There was excitement galore at Japanese grand prix as Kimi Raikkonen despite loosing world title to Fernando Alonso produced a stunning performance to race through the field and secure his seventh win of the year in the Japanese Grand Prix here Sunday.
Finn Raikknoen started from 17th on the grid after a rain-affected qualifying and he snatched the lead from Italian Renault driver Giancarlo Fisichella on the final lap of the race.
Fisichella had led after the first round of pitstops but Raikkonen was too hot to handle as he and the new world champion Fernando Alonso, who he has battled all year for the title, showed they are the class of the field.
Spaniard Alonso, who started just ahead of Raikkonen in 16th, produced an equally stunning drive to climb all the way into third place as he claimed his 14th podium of the year.
The race, played out in bright sunshine and temperatures of 26 degrees Celsius (79 degrees Fahrenheit), was one of the best of the year thanks to a mixed up grid caused by unpredictable rain in qualifying.
But it was not all joy for McLaren as 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.
Renault moved back ahead of McLaren in the race for the title and with one race to go, the Chinese Grand Prix in one week’s time, they now lead by two points.
Australian Mark Webber gave his poor 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.
Scot David Coulthard finished sixth for Red Bull Racing with German Michael Schumacher, who enjoyed some thrilling mid-race battles with Alonso and Raikkonen, faded away in the final laps to finish seventh.
Toyota’s dreams of home victory faded early and although Ralf Schumacher led the field away from pole position his car was extra light and he failed to retain his lofty position and dropped to eighth by the end.
Schumacher made a clean start from pole as Fisichella passed Button for second but Japan’s Takuma Sato and Brazilian Rubens Barrichello both ran wide at the first corner and almost collided as they crossed the gravel.
Michael Schumacher had a strong start as he moved up from 14th to seventh while Alonso followed him through from 16th to eighth and Raikkonen, who started 17th, climbed up to 12th.
But Colombian Montoya hit trouble before the first lap was over when he went wide at the final corner and shot into the barriers, taking off the left hand side of his McLaren car.
The safety car was brought out immediately as Montoya’s stricken machine was craned away and when it came back in, on lap seven, the leaders held station with Schumacher ahead of Alonso and Button.
Brazilian Antonio Pizzonia spun out in his Williams at turn nine on lap ten to end his race and on the same lap Italian Jarno Trulli was out after BAR-Honda driver Sato tried to sneak down the inside of the Toyota at turn 16.
Alonso enjoyed a thrilling battle with Michael Schumacher during the first round of pitstops and made it past with a spectacular move around the infamous 130R corner, leaving the German to fend off Raikkonen in equally spectacular style.
But it was the other Renault of Fisichella that was leading the way after the first set of stops, with the Italian moving ahead of Ralf Schumacher to steal the lead while usual contenders Raikkonen and Alonso sat in fifth and eighth.
Ralf Schumacher made his second stop early and Raikkonen made it past Michael Schumacher, leaving the German to drop back into the clutches of Alonso, who passed the Ferrari driver again on lap 32.
Dutch driver Christijan Albers was lucky to escape unscathed during his stop on 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 team-mate 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 close the gap to Fisichella in preparation to chase him down after his final stop.
Raikkonen finally pitted at the end of the 45th lap and came out 5.4 seconds behind Fisichella leaving the pair with a nine-lap battle as they chased the race to the chequered flag.
Behind that pair Alonso closed in on Webber and took him in a swinging move to into the first corner then Raikkonen made it past Fisichella to take the victory in the first corner of the final lap.