Raikkonen Wins Japanese GP Thriller

Kimi Raikkonen raced through from 17th on the grid to secure a thrilling victory in Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix after snatching the lead from Giancarlo Fisichella on the final lap of the race

Fisichella was handed a big advantage for the race after a wet qualifying session on Saturday that put his Renault third on the grid and left his teammate Fernando Alonso and usual top contenders McLaren at the back.

He led after the first round of pitstops but Raikkonen produced a stunning drive to race through from the back only snatched the top spot after a thrilling battle to the chequered flag.

Alonso, who started just ahead of Raikkonen in 16th, climbed all the way into third place with a gritty and exciting drive to claim his 14th podium of the year.

Juan Pablo Montoya made an early mistake and crashed out on the first lap, handing a boost to Renault's efforts in the Constructors' Championship, which they now lead by two points with one race remaining.

Australian Mark Webber gave his dire season a welcome boost when he made the most of a seventh-placed grid spot to race home in fourth in his Williams after an exciting battle with Briton Jenson Button.

Button lost out to Webber in the final set of stops and finished fifth, extending his run of consecutive points scoring-races to nine on his BAR-Honda team's home circuit.

David Coulthard finished sixth for Red Bull Racing with Michael Schumacher, who enjoyed some thrilling mid-race battles with new World Champion Alonso and Raikkonen, faded away in the final laps to finish seventh.

Ralf Schumacher led the field away from pole position at the start but his Toyota car was extra light and he failed to retain his lofty position and dropped to eighth by the end.

Schumacher led at the start but Button dropped back from his front row spot down to third as Fisichella made it through into second with Coulthard jumping two spots to fourth.

Takuma Sato ran wide at the first corner in his BAR-Honda and almost collected Rubens Barrichello, who also shot across the gravel in his Ferrari and picked up a puncture, which forced him to pit at the end of the first lap.

Michael Schumacher shot up from 14th on the grid to seventh while Alonso followed him through from 16th to claim eighth and Raikkonen, who started 17th, moved up to 12th.

But it was all over for Montoya at the end of the first lap when he went wide at the final corner and clattered into the barriers, demolishing the left hand side of his McLaren.

The safety car was brought out immediately and the field formed up behind with Barrichello taking advantage to pit for fuel before the field was set free again at the start of the seventh lap.

Ralf Schumacher held onto the lead from the re-start and his brother Michael Schumacher was the only mover in the top ten when he made it past Christian Klien into the first corner to claim sixth.

Alonso went wide as he tried to make it past Klien at the end of the seventh lap but then made it past the Red Bull Racing driver as the pair headed into the first turn on the eighth.

Williams driver Antonio Pizzonia spun into the gravel at turn nine on lap ten to end his race and on the same lap Jarno Trulli retired after Takuma Sato tried to sneak down the inside at turn 16, but the Japanese driver was able to continue.

Race leader Ralf Schumacher pulled into the pits for fuel at the end of lap 13, dropping to ninth and handing the lead to Fisichella, who was able to start pulling away from Button.

Behind them Coulthard sat in third with Webber fourth and outgoing World Champion Michael Schumacher in fifth trying desperately to fend off the challenge of new title holder Alonso.

Alonso made it past around the outside of Schumacher as the pair raced through the infamous 130R corner just before the end of the 20th lap in a spectacular move that thrilled the crowd.

At the same time Fisichella pitted from the lead for his first fuel stop to put Button in the lead, but he and Alonso stopped on lap 22 to put David Coulthard up into top spot in the Red Bull machine.

Coulthard and Webber then pitted, with the Williams driver getting ahead of the Red Bull during the stops, handing the lead to Schumacher who was coming under pressure from Raikkonen with both still to pit for fuel.

Schumacher fended off the Finn, who weaved all over the back end of the Ferrari trying to find a way past, but failed to match Alonso's move before both came in for fuel at the end of lap 26.

Ferrari got Schumacher out ahead and the pair came back out in fifth and sixth and with all the first stops complete Fisichella was ahead of Ralf Schumacher with Button and Webber third and fourth and Alonso eighth behind Coulthard.

Ralf Schumacher was back in the pits on lap 28 for his second fuel stop and Raikkonen soon made it past Michael Schumacher, who dropped back into the clutches of Alonso after the Spaniard made it past Coulthard.

Alonso made it past on the main straight at the start of lap 32 after pushing hard through the final corners of the previous lap and the Renault driver set about chasing down Raikkonen.

Christijan Albers had a surprise in his second stop after his 34th lap when the car caught fire and he was forced to jump out as his Minardi team quickly extinguished the flames.

Alonso made his second stop on lap 36, his teammate Fisichella came in on lap 38 then Button and Webber, running first and second, pitted at the same time on lap 41 and a fast stop from Williams put Webber out ahead.

Schumacher came in on the same lap for his final stop but Raikkonen, now leading, was able to stay out and put in some flying laps in a bid to build up a big enough advantage over Fisichella to take the lead after his final stop.

Raikkonen finally pitted at the end of the 45th lap and although he came out behind Fisichella he was just 5.4 seconds back with nine laps to close in and pass the Renault driver.

Behind that pair there was a thrilling battle for third after Alonso closed in on Webber with both having made it past Button in the second round of stops to put the Briton down in fifth.

Alonso's ballsy drive continued when he challenged Webber for third on the main straight at the end of lap 48 and produced a swinging move to make it past into the first corner as Raikkonen homed in on Fisichella in front.

Raikkonen pushed hard and despite some strong defence from Fisichella he finally made it past to take the lead in the first corner of the final lap leaving his McLaren garage jumping for joy.


The Japanese Grand Prix
Suzuka, Japan;
53 laps; 307.573km;
Weather: Sunny.


Pos  Driver        Team                  Time        
 1.  Raikkonen     McLaren-Mercedes (M)  1h29:02.212
 2.  Fisichella    Renault          (M)  +     1.633
 3.  Alonso        Renault          (M)  +    17.456
 4.  Webber        Williams-BMW     (M)  +    22.274
 5.  Button        BAR-Honda        (M)  +    29.507
 6.  Coulthard     Red Bull-Cosworth(M)  +    31.601
 7.  M.Schumacher  Ferrari          (B)  +    33.879
 8.  R.Schumacher  Toyota           (M)  +    49.548
 9.  Klien         Red Bull-Cosworth(M)  +    51.925
10.  Massa         Sauber-Petronas  (M)  +    57.509
11.  Villeneuve    Sauber-Petronas  (M)  +    58.221
12.  Barrichello   Ferrari          (B)  +  1:00.633
13.  Sato          BAR-Honda        (M)  +     1 lap
14.  Monteiro      Jordan-Toyota    (B)  +     1 lap
15.  Doornbos      Minardi-Cosworth (B)  +    2 laps
16.  Karthikeyan   Jordan-Toyota    (B)  +    2 laps
17.  Albers        Minardi-Cosworth (B)  +    4 laps

Fastest Lap: Raikkonen, 1:31.540

Not Classified/Retirements:

Driver        Team                  On Lap
Pizzonia      Williams-BMW     (M)    10
Trulli        Toyota           (M)    10
Montoya       McLaren-Mercedes (M)    1

World Championship Standing, Round 19:                

Drivers:                    Constructors:             
 1.  Alonso       123        1.  Renault          176
 2.  Raikkonen    104        2.  McLaren-Mercedes 174
 3.  M.Schumacher  62        3.  Ferrari          100
 4.  Montoya       60        4.  Toyota            82
 5.  Fisichella    53        5.  Williams-BMW      64
 6.  Trulli        43        6.  BAR-Honda         37
 7.  R.Schumacher  39        7.  Red Bull-Cosworth 30
 8.  Barrichello   38        8.  Sauber-Petronas   17
 9.  Button        36        9.  Jordan-Toyota     12
10.  Webber        34       10.  Minardi-Cosworth   7
11.  Heidfeld      28       
12.  Coulthard     24       
13.  Villeneuve     9       
14.  Massa          8       
15.  Monteiro       7       
16.  Wurz           6       
17.  Karthikeyan    5       
18.  Klien          5       
19.  Albers         4       
20.  de la Rosa     4       
21.  Friesacher     3       
22.  Pizzonia       2       
23.  Sato           1       
24.  Liuzzi         1       
All timing unofficial
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