Fernando Alonso celebrated a surprise victory at the Japanese Grand Prix which pushed the Spaniard within sight of retaining his Formula One drivers' crown.

With Michael Schumacher retiring 17 laps from the finish, it was a doubly sweet success for Renault and a delighted Alonso performed a post-race jig in the parc ferme as he finally ended his barren run.

The Spaniard's last win came at the Canadian Grand Prix in June, and that success was followed by a series of performances which saw him struggle in Hungary, fail to finish in Italy and lose unexpectedly to Schumacher in last week's Chinese Grand Prix.

But with just the Brazilian Grand Prix left and a lead of ten points over Schumacher in the drivers' standings, Alonso is in pole position to defend his world title.

He said: "I think it was not only Monza where we lost points, I think we had very unlucky moments in Hungary as well as in some other places as well, China.

"So we lost a lot of points in bad luck moments and for sure these ten points are a little present that God gave to us."

While the win was largely attributed to Ferrari driver Schumacher's engine failure on the 36th lap, Alonso's impressive performance after struggling in qualifying was just as key to his victory.

Starting from fifth on the grid, the Spaniard had a blistering start and was past Toyota's Jarno Trulli by the first corner and pushing Ralf Schumacher as the Ferraris of Felipe Massa and the elder Schumacher set the pace.

By the start of the third lap, seven-time world champion Schumacher was in the lead.

But rather than pulling away as expected, the rest of the chasing pack kept the duo in sight, with Alonso pushing the pace in fourth and being held up by third-placed Ralf Schumacher.

Alonso finally found a way past the Toyota on the 13th lap and was soon homing in on the leaders, setting the fastest lap in the process before passing Massa in the pits on the 15th lap.

Schumacher responded and the gap between the two remained around the five-second mark as the fastest runners encountered traffic.

The second round of pit stops presented little in the way of change, with Schumacher exiting the pit lane comfortably ahead of Alonso at the start of the 36th lap but, soon after changing tyres and refuelling, the outcome was turned on its head.

Within seconds of reappearing, smoke was billowing from the back of the Ferrari. It was Schumacher's first retirement due to engine failure since the 2000 French Grand Prix.

As Schumacher pulled over to the side of the track, Alonso went past, pumping his fist triumphantly before cruising to victory ahead of Massa.

Alonso, describing his searing start, said: "It was very risky and I thought at the beginning of the race that we were not able to follow the Bridgestone tyres, the Bridge-stone cars, so I had one opportunity, in turn two and I said let's go and try it.

"If not then, I will be in fifth at the end of the race, you know. I thought I would not be able to follow them so I risked a lot. After I calmed down, I realised I was quicker than Ralf and sooner or later I would get the podium finish, but never the victory.

"In the second stint, the gap to Michael was 5.8, 5.9, six seconds, depending on the traffic and I was thinking it was possible to win the race.

"We were only halfway through the race and we were five seconds behind the Ferrari, which was a surprise for us, so from that point we only needed to try."

Massa held on to take second place and keep Ferrari in contention for the constructors' championship, although the Italian manufacturer now trail Renault by nine points after Giancarlo Fisichella joined Alonso on the podium.

Jenson Button's solid run of form and love affair with the Suzuka track continued as the Honda driver finished fourth.

The Englishman fell short of his stated aim of claiming a podium finish in the final Formula One grand prix to be held at Honda's home track before the race moves to the Toyota-owned Fuji Speedway next year.

But the five points he picked up meant the 26-year-old has now finished in the points in each of the last six races and on all but one of his appearances at Suzuka.

53 Laps: 1 Fernando Alonso (Spa) Renault 1hr 23mins 53.413secs, 2 Felipe Massa (Bra) Ferrari 1:24:09.564, 3 Giancarlo Fisichella (Ita) Renault 1:24:17.366, 4 Jenson Button (Gbr) Honda 1:24:27.514, 5 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) McLaren 1:24:37.009, 6 Jarno Trulli (Ita) Toyota 1:24:40.130, 7 Ralf Schumacher (Ger) Toyota 1:24:42.282, 8 Nick Heidfeld (Ger) BMW Sauber 1:25:09.508, 9 Robert Kubica (Pol) BMW Sauber 1:25:10.345, 10 Nico Rosberg (Ger) Williams at 1 lap, 11 Pedro de la Rosa (Spa) McLaren at 1 lap, 12 Rubens Barrichello (Bra) Honda at 1 lap, 13 Robert Doornbos (Ned) Red Bull at 1 lap, 14 Vitantonio Liuzzi (Ita) Scuderia Toro Rosso at 1 lap, 15 Takuma Sato (Jpn) Super Aguri at 1 lap, 16 Tiago Monteiro (Por) Midland at 2 laps, 17 Sakon Yamamoto (Jpn) Super Aguri at 3 laps.

Not Classified: 18 Scott Speed (USA) Scuderia Toro Rosso 48 laps completed, 19 Mark Webber (Aus)

Williams 39 laps completed, 20 Michael Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari 36 laps completed, 21 David Coulthard (Gbr) Red Bull 35 laps completed, 22 Christijan Albers (Ned) Midland 20 laps completed. Fastest Lap: Fernando Alonso (Spa) Renault 1min 32.676 on lap 14.

Drivers' championship: 1 Alonso 126pts, 2 M Schumacher 116, 3 Massa 70, 4 Fisichella 69, 5 Raikkonen 61, 6 Button 50, 7 Barrichello 28, 8 Juan Montoya (Col) McLaren 26, 9 Heidfeld 23, 10 R Schumacher 20, 11 de la Rosa 18, 12 Trulli 15, 13 Coulthard 14, 14 Jacques Villeneuve (Can) BMW Sauber 7, 15 Webber 7, 16 Kubica 6, 17 Rosberg 4, 18 Christian Klien (Aut) Red Bull 2, 19 Liuzzi 1.

Manufacturers' championship: 1 Renault 195pts, 2 Ferrari 186, 3 McLaren 105, 4 Honda 78, 5 BMW Sauber 36, 6 Toyota 35, 7 Red Bull 16, 8 Williams 11, 9 Scuderia Toro Rosso 1.