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Alonso"s fears grow as Ferrari title hopeful finishes eighth fastest in Brazil final practice

Alonso fears grow as Ferrari title hopeful finishes eighth fastest in Brazil final practice

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UPDATED:

15:28 GMT, 24 November 2012

Ferrari's concerns are certain to be growing in the wake of Fernando Alonso slipping to a lowly eighth in the final Formula One practice session of the year.

Alonso's world title hopes are resting on a knife-edge going into the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix tomorrow, with the Spaniard 13 points adrift of Sebastian Vettel.

He's behind you: Fernando Alonso is pursued by Sebastian Vettel at Interlagos

He's behind you: Fernando Alonso is pursued by Sebastian Vettel at Interlagos

Working on it: Ferrari attend to Fernando Alonso's car in final practice

Working on it: Ferrari attend to Alonso's car in final practice

The 31-year-old needs to qualify high on the grid in his Ferrari to give himself a fighting chance of overhauling Vettel, both on track at Interlagos and in the championship standings.

But Alonso found himself half a second adrift of pacesetter Jenson Button in his McLaren, the Briton setting a blistering lap of one minute 13.188secs to edge out Vettel and keep his team on top.

The 25-year-old German was just 0.057secs adrift of Button and 0.140secs ahead of Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber, with Lewis Hamilton in close attendance to the Australian in his McLaren.

In the driving seat: Sebastian Vettel is favourite to win his third straight world title

In the driving seat: Sebastian Vettel is favourite to win his third straight world title

In the driving seat: Sebastian Vettel is favourite to win his third straight world title

Hamilton, in his final race for the Woking-based marque before he moves to Mercedes on a three-year deal from next season, had been quickest in both of Friday's sessions.

But in the closing hour-long run ahead of qualifying the 27-year-old had to play second fiddle to Button as he was two tenths of a second off the pace.

Crucially for Alonso, Lotus and Force India appear to have found some speed as Romain Grosjean, Paul di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg relegated the double world champion into that eighth place.

Emotional scenes: Lewis Hamilton will be competing in his final race for McLaren

Emotional scenes: Lewis Hamilton will be competing in his final race for McLaren

In fine fettle: Jenson Button was fastest in final practice

In fine fettle: Jenson Button was fastest in final practice

Williams' Pastor Maldonado and Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa were also hot on Alonso's heels, which could make for a nervy qualifying session for the 31-year-old.

In the second Lotus, Kimi Raikkonen endured further trouble after encountering niggly issues on Friday, the Finn finishing bottom of the standings and failing to set a time after he coasted to a halt with engine trouble.

Mercedes, meanwhile, slipped to 12th and 15th via Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher, the latter inconspicuous in his last practice outing before retiring for a second time, finishing 1.1secs down.

Lewis Hamilton beats Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel to pole position in Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2012

Hamilton blitzes qualifying in Abu Dhabi, romping to pole ahead of Webber and Vettel

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UPDATED:

15:06 GMT, 3 November 2012

Lewis Hamilton proved to be untouchable in qualifying for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix as he claimed his sixth pole position this year and 25th of his Formula One career.

The 27-year-old was fastest throughout all three sessions around the Yas Marina circuit that was bathed in warm fading sunshine when the session began and was under the floodlights when it ended as darkness set in.

Hamilton finished a third of a second
quicker than Red Bull's Mark Webber as team-mate and championship leader
Sebastian Vettel could only manage third, the first time he has failed
to make the front row of this event.

Pleased as punch: Lewis Hamilton grins like a Cheshire cat after sealing his sixth pole of the season

Pleased as punch: Lewis Hamilton grins like a Cheshire cat after sealing his sixth pole of the season

Vettel, whose car endured a brake issue
in final practice that kept him consigned to the garage for all but two
early installation laps and the final four minutes of the hour, rarely
looked comfortable during qualifying.

However, in leading Ferrari's
Fernando Alonso by 13 points in the championship standings, there are
four places between the German and the Spaniard who starts seventh.

Vettel,
however, failed to make it back to the pits, pulling his car over on
track at turn 18 after qualifying had concluded, which will be cause for
the stewards to investigate.

The three amigos: Sebastian Vettel, Hamilton and Webber pose for the media after qualifiying

The three amigos: Sebastian Vettel, Hamilton and Webber pose for the media after qualifiying

Grid positions

1 L Hamilton McLaren
2 M Webber Red Bull
3 S Vettel Red Bull
4 P Maldonado Williams
5 K Raikkonen Lotus
6 J Button McLaren
7 F Alonso Ferrari
8 N Rosberg Mercedes
9 F Massa Ferrari
10 R Grosjean Lotus

Vettel, who was ordered by engine suppliers Renault to stop the car, was unable to throw any light on the reason why.

The German's car has suffered two
alternator failures in races this season, and if an engine change is
required it will mean a 10-place grid penalty.

'I don't know why I had to stop, I was asked to stop,' said Vettel.

'It's
probably some problem, but it shouldn't be something major. It was not
ideal this morning (with the brake issue), but we were settling in this
afternoon and the pace was there.

'Overall
I wasn't entirely happy with qualifying. I should have been quicker,
but whether I had enough to beat Mark is on another sheet of paper.'

In the dark: Vettel stopped on his in-lap and could face a grid penalty

In the dark: Vettel stopped on his in-lap and could face a grid penalty

With
Vettel four places ahead of Alonso on the grid, he added: 'We have seen
so many up and down races this year. From where we start is quite good,
we're close to the front and we go from there.

'Strategy
wise we're still not 100 per cent clear, but we have to look after
ourselves, and race this guy (referring to Hamilton).'

As for Hamilton, he was unable to
explain either where his speed had come from, even though this has long
been one of his better tracks.

'I
don't know,' said Hamilton when asked. 'The car has been feeling
fantastic, great from the get go, but we've no upgrade package so I
don't know. It was just great.'

Thumbs up: Hamilton was at his uncompromising best on the track

Thumbs up: Hamilton was at his uncompromising best on the track

Behind Alonso will be Mercedes' Nico Rosberg along with Romain Grosjean in his Lotus who will start 10th.

In between Vettel and Alonso will be
Williams' Pastor Maldonado, Kimi Raikkonen in his Lotus and the second
McLaren of Jenson Button.

After the middle 15-minute session
neither Force India failed to make it into Q3 for the second straight
race as Nico Hulkenberg qualified 11th and Paul di Resta 13th, the duo
split by two tenths of a second.

Pole position: Hamilton in action

Pole position: Hamilton in action

Sandwiched
in between is Sauber's Sergio Perez, who was baulked by Williams' Bruno
Senna in Q1, leaving the Brazilian who starts 15th vulnerable to a
penalty as he faces a stewards' investigation.

A
fading Michael Schumacher, heading into retirement for a second time at
the end of the year, starts 14th for the second successive race in his
Mercedes.

Behind Senna, at present, will be
Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi and Toro Rossos of Daniel Ricciardo and
Jean-Eric Vergne, the latter failing to make it out of Q1 for the eighth
time in 18 races this season.

Hot stuff: Lotus's Kimi Raikkonen goes out for qualifying

Hot stuff: Lotus's Kimi Raikkonen goes out for qualifying

The
Frenchman, who will enjoy a second season at Toro Rosso next year along
with Ricciardo following confirmation of the drive on Thursday by the
Faenza-based squad, spun late on his final flying lap to leave him 18th.

Marussia's Charles Pic, who has been
linked with a move to Caterham, will have impressed his potential new
employers by splitting Heikki Kovalainen and Vitaly Petrov.

Pic will start 20th, with
Kovalainen and Petrov 19th and 21st, with the second Marussia of Timo
Glock 22nd, whilst the HRTs of Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan
occupy the back row.

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton finish top two after first practice session

Vettel and Hamilton set to do battle for Abu Dhabi pole as Button reveals regret at team-mate's exit

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UPDATED:

15:28 GMT, 2 November 2012

Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton again appear poised to slug it out for pole position ahead of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Vettel edged Hamilton in the second 90-minute practice session at the Yas Marina track that replicated race conditions as it began under a setting sun and ended in darkness.

The duo have now been quickest in eight of the 11 practice outings overall over the past four years of this event – a remarkable record, with no-one seemingly able to hold a candle to them.

Out in front: Lewis Hamilton drives during the first practice session at the Yas Marina circuit

Out in front: Lewis Hamilton drives during the first practice session at the Yas Marina circuit

Setting the pace: Lewis Hamilton was fastest after first practice

Setting the pace: Lewis Hamilton was fastest after first practice

RESULTS AFTER FIRST PRACTICE

1. Hamilton
2. Button
3. Vettel
4. Alonso
5. Webber
6. Schumacher
7. Maldonado
8. Rosberg
9. Bottas
10. Raikkonen

Certainly Alonso has to avoid a
six-place gap between himself and Vettel as other than Button, Red
Bull's Mark Webber and the Lotus duo of Romain Grosjean and Kimi
Raikkonen were all in between.

Alonso was the last of those within a
second of Vettel, with Felipe Massa eighth on the timesheet, but
1.072secs adrift of the 25-year-old, who is aiming for his fifth
consecutive win on Sunday.

Williams duo Pastor Maldonado and
Bruno Senna were within two tenths of a second of one another in ninth
and 11th, sandwiching McLaren-bound Sergio Perez in his Sauber, with the
Mexican 1.355secs down.

There followed a trio of Germans in
Mercedes pair Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher, 12th and 14th, who
sat either side of Nico Hulkenberg in his Force India, with all around
1.5secs off the pace.

Paul di Resta, forced to sit out
first practice as Jules Bianchi was given another outing, finished a
third of a second behind Hulkenberg in 15th.

Setting the pace: Hamilton leaves the pits during the first practice session

Setting the pace: Hamilton leaves the pits during the first practice session

Like Di Resta, HRT's Narain
Karthikeyan also missed FP1 in favour of reserve Ma Qing Hua, and
finished last on the timesheet, 5.655secs behind Vettel.

Earlier in the day, 21-year-old
Briton Max Chilton was given his first taste of a F1 weekend as he drove
for Marussia, acquitting himself well with 22 laps and finishing a
second off team-mate Timo Glock come the conclusion.

Meanwhile, Button believes Hamilton's impending exit from McLaren will be 'a big loss' to the team.

Big loss: Jenson Button says McLaren will miss Hamilton next season

Big loss: Jenson Button says McLaren will miss Hamilton next season

Grosjean confident he'll be at Lotus next season

Romain Grosjean sees no reason why he will not be partnering Kimi Raikkonen for a second season at Lotus next year.

Earlier this week Lotus confirmed Raikkonen had signed a new one-year deal following a successful return to Formula One after two years competing in rallies and NASCAR.

Lotus, however, made no mention of French driver Grosjean, perhaps unsurprising given the errors he has made this year and penalties incurred.

After two races without incident, it may be Lotus are waiting until the end of the campaign to ensure Grosjean has learned lessons and they can again trust him for the future.

Grosjean, 26, is confident of his seat for 2013 as he said: “With the team we're happy together, they've put a lot of confidence and faith in me during a hard time.

'I'm showing them I'm working and improving and trying to sort out all the problems, whilst keeping my speed.

'But there is no reason that it goes bad for the future.'
Grosjean has confirmed Lotus kept him informed of Raikkonen's deal, and that it 'didn't come as a surprise'.

When Lotus will make an announcement with regard to his own position is open to question, with Grosjean adding: 'I've no idea, to be honest.

'(Team principal) Eric Boullier is better placed than me to answer that.'

Button has previously made it clear
he has enjoyed pitting his wits against a fellow world champion in
Hamilton these past three years, helping to make him a better driver.

Although there will be no second crown
for either man this season, a 24-point gap between the British duo
means Hamilton is set to leave for Mercedes with a 2-1 victory in their
inter-team rivalry based on total points at the end of the season.

Rising star Sergio Perez may have been
recruited as replacement, but the 32-year-old Button cannot help but
feel Hamilton's departure will be felt by the team.

'With Lewis leaving, obviously the team loses a very fast driver,' said Button.

'He's
a guy that's achieved a lot with the team, wins and obviously a world
championship – the last guy to win a world championship for the team.

'It is a big loss, but things change and you learn to move on and adapt. It's definitely not the end of two strong drivers at McLaren.'

Although Perez has acquitted himself well at Sauber over the last two years, the 22-year-old Mexican still remains an unknown quantity.

Perez has conjured three superb podiums this season but his results have otherwise been sporadic, and notably since he was announced as Hamilton's replacement he has failed to score a point in three races.

Assessing Perez's potential, Button added: 'I think Sergio will be fast, but I really don't know.

'He's obviously unknown in a McLaren because he's not there yet. But it's a great opportunity for Checo, and I'm sure he will take it with both hands.'

Hamilton, meanwhile, insists he has no regrets about joining Mercedes, who are currently on their worst run since returning to the sport at the start of 2010.

Like Perez, since Hamilton announced he was moving to the Brackley-based team on a three-year contract, they have also failed to pick up a point in the last three races.

When you consider that in the previous 52 races Mercedes had not scored in only four, it highlights just how much they have plumbed the depths.

Asked by Press Association Sport about Mercedes' run, Hamilton said: “I've been told about it.

'It makes me even more driven to help them score points, and no, I'm not thinking 'have I made right decision'

'I'm very happy with the decision I made. What is happening to them doesn't have any impact on that.

'People do sometimes lose their way. Even we (McLaren) have struggled in the past and not scored points.'

Appreciating the size of the task awaiting him at Mercedes when he officially joins on January 1, Hamilton said: 'I already knew how big it was going to be.

'I really thought about it long and hard, and I could see how big it was. Perhaps it's now growing.

'But as a task I'm really excited about it, excited to meet new people and to being in a different environment, and to mould myself into that environment.'

Kimi Raikkonen to stay at Lotus in 2013

Kimi gimme one more year! Raikkonen will stay at Lotus in 2013

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UPDATED:

12:04 GMT, 29 October 2012

Speculation surrounding Kimi Raikkonen's future has ended after Lotus announced he will stay at the team next year.

Lotus made the announcement in a video posted on youtube that the 2007 title with Ferrari will remain after making his return to F1 from rallying this season.

'We're delighted Kimi is staying with us for 2013,' the British-based team said on their official Twitter feed (@Lotus-F1Team) after posting a link to the film clip.

Staying put: Raikkonen (right) will remain at Lotus through the 2013 season

Staying put: Raikkonen (right) will remain at Lotus through the 2013 season

The Finn has been the most consistent driver on the grid, with 14 successive scoring finishes and every racing lap completed. He has been on the podium six times in 2012.

The 33-year-old is third in the championship, 67 points off the lead, with three races to go despite not having won yet this season.

Team principal Eric Boullier told reporters after Sunday's Indian Grand Prix that neither Raikkonen nor French team mate Romain Grosjean were likely to win any of the season's final three races.

'Realistically I would be kidding people if I said we would win a race this year,' he said.

Consistency: Raikkonen has enjoyed successful year

Consistency: Raikkonen has enjoyed successful year

'Yes I can be frustrated at not getting this missing, or elusive, win but we had a good start to the season with a new package and two new drivers. If you put us in the same position next year then it will be a different story.'

Raikkonen was seventh in India, Grosjean ninth. Boullier said an announcement on the full driver line-up could be expected soon.

Grosjean, despite several first corner crashes of the kind that got him suspended for the Italian Grand Prix in September, is almost certain to be kept on as well.

Japanese Grand Prix 2012 live: Follow the F1 drama

LIVE: Japanese Grand Prix – follow all the Formula One drama from Suzuka

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UPDATED:

06:59 GMT, 7 October 2012

Phil Duncan F1 blog

The Formula One circus has parked up in Suzuka this weekend for the Japanese Grand Prix. It's round 15 of the world championship and with five races remaining both the drivers' and constructors' titles are still very much up for grabs.

Make sure you don't miss any of today's action by following our dedicated coverage. And you can join in on Twitter, or by sending an email to [email protected]

Click here to follow our dedicated Formula One service on TwitterJapanese Grand Prix: Lap 33 of 53
Sebastian Vettel leads from Felipe Massa
Fernando Alonso has retired after a first-lap collisionJenson Button is fourth but nursing a gearbox problem
Lewis Hamilton is sixthRomain Grosjean handed a stop-and-go penalty for crashing into Mark Webber on the first lap

Lap 31: Button's slowly been reeling Kobayashi in and the Sauber man comes in for his second stop of the day. He's joined by Hamilton and Hulkenberg. Hamilton leaves the pits alongside Raikkonen. The Lotus ace looked to have sealed the move but Hamilton came back at Raikkonen. Great driving from the pair of them to avoid a high-speed crash.

Lap 30: What a story it would be if Kobayashi earns his first podium in Japan. The home fans absolutely adore him here.

Lap 29: Vettel is absolutely cruising here. He's maintaining a ten-second gap to Massa, who looks poised to end his barren-podium run… 36 races in fact.

Lap 28: Button is told his pace is encouraging as Grosjean sets the fastest lap of the race.

Lap 27: Schumacher, a six-time winner around Suzuka, plants a move down the inside of Di Resta into Turn 1 to take tenth after starting 23rd. A very solid show from the veteran today.

Lap 26: Webber, struggling with his rear tyres, pits from P9.

Lap 25: As we approach half-distance here's a run down on the top 10: Vettel leads from Massa, Kobayashi, Button, Raikkonen, Hamilton, Hulkenberg, Maldonado, Webber and Ricciardo.

Lap 24: Vettel leads Massa by 10 seconds with the Ferrari driver three seconds ahead of Kobayashi. Hulkenberg is complaining about his rear tyres, but that aside and it's another strong performance from the German today.

Lap 23: Sportsmail's Simon Cass: 'Kobayashi and Massa, two drivers who need to get their contracts sorted out are doing the business today. Just saying…' Indeed, Massa is second and Kobayashi, without a podium in his career, is third.

Lap 22: Hamilton is moaning about his front tyres, saying they've 'gone off'. The McLaren man is in P6 and coming under pressure from Hulkenberg.

Lap 21: Button reporting yet more problems with his gearbox. Up top and Vettel is cruising here. Massa, who hasn't finished on the podium since the 2010 Korean Grand Prix, is the fastest man on track in P2, as Bruno Senna comes into the pits for his drive-through penalty after being punished by the stewards for his first-lap misdemeanour.

Lap 20: 'Debate as to whether this will be a two or three stopper,' says Sportsmail's Simon Cass. 'If any one team can make the tyres last then it is Sauber. A Kobayashi win on home soil The place would go bonkers.'

Lap 19: Hero to zero for Perez in Suzuka as the Sauber man retires from the race.. Eyeing another move on Hamilton, the Mexican lost control of his Sauber under braking before almost hitting the McLaren and then spinning out of the grand prix.

Lap 18: 'I've got a problem with the gearbox,' Button says before being reassured by the McLaren pit-wall. The British driver then posts the fastest lap of the race. We'll keep an eye on that one.

Early bath: The Spaniard gets a lift back to the paddock after crashing out

Early bath: The Spaniard gets a lift back to the paddock after crashing out

Lap 17: Vettel and Massa pit from P1 and P2, and they exit the pits in P1 and P2. Massa has gotten the jump on Kobayashi and Buton.

Lap 16: Hamilton is into the pits as Kobayashi and Button are held up by the Toro Rosso of Daniel Ricciardo. This is playing into the hands of Felipe Massa, who's yet to stop. Could the Ferrari man leapfrog the pair of them

Lap 15: Raikkonen, after his stop, leapfrogs Jean-Eric Vergne and then Heikki Kovalainen. Meanwhile, Sergio Perez pits, but he exits the pits behind the Lotus of Raikkonen. Vettel, who leads, is yet to pit. He's looking oh-so-comfortable today.

Lap 14: Kobayashi pits from P2 and the Sauber man, who is stationary for just 3.5 seconds, exits comfortably ahead of JB to maintain a net second.

Lap 13: Jenson Button comes into the pits from P3. The McLaren man is joined by Raikkonen and Hulkenberg.

Out of the race: Alonso retires after spinning out on lap one

Out of the race: Alonso retires after spinning out on lap one

Out of the race: Alonso retires after spinning out on lap one

Lap 12: The first-lap incident between Bruno Senna, who damaged his front wing, and Nico Rosberg, who has retired, is now under investigation. I'll keep you posted on that one.

Lap 11: The Saubers are looking very racy here. What a year they're having. Perez is closing in on fifth-placed Raikkonen while his team-mate Kobayashi is holding Button at bay.

Lap 10: Vettel leads comfortably from Kobayashi, with the Red Bull man lapping one second quicker than Kobayashi and Button.

Lap 9: Glum faces in the Ferrari garage. Alonso's been in control of the championship for a number of races now. But that's all set to change following today's retirement. Massa in the sister Ferrari is doing a decent job today. He's up to fourth after starting in P10.

Lap 8: Back up front and it's looking pretty tasty for Vettel who has built a five-second lead over Kobayashi. The Red Bull ace is the fastest driver on track right now. Meanwhile, Grosjean serves his penalty for wiping out Webber on the first lap.

Lap 7: Hamilton is under intense pressure from Hulkenberg, now. The Force India man just tenths behind the struggling Hamilton, Perez is now almost three seconds ahead of the man he's poised to replace in 2013.

Lap 6: There will be mixed emotions on the McLaren pit-wall there, as Sergio Perez plants a sweet move on Lewis Hamilton at the hairpin to move up into P6. Meanwhile, Grosjean has been handed a 10-second stop-and-go penalty for causing a collision on the opening lap.

Lap 5: Vettel leads by over three seconds with Button stuck behind Kobayashi – with Alonso out of the race, a victory for the German would see him move withing 14 points of the championship lead. Not a bad incentive, eh

Lap 4: We've seen a replay of the start and it looks as though Alonso squeezed Raikkonen out leaving the Lotus man no room before tagging the Spaniard. Alonso lost control of his Ferrari and was fortunate not to be collected by the rest of the field. Meanwhile, the replay also showed Romain Grosjean punting Webber at Turn 2. Another first-lap incident involving the Swiss-born Frenchman, and that incident is being looked at by the stewards. Webber is plum last.

Lap 3: The safety car is in and Vettel maintains the lead of the race. Perez takes a look around the outside of Raikkonen and drops a wheel on to the dirt before backing out of the move and loses his place to Hamilton – the McLaren man is up to sixth after starting in P9.

Lap 2: So, we're hearing that Kimi Raikkonen made contact with Alonso on the run down to turn 1. No replays as of yet. Vettel leads from Kobayashi, Button, Massa, Raikkonen, Perez and Hamilton, Safety car is in at the end of this lap. Frantic start.

Lap 1: Sebastian Vettel leads into Turn 1 but it's carnage behind the double world champion as a slow-starting Mark Webber is overtaken by Kamui Kobayashi before Fernando Alonso dips a wheel on to the dirt, loses control of his Ferrari and is out of the race. Jenson Button is up to third as Webber limps his way back to the pits. The safety car is out, I haven't seen the replay yet, but Nico Rosberg retires, too. Incredible.

7.00am: The tyre blankets are off and the cars have been lowered as all 24 drivers make their way on to the parade lap. We're just moments away from the start of the Japanese Grand Prix. Hold on to your hats….

6.55am: So, with five minutes to go until lights out in Suzuka, I'll give you a run-down on the top 10: Vettel starts on pole from Webber, Kobayashi, Grosjean, Perez, Alonso, Raikkonen, Button, Hamilton and Massa.

6.51am: Red Bull are strong favourites to dominate today's grand prix. Could it be another case of damage limitation for Alonso again He's been the master of it so far this season in a Ferrari which is arguably only the fourth-best car on the grid.

6.45am: Now, let's go down to the grid and grab a word with some of the drivers, starting with Webber, who starts in P2: 'We're normally pretty good on Sundays so we are confident we can do pretty well.' And on Kobayashi and Grosjean starting behind him: 'I've seen plenty of action before so nothing will surprise me.' And here's Button, starting in 8th after his penalty: 'It was always going to be disappointing whatever happened in qualifying. But looking at the timings on the long runs on Friday anything is possible.'

Adopted son: Button and his girlfriend Jessica Michibata ahead of today's grand prix

Adopted son: Button and his girlfriend Jessica Michibata ahead of today's grand prix

6.42am: Now over to Suzuka and a word from Sportsmail's motor racing correspondent, Simon Cass: This is what is known as a proper race. A proper track, fanatical fans and so often the place where championships are won and lost. That won't happen today but for anybody thinking Fernando Alonso has it in the bag just remember that with six races remaining in 2010 Sebastian Vettel cut a 31 point gap to then leader Lewis Hamilton. Vettel is currently 29 behind Alonso with the Red Bull looking to have found speed just at the right time. Set-up problems cost Hamilton yesterday and while this is a must win if he is to stand any chance of heading to Mercedes as world champion his chances of victory are very slim from ninth on the grid. Button starts one place further up but back-to-back wins in his beloved Japan is a real tall order.'

Waving goodbye: Schumacher, who announced his retirement on Thursday, waves to the Japanese Grand Prix fans

Waving goodbye: Schumacher, who announced his retirement on Thursday, waves to the Japanese Grand Prix fans

Farewell to the fairground: Hamilton and Rosberg will be team-mates at Mercedes next term

Farewell to the fairground: Hamilton and Rosberg will be team-mates at Mercedes next term

6.40am: Fernando Alonso, who leads Vettel by 29 points in the drivers' championship, starts in sixth, while the McLaren duo of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton will start a disappointing 8th and 9th respectively – the former taking a five-place grid drop after changing his gearbox.

6.37am: What of Vettel's challengers The Red Bull driver will be joined by team-mate Mark Webber on the front-row with home favourite Kamui Kobayashi starting in third. Incident-prone Romain Grosjean joins the Japanese star on the second row. Could we be in for some fireworks off the start-line

6.35am: And we should be in for a decent morning of racing shouldn't we The smart money is on Sebastian Vettel to win today's Japanese Grand Prix after the double world champion recorded the 34th pole position of his incredible career on Saturday. That takes the Red Bull man to third in the all-time list behind only Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna.

6.30am: Good morning everyone, and welcome to Sportsmail's coverage of the Japanese Grand Prix. For those of you based in Europe, I congratulate you for getting up nice and early this morning for round 15 of the 2012 Formula One world championship.


Full house: The Japanese Grand Prix is one of the most recognisable on the Formula One calender

Full house: The Japanese Grand Prix is one of the most recognisable on the Formula One calender

Singapore Grand Prix 2012: Lewis Hamilton staying positive

Hamilton staying positive after McLaren driver is forced to retire AGAIN in Singapore

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UPDATED:

07:50 GMT, 24 September 2012

Lewis Hamilton is hoping fortune will favour his brave effort to win this year's Formula One world title after his latest retirement.

Hamilton looked to be cruising to victory in Sunday's Singapore Grand Prix when his McLaren ground to a halt on lap 23 with a gearbox failure.

It was Hamilton's fourth race from the last seven without scoring a point, with none of the issues his fault, to leave him now 52 points adrift of championship leader Fernando Alonso with 150 available.

Not again! Lewis Hamilton (right) had to retire form the Singapore Grand Prix after his car's engine failed

Not again! Lewis Hamilton (right) had to retire form the Singapore Grand Prix after his car's engine failed

The wins in Hungary and Italy aside that have kept him in the hunt, it has been a wretched, unlucky run for the 27-year-old.

In the European Grand Prix in Valencia, Hamilton was running third when Williams' Pastor Maldonado ran into him on the penultimate lap.

In Germany, an early puncture dropped him to the rear of the field from where he failed to recover before retiring with a second puncture late on.

In Belgium, Hamilton was taken out at the first corner as Romain Grosjean caused a four car pile-up that led to a one-race ban for the Frenchman.

Then there was Sunday under the lights of the Marina Bay Street Circuit and the gearbox gremlins.

But a resilient Hamilton, after a period to calm himself and take stock, said: 'The car is in a good position, so if we can pick up our reliability then we can attack the final six races.

Cruising: Hamilton had been in good stead to win the race before the incident

Cruising: Hamilton had been in good stead to win the race before the incident

Gutted: Hamilton looked disappointed in the paddock after he was forced to retire

Gutted: Hamilton looked disappointed in the paddock after he was forced to retire

'It is going to be hard to close the gap because Sebastian (Vettel), Fernando (Alonso) and Kimi (Raikkonen) keep on finishing race after race.

'I just have to hope this is the end of our bad luck this year. We have had such bad luck with crashes, DNFs, so let's hope we have some positive races from now on.

'We definitely have the car to win, perhaps a one-two. I just hope at some stage the fortune will be on our side and we'll get that.'

With regard the title, which Hamilton rightly concedes is becoming 'harder and harder', he added: 'We have six races left, so I have to keep pushing and win the rest of them.

'I won't give up. I will keep on going to the end because although I lost a lot of points in this race it is not the end of the world.'

Why always me Hamilton has ended four of the last seven races on no points

Why always me Hamilton has ended four of the last seven races on no points

Vettel rebounded from his Red Bull's alternator failure in Italy a fortnight ago to record back-to-back wins in Singapore and close the gap to Alonso, who was third behind Jenson Button in his McLaren.

'The championship now looks better than before,' said Vettel, now 29 points adrift.

'There are a lot of races left and it's difficult to predict what's going to happen, so first of all we have to make sure we finish the races.

'The pace is there, and even if we are not quick enough to win then it is good enough to collect a lot of points.'

Paul Di Resta produced the best result of his F1 career to finish fourth for Force India, with Raikkonen sixth to fall 45 points behind Alonso.

Red Bull's Mark Webber is 62 points down after losing his point for 10th with a retrospective drive-through penalty and 20 seconds added to his time for leaving the track and gaining an advantage late on.

The busy stewards also hit Mercedes' Michael Schumacher with a 10-place grid penalty for the next race in Japan after he ran into the back of Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Vergne, causing one of two safety car periods.

Maybe next time: The latest result was a serious knock to the Englishman's title challenge

Maybe next time: The latest result was a serious knock to the Englishman's title challenge

Mark Webber warning for Romain Grosjean

Webber warning for Grosjean on eve of Singapore Grand Prix

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UPDATED:

18:42 GMT, 22 September 2012

Red Bull's Mark Webber says Romain Grosjean should be prepared to run for the hills should he spark another first-lap incident on Sunday.

Webber and Grosjean will line up in seventh and eighth for Sunday's Singapore Grand Prix as the Lotus driver returns to action after a one-race ban.

Getting the hump: Mark Webber

Getting the hump: Mark Webber

Grosjean was suspended from the last
grand prix in Italy after sparking a first-corner pile-up in Belgium
that took himself and three other drivers out of the race.

That was just the latest in a string
of incidents involving the Frenchman this season, and when asked if he
was comfortable sharing the same row as Grosjean, Webber said with a
smile: 'Yeah, he's okay. He knows I've a good right hook on me so he
will stay away from me.

'But he better put his sneakers on if he hits me.'

Although under investigation by the
stewards on two fronts following qualifying, Webber escaped with nothing
more than a reprimand.

Marussia's
Timo Glock complained he was blocked by the Australian in the first
session, but the stewards took no action, while in Q3 Webber twice left
the circuit on his in-lap for which he could offer no justifiable
reason, earning him a rap over the knuckles.

Reprimanded: Webber received a rap over the knuckles

Reprimanded: Webber received a rap over the knuckles

With his title hopes fading after a
poor run during which he has scored just 16 points from the last four
races, Webber can only hope for the best on Sunday.

'It was a tough hour (of qualifying) to be honest,' said Webber.

'We're scratching our heads because it's not like we didn't get the maximum out of the car.

'Ultimately we're disappointed with
the result. Sometimes you don't like the medicine but you have to drink
it. That's the way it is.

'But it's a long GP, plenty of strategy involved and anything can happen.'

.

Lewis Hamilton on pole for Singapore Grand Prix

Hamilton sends out title warning after romping to Singapore Grand Prix pole

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UPDATED:

14:35 GMT, 22 September 2012

Lewis Hamilton has secured pole position for Sunday's Singapore Grand Prix after blowing away the rest of the field at the Marina Bay Street Circuit.

Hamilton was half-a-second quicker than his closest challenge, with accident-prone Pastor Maldonado lining up alongside the McLaren star.

That's handy: Hamilton celebrates his fifth pole position of the season

That's handy: Hamilton celebrates his fifth pole position of the season

Singapore Grand Prix qualification

1. Lewis Hamilton (McLaren)
2. Pastor Maldonado (Williams)
3. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)
4. Jenson Button (McLaren)
5. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)
6. Paul Di Resta (Force India)
7. Mark Webber (Red Bull)
8. Romain Grosjean (Lotus)
9. Michael Schumacher (Mercedes)
10. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)

Sebastian Vettel could manage only third, with Jenson Button fourth and championship leader Fernando Alonso qualifying fifth.

It is the first time since 1999 McLaren have claimed four successive pole positions, with Hamilton now in prime spot for his fourth win this year as he aims to close the 37-point gap to championship leader Fernando Alonso of Ferrari.

Vettel won this race from pole last year and had been quickest in all three practice sessions, but had no answer to Hamilton's lap of one minute 46.362 seconds.

Top three: Hamilton will start Sunday's grand prix ahead of Pastor Maldonado and Sebastian Vettel

Top three: Hamilton will start Sunday's grand prix ahead of Pastor Maldonado and Sebastian Vettel

Force India's Paul Di Resta conjured a
superb sixth, with Red Bull's Mark Webber seventh but under
investigation and facing a five-place penalty for impeding Marussia's
Timo Glock in Q1, whilst Lotus' Romain Grosjean starts eighth.

On the fifth row will be Mercedes'
duo Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg, neither driver setting a time
after using up all three sets of their supersoft tyres in the first two
sessions.

Under the lights: Hamilton obliterated the rest of the field on Saturday

Under the lights: Hamilton obliterated the rest of the field on Saturday

Nico Hulkenberg found himself ousted
from Q2 at the death by the last man on track in Schumacher, leaving
the younger German to start 11th in his Force India.

Another title contender Kimi
Raikkonen, third in the standings and 38 points behind Alonso, could
only manage 12th in his Lotus, claiming he had no grip from his tyres.

Fernando Alonso

Sebastian Vettel

Championship contenders: Fernando Alonso (left) qualified fifth while Sebastian Vettel will start in third

Phil Duncan F1 blog

For the ninth time in 14 qualifying
sessions this season Felipe Massa failed to make it into the top 10,
lining up 13th for Ferrari.

Sauber's Sergio Perez, second just a
fortnight ago in Italy, starts 14th ahead of Toro Rosso pair Daniel
Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne. Williams' Bruno Senna will start 17th
after he smacked a wall with his right-rear wheel, breaking the
suspension and taking no further action in the session.

Star man: Hamilton will start Sunday's Singapore Grand Prix from pole position

Star man: Hamilton will start Sunday's Singapore Grand Prix from pole position

Just two races after starting on the
front row in Belgium, Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi was the big-name scalp
who failed to make it out of Q1, blaming a lack of confidence with an
over-steering car in which he will line up 18th.

In team order, Caterham's Vitaly Petrov managed to out-qualify Heikki Kovalainen, with the duo starting 19th and 20th.

At Marussia, Glock finished ahead of
Charles Pic, who tomorrow will have 20 seconds added to his race time
after passing four red lights and overtaking a rival in final practice.

Flying high: The McLaren star is gunning for his fourth victory of the season

Flying high: The McLaren star is gunning for his fourth victory of the season

In a unique move the stewards have
also ordered Pic to perform a day of community service for the FIA's
Action for Road Safety campaign.

On the back row are HRT duo Narain
Karthikeyan and Pedro de la Rosa, the latter's five-place penalty for a
gearbox change an irrelevance.

After claiming the 24th pole of his career, Hamilton said: 'The guys have done a fantastic job all weekend.

'Coming here with some small things added from the last race and on a high-downforce track we were not sure how it would work out.

'But the session was great, although I'm not sure what happened with Sebastian who had been fastest all the way through before that.

As for the race it is tough with high tyre degradation, so everyone is going to struggle.

'I'll have to get away cleanly. We'll stick to the strategy we have planned and be prepared if it doesn't work.'

For Maldonado and another amazing lap he said: 'We've been working very hard because we were a bit lost at the beginning with set-up.

'But we found very good balance in Q2 and Q3, and now I'm looking forward to the race.'

Vettel admitted to being 'a little disappointed' with his lap, adding: 'I'm not sure why we couldn't make the step.

'But third is still a good place. It's a long race, the pace is there, but if you don't make the last step then it's a shame.'

Martin Whitmarsh and McLaren have no problems with Lewis Hamilton

McLaren have no problems with Hamilton after 'embarrassing' Twitter gaffe, insists Whitmarsh

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UPDATED:

13:55 GMT, 4 September 2012

Martin Whitmarsh is adamant no wedge has been driven between McLaren and Lewis Hamilton in the wake of his tweet gaffe on Sunday.

The McLaren team principal was forced to speak with Hamilton ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix after the 27-year-old posted a picture on Twitter of sensitive telemetry data from qualifying.

It resulted in Hamilton being forced to remove the offending tweet, but not before it had been widely re-circulated on the social networking site and picked up by rival teams.

Salvaged: Martin Whitmarsh is adamant that McLaren have no problem with Lewis Hamilton

Salvaged: Martin Whitmarsh is adamant that McLaren have no problem with Lewis Hamilton

Top secret: Hamilton tweeted sensitive telemetry data

Top secret: Hamilton tweeted sensitive telemetry data

Despite the delicate nature of the situation, Whitmarsh confirmed post race he would not be taking any internal disciplinary action against Hamilton.

Given Hamilton is currently in the middle of contract talks with McLaren, the timing of his tweet was certainly unhelpful.

However, behind the scenes it is understood what transpired will have no bearing on his future with the team.

Going forward, Whitmarsh is simply looking for Hamilton to revive his title challenge in this weekend's Italian Grand Prix in the wake of the first corner accident at Spa-Francorchamps that also accounted for championship leader Fernando Alonso.

'It was embarrassing for Lewis I think, and I'm sure he will learn from that,' said Whitmarsh, speaking to Sky Sports.

'But it hasn't driven a wedge (between Hamilton and the team), I've known Lewis since he was 11 years old.

Smash: Hamilton (right) was caught up in a pile-up in the Belgian GP on Sunday

Smash: Hamilton (right) was caught up in a pile-up in the Belgian GP on Sunday

Hamilton (left) was not happy with driver Romain Grosjean, who was subsequently handed a one-race ban

Hamilton (left) was not happy with driver Romain Grosjean, who was subsequently handed a one-race ban

Phil Duncan F1 blog

'He's someone who has grown up in the team, he's grown up in the glow of public criticism. Some things he has learned, some things he is yet to learn.

'He is a deep and soulful individual, but he is going through a difficult time (given the death of a close aunt last week).

'I predict he is going to bounce back and we will see a different Lewis Hamilton in a few days' time in Italy.'

Alonso, meanwhile, has also turned to Twitter to confirm he is raring to go in Ferrari's home grand prix.

The Spaniard, who came within inches of being hit on the helmet by the airborne Lotus of Romain Grosjean who sparked the pile up, walked away with nothing more than pain in his left shoulder.

But via a tweet, Alonso said: 'Today I woke up with no pain and 200 per cent ready for Monza.'

Bad timing: Hamilton is currently in talks over a new contract with the team

Bad timing: Hamilton is currently in talks over a new contract with the team

Lewis Hamilton crash Belgian Grand Prix Jenson Button wins

In hot water for tweeting top secret team information and taken out at the first corner… once again, it's all about Lew

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UPDATED:

22:01 GMT, 2 September 2012

A controversial weekend went from bad to worse for Lewis Hamilton at the Belgian Grand Prix when his race ended in spectacular fashion on the very first corner.

The McLaren driver was involved in a dramatic six-car pile up at the tight La Source hairpin just seconds into the race.

Squeezed by Romain Grosjean, Hamilton was left with nowhere to go, and as their wheels touched Grosjean was launched off the back of Sebastian Perez’s Sauber before coming crashing down on the nose of Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari.

Away from the danger: Button leads into the first corner as the carnage starts behind him

Away from the danger: Button leads into the first corner as the carnage starts behind him

Crash: Button (front centre) leads while Romain Grosjean (back left) goes airbone

Crash: Button (front centre) leads while Romain Grosjean (back left) goes airbone

Frightening scenes: Lewis Hamilton (right) and Fernando Alonso (left) crash out at the first corner

Frightening scenes: Lewis Hamilton (right) and Fernando Alonso (left) crash out at the first corner

Belgian Grand Prix result

1 Jenson Button (McLaren)
2 Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)
3 Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus)
4 N Hulkenberg (Force India)
5 F Massa (Ferrari)
6 M Webber (Red Bull)
7 M Schumacher (Mercedes)
8 J Vergne (Toro Rosso)
9 D Ricciardo (Toro Rosso)
10 P Di Resta (Force India)

Earlier, Hamilton had risked causing
almost as much carnage on Twitter, with a bizarre decision to post
sensitive team telemetry information on the social networking site. His
team were furious, and immediately demanded that he remove the offending
tweet.

And typically, he was already in hot
water, having caused an earlier Twitter storm by complaining about being
outpaced in qualifying by his McLaren team-mate Jenson Button, the
eventual race winner.

Alonso can count himself lucky to have avoided serious injury as Grosjean’s airborne Lotus narrowly avoided landing on his head.

Unharmed: Hamilton clambers out the wreckage of his car after the nasty crash on the first lap

Unharmed: Hamilton clambers out the wreckage of his car after the nasty crash on the first lap

Precautions: Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso is helped out of his car by a doctor after the pile-up

Precautions: Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso is helped out of his car by a doctor after the pile-up

Fury: Hamilton gestures at Grosjean, who seemed to have caused the crash with reckless driving

Fury: Hamilton gestures at Grosjean, who seemed to have caused the crash with reckless driving

At least Hamilton was not at fault
for the smash. That dubious honour went to Lotus youngster Grosjean, a
fact reflected by the one-race ban and 40,000 fine handed to him by the
stewards, the first since Mika Hakkinen was blamed for a crash at the
German Grand Grand Prix in 1994.

Out of control, Hamilton, along with
Alonso, Grosjean and Perez, was out of the race and the jump-starting
Pastor Maldonado of Williams, handed a 10-place grid penalty after the
race, and Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi limped back to the pits for repairs.

Button, on his first pole position
for McLaren in his 50th race for them, watched the early drama unfold in
his mirrors. After that his competitors remained in the background for
the rest of the race, his advantage so great that he emerged from his
one pit stop still in front.

Hamilton was left to remonstrate with Grosjean, while the medical teams ensured Alonso had not been badly hurt.

Hamilton said: ‘His rear wheel was in
my side pod so I couldn’t do anything and he kept coming. I am just
grateful that nobody was injured.

‘It was very, very close with
Fernando. The FIA and the people in Formula One have done a great job
improving safety so we can walk away from incidents like today’s.’

Shock: World championship leader Alonso sits in the medical car recovering from the big crash

Shock: World championship leader Alonso sits in the medical car recovering from the big crash

Top secret: Hamilton tweeted sensitive telemetry data

Top secret: Hamilton tweeted sensitive telemetry data

Asked whether he would speak to
Grosjean, Hamilton added: ‘Why It would make no difference. Who cares
what I think, what you think and what he thinks’

The crash having
sparked a cockpit fire, Alonso was more forthright, saying it felt like
he had been ‘hit by a train’ before urging ‘certain drivers to take
fewer risks at the start’.

The smash was certainly not what
Hamilton had in mind when he promised to do all he could to help his
team-mate following his own qualifying disappointment. On this kind of
form, Button does not need any assistance. Indeed, any discussion about
Button playing second fiddle to Hamilton was banished by the fact that
this win cut the gap between them to just 16 points.

The leader of the pack: Jenson Button claimed a pole to podium victory in Spa

The leader of the pack: Jenson Button claimed a pole to podium victory in Spa

Victory parade: Button finished in first ahead of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen

Victory parade: Button finished in first ahead of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen

Back on top: McLaren's British star Jenson Button (centre) celebrates on the podium at Spa

Back on top: McLaren's British star Jenson Button (centre) celebrates on the podium

Slashing the 63-point deficit to championship leader Alonso will prove a more formidable task.
Button said: ‘It’s a long shot but today proves you can claw back 25
points quickly. If we can keep fighting for victories I have a small
chance.’

Behind Button, Sebastian Vettel of
Red Bull and Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus had a much busier afternoon’s work
to finish second and third. But their efforts were well rewarded,
especially as Alonso failed to finish in the points for the first time
in 24 races.

Vettel was the biggest beneficiary of
the crash. The world champion heads to Monza next weekend 24 points
behind Alonso. Button will also be confident that on a track with
similar low downforce characteristics as Spa he can make it back-to-back
wins.

Hamilton, by contrast, could not
decide whether having races in such close proximity was a help or a
hindrance, but the need this week to attend the funeral of his aunt, who
recently lost her battle against cancer, is sure to strain his emotions
yet further.