A fortnight on from receiving a penalty for potentially dangerous driving against George Russell during a last-lap battle in Australia, Alonso found himself needing to hold his rivals back once again at Suzuka.

In the closing stages of the race, Alonso was at the head of an intense fight for sixth place, as George Russell back in eighth unleashed a late fightback on fresh tyres and started closing in on seventh-placed Oscar Piastri.

Well aware that fresher tyres would give Russell a huge advantage if they had to fight wheel-to-wheel, Alonso knew that his best hope of disturbing his Mercedes rival’s advances was to give Piastri behind him the benefit of DRS.

By keeping the McLaren within one second of him, Piastri having the straightline speed boost made it much harder for Russell to be able to find a way past.

This was exactly the same tactic that Carlos Sainz had used to great effect in Singapore last year when he ensured that the pursuing Lando Norris was kept within DRS range as that would help hold back a similar fightback from Russell who has been making progress in third.

Alonso’s tactics paid off brilliantly in slowing Russell’s advance and, when the Mercedes driver clashed with Piastri at the chicane late on to delay the pair briefly, the Aston Martin driver made a break for it over the final laps to secure his position.

Speaking to Spanish television channel DAZN after the race about his defensive games, Alonso said it was just normal racing, but cheekily suggested that after his penalty in Australia nothing could be taken for granted now.

“I don’t know what to say anymore after Australia, let’s see if I get disqualified for the rest of the championship,” he smiled.

“It’s clear that having Piastri behind, it was a way to defend myself from Russell, so I was probably taking a bit of battery off on the last straight to get Piastri within a second.

“Carlos did it like that in Singapore last year too, and it’s a normal racing thing.”

Piastri said it had been pretty obvious to him what game Alonso was up to, as he eventually lost seventh place to Russell on the final lap after making a mistake at the chicane and losing momentum.

“I could tell that Fernando was trying to keep me there by the way he was using his energy,” Piastri explained when asked by Motorsport.com for his view on events.

“With how difficult it is to follow in these cars, it’s quite a good strategy to stop a quicker car coming through.

“There were a few tough moments with George but, in the end, I made a mistake and he got past.

“So, disappointing to let that one slip right at the end but I just struggled a bit in general today.”

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