F1 title contenders handed five-place grid penalty

SUZUKA: The battle for the 2009 Formula One world championship was thrown up in the air Saturday after six drivers were each handed a five-place grid penalty after qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix.

The five, including championship leading Briton Jenson Button and his Brawn GP team-mate Brazilian Rubens Barrichello, were penalised for not slowing down while yellow flags for caution were shown during the qualifying session.

The others demoted by the FIA were Renault driver Fernando Alonso, the two-time world champion from Spain, German Adrian Sutil, Italian Vitantonio Liuzzi of Force India and Swiss Sebastien Buemi of Toro Rosso.

Button had qualified in seventh, Barrichello in fifth, Alonso in 12th, Sutil in fourth, Buemi in 10th and Liuzzi in 19th.

All were given five-place penalties, the first four for not lifting off during yellow flags. Buemi was sanctioned for driving back to the pits in his damaged car after the accident that caused the yellows, while Liuzzi was later sanctioned for an illegal gearbox change.

Liuzzi qualified in 19th, but will start Sunday in the same position. The 20th and final place on the grid is held by Australian Mark Webber, who could not take part in qualifying due to the damage suffered by his Red Bull in an accident

German Timo Glock, who crashed heavily in his Toyota, may also be given a five-place penalty if he is deemed fit to race after recovering from a gashed left leg.

Glock was taken to hospital but is said to be "doing well", according to his team Toyota. The Japanese outfit said they would have to wait before deciding on Glock's participation Sunday.

A spokesman for the sport's world ruling body the FIA said Glock's injuries meant the official grid, normally announced after the final qualifying session, would only be released an hour before the race.

"Because of the condition of Timo Glock, a provisional grid will be announced four hours before the race and the final grid one hour before," a FIA spokesman said.

With three races remaining, including Japan, in the 17-leg world championship Button tops the drivers' standings on 84pts with Barrichello second on 69 and Sebastian Vettel of Germany, in a Red Bull, third on 59.