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Japanese Grand Prix Thoughts

I said it would take an engine failure for Michael to lose this one to Alonso. That was sticking my neck out a bit, considering Michael’s Ferrari engine hasn’t let go since 2001. Not that Ferrari have been totally reliable since then – the number two drivers have had their share of engine-related retirements. But, until yesterday, Michael’s luck had ensured that he would not be the one to suffer.

Alonso

Alonso celebrates his victory

There was plenty of angst over Michael’s sudden departure from the race but the man himself took it very well, it must be admitted. Perhaps he, more than the rest of the Ferrari team, understood how it went some way towards evening up the score for Alonso’s engine failure at Monza. And, although Michael himself has owned defeat in the championship, anything can happen in motor racing and often does; there is one scenario left that could allow Michael to be champion this year. I refuse to name it for fear of jinxing the Brazilian race.

Alonso looked very good in this race. After hauling the Renault into second place, he drove with confidence and precision, never allowing Michael more than a few seconds lead. I doubt that he could have passed the Ferrari if fate had not intervened, but he was certainly keeping his title hopes alive with such a masterful drive.

Jenson Button had another unspectacular but very competent race to finish fourth. And Kimi Raikkonen did wonders with the off-form McLaren to grab fifth spot. But let us not forget that these two and Fisichella owe their good finishes to the Toyota team, to some extent, at least.

The Toyotas are an enigma – how do they manage to throw away so many good chances so consistently? At what point in the Suzuka race did they go from serious contenders to also-rans? Sixth and seventh are poor returns after having stayed with the leaders for the first stint.

Part of the answer is that they were running light and so had to pit before the rest, thereby losing their track positions. And their second set of tires was not as effective as the first. But they seemed to give up without a fight and let themselves be passed by poor strategy alone. In the end, it was another story of bright promise in qualification fading away in the race itself.

Heidfeld got the point for BMW Sauber but it was Kubica who looked good. After the Pole had recovered from his little trip across the gravel, he closed inexorably on his team leader and seemed quite capable of passing him, had he dared to risk it. The fact that he slotted in responsibly behind Heidfeld is another point in his favor; considering the praise that has been heaped upon his shoulders in his short F1 racing career, it is good to see that he is maintaining such a level head and sense of team effort.

Overall, the race proved that there is less to choose between the dry Michelins and the Bridgestone tires than we thought after qualifying. And that is how I like it, with everyone being on pretty much equal rubber so that we can see the true state of competition between the cars and drivers. The result was a race that may have lacked a little overtaking drama (well, let’s face it, we’ve all seen engine failures before) but held us spellbound even so.

And oh, Christijan Albers treated us to an explosive driveshaft failure on his Spyker. Now that’s something of a rarity these days – takes me back to the sixties, it does…

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