fuji, nobody in the paddock could quite comprehend how the stewards had reached such a seemingly silly decision. Now doesn’t that sound familiar. 25 ERNANDO Alonso was the winner of a thrilling Japanese Grand Prix after championship rivals Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa both endured drive-through penalties. While Massa scraped home in eighth, which became