Hamilton reigns on slippery track

FUJI - McLaren's Lewis Hamilton won a wet and wild Japanese Grand Prix yesterday to take a huge stride towards becoming the first rookie to win the Formula One championship.

FUJI - McLaren's Lewis Hamilton won a wet and wild Japanese Grand Prix yesterday to take a huge stride towards becoming the first rookie to win the Formula One championship.

While the 22-year-old Briton splashed through the spray to chalk up his fourth victory in just 15 grands prix, his closest rival and double world champion teammate Fernando Alonso crashed out.

The result left Hamilton, Formula One's first black driver, in a position to clinch the championship in Shanghai next weekend.

After the first grand prix in 30 years at Toyota-owned Fuji, Hamilton now has a 12-point lead over Alonso with only the Chinese and Brazilian races remaining.

Renault rookie Heikki Kovalainen was second for his and the outgoing world champions' first appearance on the podium this year. He also led for three laps.

Fellow Finn Kimi Raikkonen had a rollercoaster race, going from third place to last and then back to third again after Ferrari started him and Brazilian teammate Felipe Massa on the wrong tyres.

Hamilton has 107 points, Alonso 95 and Raikkonen 90. Massa is out of the title chase with 80. The championship leader was fortunate to escape without damage from a collision with BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica on lap 34 that sent both off and dropped him briefly to fourth place.

"It was the longest race probably of my life. It just seemed to go on and on," said Hamilton, who led behind the safety car for the first 19 laps with drivers complaining about the impossible conditions. - Reuters

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