Hamilton masters conditions for victory

by James Mulligan

OYAMA, Shizuoka Pref. — McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton won a rain-lashed Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday to move closer to clinching the world crown in his debut season in Formula One.

Hamilton kept his cool in a wet and wild race at Fuji Speedway to move 12 points ahead of teammate and bitter rival Fernando Alonso, who spun out of the race.

Heikki Kovalainen earned outgoing constructors’ champion Renault its first podium finish of the year with an impressive second, while fellow Finn Kimi Raikkonen took third to stay in with a shout for the title.

The last two races of the season are in China before the season-ending race in Brazil.

Hamilton recovered from a prang with Poland’s Robert Kubica on lap 34 that sent both drivers spinning off to notch his fourth victory of a stunning first season in Formula One for the 22-year-old.

“I was very fortunate that I finished. It was the longest race probably of my life. It just seemed to go on and on,” said Hamilton.

“When you’re behind, and especially in those conditions, it is the responsibility of the car behind to be extra careful and I felt that it was a risk Robert needn’t have taken.

“Still, I got through it and was able to see it home and I’m ecstatic to get the victory.”

Hamilton can clinch the title in Shanghai next weekend. The British driver has 107 points, Alonso 95 and Raikkonen 90.

Alonso, whose relationship with Hamilton and boss Ron Dennis remains as frosty as the snow-flecked peak of Mount Fuji that looms over the circuit, admitted it would now take something special if he was to win his third-straight title.

“I really need a miracle to win. No doubt I need a very unlucky weekend for him (Hamilton). I need a retirement from Lewis with a mechanical problem to have a chance to win. If the races are completely normal, it’s over,” said Alonso.

Alonso careered into a wall after aquaplaning on the rain-soaked track on the 42nd lap, when he was in fifth position. Rookie Sebastian Vettel had clipped him earlier in the race, causing damage to the Spaniard’s car.

Vettel was in the wars throughout and shunted Red Bull’s Mark Webber out of the race while the Australian was in second place and the German, who drives Red Bull’s sister team Toro Rosso, was third. Vettel’s race also ended.

It was the end of a day that started badly for Webber after he contracted food poisoning. He was vomiting before and during the race.

Far from sick was Kovalainen, who may well have convinced team boss Flavio Briatore to retain his services next season after a lukewarm debut season.

“I really wanted to take second place rather than just third so I went for it, as much as I could,” Kovalainen said. “It was a long race but I’m happy I brought it home, a very good result for all the team.

“Obviously this year has been a bit of a rollercoaster for our team, a disappointing year after the last two years, but the team definitely deserves this podium.”

Japanese driver Sakon Yamamoto of Stryker placed 12th and Super Aguri’s Takuma Sato earned a 15th-placed finish.