Japanese GP - Renault - Race
In appalling conditions this afternoon at Fuji Speedway, two rookies took control of the show. While Lewis Hamilton took an assured victory, Heikki Kovalainen took the first podium of his fledgling F1 career at the 2007 Japanese Grand Prix.
started from P11, and completed the first twenty laps behind the safety car until conditions were deemed good enough for the race to begin. After qualifying outside the top ten yesterday afternoon, the team had decided to fuel both cars for a one-stop strategy, and this paid off as they ran further than their rivals in front before pitting, and indeed the teamís drivers ran one-two before they made their stops. The safety car returned to the action when Fernando Alonso
crashed heavily between turns 5 and 6 on lap 43, with Kovalainen running P4, and a collision between Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel as they ran behind the safety car allowed him to climb to P2.
The race resumed at the end of lap 48, and for the remaining 19 laps the Finn had to resist the attacks of Ferrari team-mates Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen
. The battle with Raikkonen was particularly hard-fought but, just like in Spa two weeks ago, Kovalainen defended resiliently and was able to hold his second position to the flag. His first podium finish was followed up by fifth position for team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella
The Italian struggled with inconsistent handling in the low-speed corners, and recognising this, he let his team-mate past early in the race.
Nonetheless, he drove strongly and consistently in difficult conditions to score more valuable points for the team, and cement its position in the constructorsí championship.
"It has been a rollercoaster year for me, and it was like that again this weekend. We took a risk with the set-up yesterday, hoping for better conditions and when we got up this morning and saw the rain falling, we didnít expect to have a fantastic afternoon. But it just goes to show that no matter how bad you think the situation is, you never give up. The strategy worked perfectly today, and the team deserves at least one podium today!"
"Everybody has asked me about the last few laps with Kimi, but my mirrors had steamed up completely and I couldnít see him. I was watching the pit-board though, and every lap the gap was coming down, so I knew he would try something. He got past me into turn 6 on the final lap, but I wanted P2 so much that I went back round the outside on the way down to turn 10. The car was aquaplaning all over the place, but I kept my foot in and got back ahead, hoping I wouldnít lose the car. It is a fantastic feeling to score my first podium. Now, we need to try and maintain the momentum in Shanghai."Giancarlo Fisichella
"It was one of the most difficult races I have ever driven, the conditions were just so wet all the way through, and it didnít seem to improve at any point. The main thing today was to keep the car on the track, and to avoid making mistakes. The balance was a bit inconsistent, particularly at low speeds, and it was aquaplaning on the straights as well. I donít think we achieved our potential today, but this was still a strong result in a race where a lot of other cars failed to finish."
Flavio Briatore, Managing Director
"At the last wet race in Germany, we didnít make the most of the situation and only scored one point. Today was completely different. The team got everything right, and Heikki did not make a single mistake. We scored twelve points with our two cars, and our rookie drove like a man with a lot more experience. Congratulations to the team: after a difficult season, they deserve this result."
Pat Symonds, Executive Director of Engineering
"The conditions today were extremely difficult and it was imperative not to make any mistakes. We didnít, and seized the opportunity to score our first podium finish of the year. Heikki put in an extremely assured performance: he was under intense pressure at the end, but showed the right blend of aggression and tenacity to keep Kimi behind. It demonstrated once again what a good racer he is. His first career podium is made all the sweeter by getting both cars in the points for the first time since Silverstone, after Giancarlo drove a solid race to finish fifth. The team did not put a foot wrong all day, and credit goes to every one of them for performing so well in exceptionally tough circumstances."