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Hamilton wins chaotic Japanese GP

Lewis Hamilton took a huge step closer to the world championship title by winning a sodden and chaotic Japanese Grand Prix, while his teammate and title rival Fernando Alonso crashed out

The result puts Hamilton 12 points clear of Alonso with only two races to go.

Renault's Heikki Kovalainen and Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen came through to second and third, despite Raikkonen falling to the rear of the field early on.

The first 19 laps of the race were run behind the safety car due to the appalling visibility at Fuji. Despite instructions from race control that the field must start on extreme wet tyres, the Ferraris were both fitted with intermediates, and had to stop during the caution.

Both Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen also had spins while behind the safety car, with Massa incurring a drive-through penalty for overtaking under yellow after his rotation.

The McLarens eased away when the race began, while in their wake Jenson Button tapped Nick Heidfeld into a half-spin at Turn 1, dropping the BMW to 10th and breaking the Honda's front wing.

Toro Rosso's Sebastian Vettel avoided the mess and moved up to third, followed by Mark Webber. Button persevered in fifth with no wing for several laps before admitting defeat and pitting, which moved Giancarlo Fisichella and Kovalainen up to fifth and sixth.

Having run light fuel loads in their battle for pole, both McLarens had to make pitstops within eight laps of the race getting underway. Alonso pitted first and emerged behind the Renaults and Robert Kubica, but Hamilton ran one lap further and was able to extend his lead sufficiently to come out between Webber and Fisichella.

That put Vettel into the lead for the first time in his short Grand Prix career, where he stayed for four laps before pitting and handing the advantage to Webber, who stayed out a further four laps at the head of the field.

Meanwhile the McLarens were having a bruising time in traffic. Running light on fuel, Kubica passed both Renaults and then attacked Hamilton, but tagged the McLaren into a spin. Both were able to resume after a seven second delay, and Kubica was later given a drive-through penalty for the incident.

Just one lap later Alonso was also in trouble, as Vettel ran into him at Turn 1. The second McLaren also spun, and sustained bodywork damage, before continuing in eighth behind Raikkonen - who had made determined progress through the field early on but would lose many of the places gained when he had to pit again on lap 40.

The Renaults - Kovalainen ahead of Fisichella after passing his teammate on lap 30 - ran at the head of the field for several laps before making their sole stops on laps 39 and 40.

That put Hamilton back to the front of the field, ahead of Webber and Vettel, who had swapped places during the pitstops, with Alonso fourth and 10 seconds behind his teammate.

Alonso was starting to edge back into contention, but then aquaplaned into the tyre wall on the approach to Turn 6 on lap 42. The McLaren was wrecked in the massive accident, which scattered debris across the track and prompted another safety car period.

As the field prepared for the restart four laps later, Red Bull's potential superb day fell apart as Vettel ran into the back of Webber at the final corner, taking both out and leaving Vettel distraught and Webber furious.

Kovalainen therefore ran second behind Hamilton when the race resumed, followed by Massa, who had not pitted since topping up with fuel under the long first caution.

The Brazilian had to come in on lap 58, which moved the recovering Raikkonen onto the podium, the Finn having passed David Coulthard around the outside of Turn 5 two laps earlier.

Raikkonen continued to push hard - taking several trips over the asphalt run-off areas - and closed in on Kovalainen in the closing laps, but had to settle for third despite vigorous efforts to pass the Renault.

Kovalainen therefore clinched his first podium, and Renault's first of 2007.

Ahead of them, Hamilton made serene progress towards what could be a critical victory. He had quickly pulled out a lead over Kovalainen following the restart, and ultimately won by 8.3 seconds.

Coulthard provided some comfort for Red Bull by taking fourth, ahead of Fisichella. Heidfeld was set for sixth until his BMW stopped at the start of the final laps.

Rubens Barrichello had been set for his first point of the season in eighth until having to come in for a splash and go fuel stop with seven laps to go. Honda had fuelled him under the first safety car in the hope that the race might not run to its full duration, but the Brazilian ended up 12th, behind teammate Button.

That allowed Massa back into the points, and he moved up to seventh when Heidfeld retired. The Brazilian then closed in rapidly on Kubica and grabbed sixth after a wild, wheel-banging, battle on the final lap.

Vitantonio Liuzzi secured Toro Rosso's first point of the year in eighth. He had run as high as fourth after also fuelling up during the early yellow laps. He ultimately fell down the order after pitting under the caution for Alonso's crash.

Adrian Sutil took ninth after a very strong race for Spyker. The German had charged into the top ten early on, but wasn't able to turn his speed into a first points finish.


The Japanese Grand Prix
Mount Fuji, Japan;
67 laps; 305.721km;
Weather: Wet.


Pos  Driver        Team                      Time
 1.  Hamilton      McLaren-Mercedes     (B)  2h00:34.759
 2.  Kovalainen    Renault              (B)  +     8.377
 3.  Raikkonen     Ferrari              (B)  +     9.478
 4.  Coulthard     Red Bull-Renault     (B)  +    20.297
 5.  Fisichella    Renault              (B)  +    38.864
 6.  Massa         Ferrari              (B)  +    49.042
 7.  Kubica        BMW Sauber           (B)  +    49.285
 8.  Liuzzi        Toro Rosso-Ferrari   (B)  +    55.622
 9.  Sutil         Spyker-Ferrari       (B)  +  1:00.129
10.  Barrichello   Honda                (B)  +  1:28.342
11.  Button        Honda                (B)  +     1 lap
12.  Yamamoto      Spyker-Ferrari       (B)  +     1 lap
13.  Trulli        Toyota               (B)  +     1 lap
14.  Heidfeld      BMW Sauber           (B)  +    2 laps
15.  Sato          Super Aguri-Honda    (B)  +    2 laps

Fastest lap: Hamilton, 1:28.193

Not classified/retirements:

Driver        Team                      On lap
R.Schumacher  Toyota               (B)    56
Davidson      Super Aguri-Honda    (B)    55
Rosberg       Williams-Toyota      (B)    50
Vettel        Spyker-Ferrari       (B)    47
Webber        Red Bull-Renault     (B)    47
Alonso        McLaren-Mercedes     (B)    42
Wurz          Williams-Toyota      (B)    20

World Championship standings, round 15:                

Drivers:                    Constructors:             
 1.  Hamilton     107        1.  Ferrari              170
 2.  Alonso        95        2.  BMW Sauber            92
 3.  Raikkonen     90        3.  Renault               51
 4.  Massa         80        4.  Williams-Toyota       28
 5.  Heidfeld      56        5.  Red Bull-Renault      23
 6.  Kubica        35        6.  Toyota                12
 7.  Kovalainen    30        7.  Super Aguri-Honda      4
 8.  Fisichella    21        8.  Honda                  2
 9.  Rosberg       15        9.  Toro Rosso-Ferrari     1
10.  Coulthard     13       
11.  Wurz          13       
12.  Webber        10       
13.  Trulli         7       
14.  R.Schumacher   5       
15.  Sato           4       
16.  Button         2       
17.  Vettel         1       
18.  Liuzzi         1       
All timing unofficial

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