Hamilton's lead cut
Title protagonists collide at Fuji
Lewis Hamilton's World Championship lead has been cut to five points after he could only finish 12th in the Japanese Grand Prix.
Starting from pole position, the McLaren Mercedes driver was passed by Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen on the run down to Turn One at the Fuji Speedway before he dived to take the inside line at the corner.
However, Hamilton then ran wide and dropped down to sixth place. Matters worsened on the following lap when he attempted to pass Championship rival Felipe Massa.
Hamilton again took the inside line, this time into the Turn 10 chicane, and forced Massa over the kerbing. The two then collided, sending the McLaren into a spin and to the back of the field.
Massa received a drive-through penalty for the incident, while Hamilton subsequently got the same for his opening-lap move on Raikkonen.
The Brazilian finished eighth on the road after passing the Red Bull of Mark Webber during the closing laps.
However, he was later moved up to seventh after stewards penalised Toro Rosso driver Sebastien Bourdais for causing a collision with Massa.
Renault's Fernando Alonso was the chief beneficiary of the antics at the opening corner and went on to take his second successive victory ahead of BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica.
Raikkonen finished third for Ferrari, a result which helped them take the Constructors' Championship lead back from McLaren.
Renault's Nelson Piquet finished fourth ahead of Toyota's Jarno Trulli, with Toro Rosso's Sebastian Vettel promoted to sixth ahead of Massa and Webber.
Although Hamilton's lead remains a healthy one, his hot-headedness at the start of the race was worryingly reminiscent of that seen when last season's Championship came to a boil.
Given that Massa was starting fifth, Hamilton may have decided with hindsight that letting Raikkonen - 27 points behind him coming into the race - go might have been the better option.
"I made a mistake and I paid for it," Hamilton told ITV1 after the race. He wasn't the only one in trouble, however, with David Coulthard's race soon run when he left the track at the exit of the corner and impacted heavily with a tyre barrier.
As Alonso led Kubica and Heikki Kovalainen on lap two, there then came Hamilton's collision with Massa.
The McLaren had to make an impromptu pit stop following the incident and rejoined the race 18th. However, with damage suffered to his car's bodywork, Hamilton's race was effectively over.
By the time the opening round of pit stops were underway the third-placed Kovalainen appeared in strong contention for victory, an outcome that would have handed McLaren much needed Constructors' Championship points.
However, the luckless Finn was soon parking his car by the side of the track, the victim of an apparent engine failure.
After Piquet had pitted on lap 28, team-mate Alonso held a seven-second lead over Kubica, with Raikkonen third.
However, the Pole's attempts to challenge for the win were dashed during his middle stint as understeer and poor traction on his car allowed Alonso to get away.
The double World Champion had built a 13-second lead by his second stop on lap 44, with Kubica making his own second stop two laps later.
By this stage Raikkonen was the quickest man on the track. However, he could not get ahead of Kubica after making his own second stop on lap 48.
As they had towards the end of the opening stint, Trulli and Piquet pitted having held the lead, with Alonso once again resuming control.
Running second, Bourdais - who led a grand prix for the first time between laps 21 and 26 - made his second stop behind Trulli on lap 51.
However, rejoining the race, he then collided with Massa, sending the latter into a spin at turn one - the incident for which stewards later handed Bourdais a 25-second penalty.
The closing laps saw a battle develop between Kubica and Raikkonen - the pair duelling wheel to wheel and the Finn briefly leaving the track before tyre problems saw him drop back.
Piquet joined them for a short while before going off the track - the Brazilian electing instead to settle for a safe fourth place.
His strong performance backed up Alonso's second win in as many races, with Renault's strong late-season form surely consolidating fourth place in the Constructors' Championship.
Meanwhile, Massa's late flourish, passing both Nick Heidfeld and Webber late on as well as setting the race's fastest lap, ultimately earned him two points which could yet prove invaluable.
Japanese Grand Prix, result:
1. Fernando Alonso (Spain) Renault 1:30:21.892
2. Robert Kubica (Poland) BMW Sauber +00:05.283
3. Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) Ferrari 00:06.400
4. Nelson Piquet (Brazil) Renault 00:20.570
5. Jarno Trulli (Italy) Toyota 00:23.767
6. Sebastian Vettel (Germany) Toro Rosso 00:39.207
7. Felipe Massa (Brazil) Ferrari 00:46.758
8. Mark Webber (Australia) Red Bull 00:50.811
9. Nick Heidfeld (Germany) BMW Sauber 00:54.120
*10. Sebastien Bourdais (France) Toro Rosso 00:34.08511 + 25s penalty
11. Nico Rosberg (Germany) Williams 01:02.096
12. Lewis Hamilton (Britain) McLaren 01:18.900
13. Rubens Barrichello (Brazil) Honda 1 lap
14. Jenson Button (Britain) Honda 1 lap
15. Kazuki Nakajima (Japan) Williams 1 lap
r. Giancarlo Fisichella (Italy) Force India 45 laps
r. Heikki Kovalainen (Finland) McLaren 51 laps
r. Adrian Sutil (Germany) Force India 59 laps
r. Timo Glock (Germany) Toyota 61 laps
r. David Coulthard (Britain) Red Bull 67 laps
(rank: r = retired, nc = not classified)
Fastest Lap: Felipe Massa, 1:18.426, lap 55.