The body language on the grid for Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix spoke volumes about the run-up to the race, in a more eloquent way than any press conference could reveal. McLaren's Fernando Alonso was the picture of quiet confidence, while teammate, main rival and championship leader Lewis Hamilton appeared tense and listless.
Fernando Alonso © LAT
Alonso had every reason to feel confident. When the F1 circus returned to the Fuji circuit after an absence of thirty years, the imposing backdrop of Mount Fuji greeted them with swathes of thick mist and downpours. Even though he'd been denied pole by another brilliant last-minute Saturday afternoon effort from Hamilton, the reigning champion's smile and relaxed demeanour on the grid were not faked.
After two stellar wet weather drives at Hungary 2006 and Nurburgring 2007, Alonso is an acknowledged wet weather expert. Hamilton, by contrast, had only been tested once in the wet during his debut F1 season - and had ended up stranded in the gravel at Nurburgring, regaining the circuit only through the help of a cooperative crane driver. Alonso also had momentum on his side, having beaten Hamilton in each of the previous three GP.
Forty-one laps later, F1 demonstrated again just how misleading the form book can be, and how quickly fortunes can turn on a wet track. Heading into the Fuji weekend, Hamilton would have been hoping, at best, to eke out a point or two advantage over his teammate and the distant Ferrari pursuers. As he passed the wreckage of Alonso's car at turn 6 on lap 42, it was with the realisation that he could now open up daylight between himself and the rest, and all but secure the title.