Tom Clarkson's 2008 Japanese Grand Prix race report

Published: 13 October 2008

I’ve just got back from climbing Mount Fuji with Sebastian Vettel and Alex Wurz. What a fantastic way to spend a day, with two of the most down-to-earth racing drivers in the world on the highest mountain in Japan (3,900m). I’m currently enjoying an oxygen rush back at sea level in Tokyo, which has provided me a nice antidote to yesterday’s Japanese Grand Prix.

The race left me feeling cold. My disappointment had nothing to do with Fernando’s second victory on the trot, which was richly deserved because he drove a brilliant middle stint to emerge from his last pitstop ahead of Robert Kubica. And it had nothing to do with Kubica – now known as ‘Bobby K’ in the pressroom – because he also drove a good race and gave Kimi Raikkonen a masterclass in defensive driving in the closing laps.

It was the drive-thru penalties that got my goat. Whether the FIA favours Ferrari, or simply hates McLaren, is irrelevant: by dishing out penalties willy-nilly the governing body is going to kill our sport of any on-track excitement. Racing wheel-to-wheel has never been an exact science; there’s always an element of the unknown in an overtaking manoeuvre and that’s what it so special.

Punishing Hamilton for outbraking himself into Turn 1 did nothing more than create an undercurrent of fear among the other drivers. Soon they will be too jumpy to risk any overtaking manoeuvres for fear of punishment should something go wrong. Kimi had no issues with what happened at the first corner yesterday – “that’s racing” was his reaction – and in the cool light of a Mount Fuji day, Lewis did nothing wrong except screw his own race.

Massa was being slightly more opportunistic when he tried to muscle past Lewis at the chicane. They touched, but so did many other cars in yesterday’s race and they all went unpunished. Except, of course, Sebastien Bourdais, who was given a delayed 25-second penalty for hitting Massa at Turn 1 on lap 51 after coming out of the pits. He was on cold tyres and had nowhere to go!

Rant over, but if the FIA is going to be so draconian during races they should at least have an ex-driver sitting in with the stewards who can tell the non-racers among them what’s really going on.

By Tom Clarkson

F1 correspondent, BBC pitlane man, accesser of all areas, head beans-spiller