Alonso Closes In On Title
Sun 08 Oct, 8:09 AM
Fernando Alonso took full advantage of Michael Schumacher's Ferrari suffering engine failure to win the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka and put him within touching distance of retaining his world title.
It is the first time the German has suffered such a problem in five years and it couldn't have happened at a more crucial time.
The race had looked Schumacher's for the taking but disaster stuck on lap 37 when, shortly after entering the pits, smoke began billowing from his Ferrari, putting him out of the race.
The victory for Alonso means he now only needs to finish in the top eight at the Brazilian Grand Prix to take back-to-back titles.
Felipe Massa finished second while Giancarlo Fisichella claimed the final podium spot.
Jenson Button took fourth place, while Kimi Raikkonen, Jarno Trulli, Ralf Schumacher and Nick Heidfeld made up the rest of the top eight.
Schumacher and team-mate Massa made a good start and looked on course to secure victory, though Alonso had kept up the pace.
Massa finished the first lap in first place, while Alonso, starting in fifth, had battled up to fourth and was vying with Ralf Schumacher for third.
Last year, Alonso climbed from 16th to take a podium spot and he again made a solid start, while Button was seventh after lap one.
By the 10th lap, Schumacher had picked up a five-second gap over Alonso, with the Spaniard doing his utmost to keep his title hopes alive.
A lap earlier, Alonso ran wide at the second Degner corner as he battled to overtake Ralf Schumacher.
Meanwhile, Rubens Barrichello's start was hindered somewhat when he lost part of his wing and was forced into the pits early.
By lap 20, Alonso had moved into second place following a well-timed pit stop, the Renault driver having won his battle with Ralf Schumacher seven laps earlier.
He then entered the pits two laps later and rejoined on lap 16 in third place - three ahead of Massa, who had pitted on lap 14.
Meanwhile, race leader Schumacher made his first pit stop on lap 18 and two laps later his lead over the looming Alonso was 5.4 seconds.
The gap between Alonso and Schumacher grew to 5.5sec on lap 31 after the former had got caught up in traffic on the track.
Three laps earlier, Alonso had narrowed the distance to just four seconds while, at the same stage, Jenson Button had moved up to seventh place, though team-mate Barrichello was struggling back in 18th.
The drivers were unaffected when debris was strewn all over the track on lap 21 after Christijan Albers' Midland suffered a major failure at the rear of the car.
But the crucial moment of the race came in the 37th lap when the worst possible scenario unfolded for Schumacher.
Shortly after making his final pit stop, smoke started to appear from his Ferrari's engine, forcing him to retire from the race.
Alonso stormed into the lead, moving 9.5sec ahead of Massa, while Giancarlo Fisichella had climbed into third.
Elsewhere, Button moved into fourth place but Kimi Raikkonen was closing on the Honda driver, while David Coulthard was forced to retire from the race.
But the outcome at the front of the race became a mere formality as Alonso strode away to secure a stunning victory.