Vettel dominates to seal Suzuka treble: Japan GP analysis

By on Sunday, October 7, 2012

Vettel takes a dominant victory

Sebastian Vettel quite simply owns Suzuka. In four visits to the circuit, he remains unbeaten in qualifying and has won three times, and claiming the world title the one time he didn’t win. This season, he claimed the second Grand Chelem of his career as he led all fifty-three laps and beat Felipe Massa by twenty seconds. As if the day couldn’t get any better, he realised mid-distance that his main title rival, Fernando Alonso, was no longer in the race.

Alonso had already indirectly expressed his frustration at Kimi Raikkonen after qualifying, when the Finnish driver made a mistake at Spoon curve which brought out the yellow flags. The two also came to blows at the start, when Alonso kept moving across on Raikkonen and sustained a puncture that sent him spinning off at the first corner. After a trip backwards through the gravel and back onto the track, the Spaniard was fortunate that he wasn’t struck by any of his rivals.

Alonso was critical of the 2007 world champion after he returned to the paddock. “I had no space on the right, I had Button I think on my left, I had Kimi... and I don't understand why Kimi didn't lift off or anything because there was not any room. I don't know what Kimi's idea was for the first corner, but that is the way it is and this time it was bad luck for us”. Raikkonen claimed that Alonso kept moving across on him, leaving him with nowhere to go.

Fernando Alonso's race lasted less than a minute. XPB Images

The Ferrari driver wasn’t the only victim of the opening lap. Mark Webber didn’t make a brilliant start but was still comfortably in third place after the first corner, although he soon became the latest victim of Romain Grosjean. There had been jokes prior to the start about Grosjean’s proximity to home hero Kamui Kobayashi on the grid, but it was the other Sauber that Grosjean found himself battling with on the exit of Turn 1. So intent was the Frenchman’s focus on Sergio Perez, that he failed to notice Webber and tagged the Red Bull into a spin. Grosjean required a new front wing, while Webber made a stop after spending a large amount of time recovering to the circuit.

An understandably frustrated Webber summed up the feelings of many. “I haven’t obviously seen what happened at the start but the guys confirmed that it was the first-lap nutcase again Grosjean,” he told Sky Sports F1 after the race.“The rest of us are trying to fight for some decent results each weekend but he is trying to get to the third corner as fast as he can at every race. It makes it frustrating because a few big guys probably suffered from that and maybe he needs another holiday”, said Webber, referring to Grosjean’s antics at the start of the Belgian Grand Prix that left him with a one-race-ban after causing a crash that eliminated Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, Perez and Kobayashi. “He needs to have a look at himself, it was completely his fault. How many mistakes can you make, how many times can you make the same error? First-lap incidents… yeah… it’s quite embarrassing at this level for him”.

In the ensuing melee, Jenson Button snuck through into third place, with Felipe Massa close behind him. Further back, Bruno Senna and Nico Rosberg made contact as the drivers filtered through to avoid Alonso and any lying debris. Rosberg was out on the spot, while Senna limped back to the pits for a new front wing and was eventually slapped with a drive through penalty.

Sergio Perez spun out at the chicane

After a brief Safety Car interlude, one that wasn’t lengthy enough for Webber to catch up with the back of the pack, the racing resumed. Sergio Perez immediately attempted to go around the outside of Raikkonen into Turn One but couldn’t get the move done and slid wide, losing a place to Hamilton. Perez soon took the place back after catching out the McLaren driver at the hairpin, although Hamilton later admitted he let his future replacement through.

"I saw him coming and I have a championship to fight for and he doesn't so..."

Vettel eased away comfortably at the front but further back, Felipe Massa vaulted up to second place after the first round of pit stops. Ferrari elected to keep him out for a couple of laps longer, courtesy of his fresher tyres having not made it through to Q3, and he emerged back on track ahead of Kobayashi and Button.

Hamilton got ahead of Perez after the first round of stops but the Mexican was clearly faster and was closing in on the man who he’ll replace in 2013 on Lap 19. Perez intended to repeat his move at the hairpin, but was caught out by Hamilton’s early braking in the middle of the track and spun into the gravel. Perez later accepted blame for his retirement, but attempting the same move twice on a driver of Hamilton's calibre wasn't hugely intelligent, as the Brit acknowledged.  "I saw it coming again so I moved a little to the inside, thinking that he was going to go up the inside so he couldn't get by, and he just flew down the outside of me. So very interesting..."

Felipe Massa put in an assured drive for second place

Hamilton kept tabs on Raikkonen and when the second round of stops came, a quick stop by McLaren saw him emerge ahead of the Finn. Raikkonen swept around the outside of Hamilton at Turn One but the 2008 champion muscled his way back through and into a fifth place that he wouldn’t relinquish.

Sauber blinked first by pitting Kobayashi on Lap 31, allowing Button to push for a further four laps. However, the McLaren driver came out even further behind his rival and was set the task of snatching a podium away from the home hero.

Further back, Webber made his way through the field and up to eighth place. He stopped on Lap 26 for a set of hard tyres and ran the rest of the race on that set, coming in behind Nico Hulkenberg and a quiet Pastor Maldonado but resisting Daniel Ricciardo.

Michael Schumacher started from the back row of the grid and made his way up to eleventh, but couldn’t find his way through Ricciardo. Paul di Resta had to grapple with a problem throughout the race and was outside of the points, while Jean Eric Vergne resisted Senna’s charge, eventually beating him by a tenth of a second.

The early chaos had promoted Heikki Kovalainen up into eleventh place but he couldn’t hang on to that position and finished in sixteenth, ahead of Timo Glock, Vitaly Petrov and Pedro de La Rosa.

Kamui Kobayashi sends the home fans into a state of delirium

Up front it was all too easy for Vettel as he set a series of quick laps to record a winning margin of over twenty seconds. Massa may have returned to the podium for the first time since Korea in 2010, but it was Kamui Kobayashi who was the hero of the day. The Sauber driver had been at the wrong end of misfortune on a couple of occasions this season, but he resisted Button’s charge to claim his first ever F1 podium in front of his adoring fans, equalling the best ever result for a Japanese driver. Chants of ‘Kamui’ began ringing out across the circuit.

“It was a fantastic race. I was confident through the week so when I gained position after the start I was pretty sure I could be on the podium”, said Kobayashi. “This is my first podium and it's amazing. I am happy for the fans and so many people supporting me. When you look around circuit, it is amazing. So thank you to the fans and we need to keep going for the future”.

With both Massa and Kobayashi’s seats linked with several drivers, their respective podium finishes arrived in good time. Massa hinted that he’ll continue at Ferrari, with an official announcement expected within the next couple of weeks.

The result leaves Vettel just four points shy of Alonso in the championship with five races remaining. After the race Vettel was reminded that despite not hitting the 100 race mark, he has equalled Juan Manuel Fangio’s number of victories and considering the German’s admiration of the history of the sport, it was something that left him emotional.

“I think they’re very special. We had great drivers in the past, great champions and great characters, and I think for all of us. There are only a handful of us, 24 drivers in Formula One. I think first of all you feel extremely fortunate and proud to be one of them and to race a Formula One car, stand on the grid, winning a race, driving for championships. It’s only something we share amongst ourselves and I think it’s something we should not forget at any stage, and it’s something very very special. I think it’s one of the best jobs you can have in the world in my – in our – point of view, but then to be successful it obviously starts to feed on itself and makes it very very enjoyable.”

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