Perfect passing lifts Raikkonen to victory

Formula-one critics often complain that there is not enough passing in grand prix races.

Well, there was a whole lot of passing going on at the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday and Kimi Raikkonen made his last one the best with a winning move past Giancarlo Fisichella entering the last lap.

The new and world champions, Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher, took turns passing each other—both on the track and in the pits.

“In the whole championship, I did like two or three overtaking moves and in this race I think I did 14, and it was good,” Alonso said.

Some tried and didn’t quite make it. Takuma Sato in a BAR-Honda forced Jarno Trulli’s Toyota off the track and was taken out of the results when the race stewards determined it was Sato’s fault.

Finally, there was Raikkonen gaining his seventh victory of the season—one more than Alonso—with a daring move just as the final lap began.

He was behind Fisichella and debating on which side to try to pass.

“I was thinking which way to go because the inside is more easy to overtake,” Raikkonen said. “But Fisichella was on the inside, so I didn’t have much choice.
I went to the outside to try to go around him and luckily I made it. I was very happy.”

The successful move lifted the McLaren driver from 17th on the starting grid to a stunning victory, the ninth of his career.

“I had already seen him catching me in the middle of the straight and going on the left side. I am a little bit disappointed, but I did my best and it was a good day for us because we took over the lead on the constructors’ championship,” Fisichella said.

Renault passed McLaren to take a 176-174 lead going into the final race of the season at Shanghai next week.

Bright sun and near-cloudless skies made the race ready for some passing after rain in Saturday’s qualifying marred the top drivers’ qualifying laps.

Alonso, Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya—who had won the last eight races between them—were in the final three rows on the grid.

The 5,807km track helped as Alonso and Raikkonen threaded their way through the field with their faster cars.

“I think the nature of the circuit seems to somehow suit this year better than other years. There was quite a big speed difference with some cars on the straight,” Raikkonen said. “It makes it easier to try and overtake into the chicane and on to the main straight. I think that change to the circuit has definitely made it easier to overtake here. “

Fisichella agreed, even though he lost out.

“This year was a little bit easier also to follow people in the first sector where it’s usually really difficult,” Fisichella said.

Alonso enjoyed passing Schumacher—twice.

“I was much quicker on the straight; he closed the door on the inside going into [turn] 130R, I was on the inside, flat-out, and it was really risky, but as I said before there was nothing to lose today,” Alonso said.

The second time was on the 33rd lap.

“I learned the lesson, so I really went for the inside, but there was only a little grass, there was nothing left of the asphalt, so it was a great move. That one and the other one, on Michael, around the outside of 130R, were the nicest moments of the race,” Alonso said.

Montoya, winner of two of the last three races, never got a chance for passing. He slid off and crashed into the wall on the final turn of the first lap, forcing a safety car to come out for six laps.

Fisichella took over the lead on the 13th lap after pole sitter Ralf Schumacher went in for fuel.

Raikkonen made his way through the field and was in sixth place by that time and passed Michael Schumacher by the 30th lap to go into fourth.

Ahead of him were Fisichella, Jenson Button and Mark Webber. All three pitted to give Raikkonen the lead briefly at lap 41.

Raikkonen stayed out longer and went in for fuel with eight laps to go at lap 45. When he came out, he was only five seconds behind Fisichella with a faster car.

With five laps remaining, Fisichella’s lead was three seconds and shrinking. With only two laps left, Raikkonen moved within a few car-lengths and made the winning move on the 53rd and last lap.

Raikkonen started from 17th after he was penalised 10 spots for changing engines due to a mishap in practice. He could have found himself further down the grid, but several drivers failed to post a qualifying time and started behind. Fisichella started in third place.

At the end, Fisichella finished 1,6 seconds behind Raikkonen, with Alonso 17,4 seconds back.

Webber, in a Williams, was fourth, with Button fifth in a BAR-Honda. David Coulthard of Red Bull was sixth, while seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher of Ferrari was seventh, ahead of his brother, Ralf.—Sapa-AP