Japanese GP: Vettel wins in Japan!

Sebastian Vettel took pole, fastest lap and a lights-to-flag victory at Suzuka.

The win, Vettel’s third in four years at Suzuka, leaves him just four points adrift in the Drivers’ Championship after Fernando Alonso crashed out of the race at the first corner. Vettel was followed to the chequered flag by Ferrari’s Felipe Massa, who took his first podium in two years, and Kamui Kobayashi. The third place for the Sauber driver was his first podium, and made him the first Japanese driver to stand on the F1 podium here since Aguri Suzuki in 1990. 

Starting from pole, Vettel got away cleanly and held his lead into Turn One. Behind him, though, things were less straightforward. Team-mate Mark Webber, starting second, got away poorly and was passed by Kobayashi from third. Webber found himself fighting Lotus’ Romain Grosjean, who started fourth. Grosjean collided with the rear of the RB8, spinning Webber and damaging his own nose. He came in for a new nosecone, but would visit the pits again when the stewards adjudged him at fault for the incident and awarded a ten-second stop-go penalty. Webber also took damage and pitted before setting off on a recovery drive. 

Further down the order, sixth-placed Fernando Alonso found himself under pressure from Kimi Räikkönen who had started just behind. The Lotus driver made a mistake, however, and put a wheel on the grass as he chased Alonso down. The momentary loss of control was enough to send him crashing into the back of the Ferrari and the championship leader was suddenly off and out of the race in a cloud of dust.
“Today, we were very unlucky: to finish a race like this, at the very first corner is really a shame,” said Alonso. “Contact from Räikkönen caused a puncture to the left rear tyre and my race ended there. Unfortunately, when you start in the middle of the pack, these things can happen.”

A third incident saw Bruno Senna hit Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes. Rosberg was out and Senna received a drive-through penalty. The safety car was deployed while the debris of the multiple incidents was removed. When it pulled in, Vettel powered to an 11-second lead before the first round of stops. He extended his lead during the second stint, and emerged in a comfortable position after his second and final stop. He found time to set fastest lap but otherwise was untroubled. 

“When you’re dreaming at night, you dream about being able to race a car like that,” said Vettel from the Suzuka podium. “The balance was fantastic, and I was enjoying every lap. That’s why, I think we were has such a big gap to the guys behind – so I’m very, very happy.”

The first pitstop was decisive for the other podium places. After the lap one melée, Jenson Button had climbed from eighth to third and Felipe Massa from tenth to fourth. Button stopped on lap 13, Kobayashi stopped one lap later and kept his narrow lead over the Briton. However both were tucked up behind the long-running Toro Rosso of Daniel Ricciardo. The delay allowed Massa, himself running long to lap 17, to get out ahead of both. The order stayed that way to the chequered flag.
Lewis Hamilton came home 20 seconds behind his team-mate in fifth, Kimi Räikkönen was a solid sixth, Nico Hülkenberg recovered from his grid-penalty for seventh, Pastor Maldonado was eight, his first points since victory in Spain. Webber’s race, effectively a one-stopper, dragged him up to ninth, and Ricciardo held off a late charge from Michael Schumacher to hold on to tenth and the final point.

In the Constructor’s Champion, Red Bull Racing managed to increase their superiority slightly, now leading McLaren 324-283, while Vettel now has 190 points to Alonso’s 194, with Räikkönen on 157, third in the Drivers’ Championship. Since the summer break the defending champion has scored 68 points, more than double Alonso’s total. The battle for the 2012 title had closed up.