OYAMA, Japan - Lewis Hamilton won a wet-and-wild Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday to move to the verge of the Formula One title with two races to go after his main rival and McLaren teammate Fernando Alonso crashed out of the race.
Heikki Kovalainen of Renault was second and Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen finished third in a rain affected race that started behind the pace car and had spins, bumps and crashes throughout its 67-laps.
Hamilton now has a 12-point lead in the drivers standings - 107-95. He can win the world title in his rookie season at China next week if he finishes with at least an 11-point lead over defending champions Alonso.
Alonso can still win the title but needs a lot of luck.
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His luck deserted him at the Fuji Speedway when he spun and hit the wall hard on the 42nd lap. His car stopped in the middle of the track with debris around him. The Spaniard was helped out of the car and stayed behind a fence for a few laps to contemplate what happened before leaving the scene of the accident.
Alonso said there was too much water on the track to control his car.
"When I was braking for Turn 5 I just aquaplaned the car and spun," he said. "Unfortunately the walls at that corner are very close to the track so I hit the barrier heavily and that was it."
That led the way to Hamilton's fourth victory of the season, tying him with Alonso and Raikkonen for the most wins this year.
"I think for me one of the most, if not the most, difficult races I had to do. The conditions were changing so much," said Hamilton, who had to contend with spray, fog, and even had to clear up moisture inside his helmet.
Hamilton has a chance to become the first rookie to take the F1 title, and the Japanese brings him another step closer to an historic championship.
"It is a big boost in terms of confidence and my drive to be world champion," Hamilton said.
"There are two races to go. I need to knuckle down and I won't be going partying," he said. "The key for me is to focus on the next race and take it as it comes," Hamilton said.
Alonso, however, said he hasn't given up hopes of a third straight title.
"I'm not throwing in the towel, but unless there is a retirement from Hamilton we have to be realistic and see that it's very hard to recover six points per race," Alonso said.
There was a steady drizzle at the start of the race on a track that's been wet since Saturday. The race started behind the safety car to eliminate the danger of an accident on the first turn.
The cars were spraying rooster tails of water far behind them while turning laps nearly a minute slower than in Friday's dry conditions.
The first incident happened on the second lap when Ferrari's Felipe Massa slid out and then headed into the pits to change tires. His teammate Raikkonen soon followed after the team started on intermediate tires, but was told by the sports governing body FIA that they must be on extreme wets like all the other teams.
"Someone forgot to tell our team," Raikkonen said.
Hamilton and Alonso were in front and the Ferraris were in back although less than 30 seconds behind but nearly 20 cars between then.
Then after 18 laps the skies cleared somewhat and the safety car went in and there was racing again.
After 25 laps, Hamilton and Alonso were 2.7 seconds apart and more than 10 seconds ahead of rookie Sebastian Vettel in a Toro Rosso.
Hamilton was bumped by Robert Kubica and both spun briefly.
"I didn't see him. He was on the inside," said Hamilton. "I was very fortunate to still finish. I felt a vibration and thought something wrong with the car. I had it the rest of the race."
A little later Alonso and Vettel had an identical incident.
Kubica was later penalized for his part and earned a drive-through penalty, but Alonso suffered worse.
"I think the car was damaged quite a bit by that but I was able to continue," Alonso said.
All the pit stops were cleared with 25 laps to go as Hamilton regained the lead.
No sooner had Hamilton regained the lead than Alonso's race was over. He spun and hit the wall hard, spinning his car across the wet track like a figure-skater on ice doing turns.
The safety car came out for a few laps, and Mark Webber and Vettel collided while second and third to finish their tilts at the podium.
Hamilton maintained the lead without a problem the rest of the way.
Kovalainen and Raikkonen fought tooth and nail over the final lap, with the Finnish Ferrari driver overtaking his compatriot twice before Kovalainen came back immediately to regain second and finish on the podium for the first time.
"Everybody has asked me about the last few laps with Kimi but my mirrors had steamed up completely and I couldn't see him," Kovalainen said. "He got past me into turn five on the final lap but I wanted (second) so much that I went back round the outside on the way down to turn 10."
Behind them, David Coulthard of Red Bull was fourth with Renault's Giancarlo Fisichella fifth. Massa ended up sixth with Kubica seventh.
Raikkonen now has 90 points for the season and still has a mathematical chance to take the title.