Vettel dominates and wins Japanese GP at Suzuka, Alonso retires
By Berthold Bouman
Sebastian Vettel was unbeatable today and won round 15 of the FIA Formula One World Championship, the Japanese Grand Prix. Also a dream result for two other drivers, Felipe Massa finished in second place for Ferrari, and Kamui Kobayashi was third for Sauber, a great result at his home Grand Prix.
Vettel, who left from pole, scored the fastest lap and won the race, was elated with the result, “It’s been a fantastic weekend. Yesterday’s qualifying was perfect and today again, the balance of the car was amazing. We didn’t change too much at the stops; it just seemed to work fantastically well.”
A dry and sunny Suzuka circuit today at the start of the race. Kobayashi was away fast and took second place, but it went wrong at the first corner, Championship leader Fernando Alonso spun as Kimi Raikkonen hit him from behind and damaged his left-rear tyre, and the Spaniard was out of the race, which was a big blow to his championship aspirations.
Mark Webber who had started from second place on the grid, was pushed aside by … Romain Grosjean who again braked too late, the Frenchman damaged his front wing and had to pit to replace it, while poor Webber had to pit as well for new tyres and a quick check of his car. Grosjean was handed a 10-second stop-and-go penalty and later with only two laps to go drove his car into the Lotus garage for a tactical retirement, he can now replace a gearbox or engine for the next race without a penalty.
Nico Rosberg was also out of the race as Bruno Senna had hit him from behind, the Brazilian lost his front wing and had to pit for a new one, and later received a drive-through penalty and he ultimately finished in 14th spot, again nothing to write home about.
As a result of the first corner melee, the Safety Car came out, but two laps later it left the track again, Vettel was still leading, followed by Kobayashi, Jenson Button, Felipe Massa and Raikkonen, while Sergio Perez ran wide at the first corner when he tried to overtake the Finn.
Michael Schumacher who had a ten-place grid penalty was by then already in 14th place, after he had started from 23rd spot on the grid. Perez, who had dropped two places, soon had Lewis Hamilton in sight, Hamilton didn’t pay attention for a fraction of a second and that was enough for Perez to take over Hamilton’s sixth spot.
Vettel, meanwhile, had built up a gap of almost five seconds on the number two, Kobayashi, and the German was in fact in command of the race. Hamilton seemed to have problems as now Nico Hulkenberg was closing in on him, at the same time Raikkonen was closing in on Massa who was in fourth place. Also a great start of the race for Heikki Kovalainen, as he was 11th in the Caterham.
After 14 laps Button and Raikkonen were the first to pit and to change to the hard tyres, Kobayashi did the same one lap later. The Japanese driver rejoined right behind the Toro Rosso of Jean-Eric Vergne, a great opportunity for Button to close in on the Sauber. But Kobayashi was smarter and took over the Frenchman’s place and at the same time managed to keep Button behind him, which with hindsight was a key moment in the race.
Button reported he had gearbox problems, but his team told him everything was okay. Next to pit were Vettel and Hamilton, but McLaren had a small problem during the pit stop again and Hamilton rejoined the race just ahead of Perez. Perez tried to overtake him, but this time his move was too optimistic and he ended up in the gravel trap and the Mexican had to retire.
Massa had made a great pit stop and was now second just ahead of Kobayashi, but ten seconds behind leader Vettel, who had no problems at all to stay in the lead, again this was a key moment in the race. Hamilton reported his front tyres were going off, and now Hulkenberg closed in on the 2008 champion, the German tried everything he could but didn’t want to ruin his new set of tyres and duly decided to stay behind the McLaren.
With 26 laps to go the order was: Vettel, Massa, Kobayashi, Button, Raikkonen, and Hamilton was sixth. Webber, who was in tenth place, made his second stop, but stayed on the soft tyres which meant he had to make yet another stop.
Meanwhile Vettel had extended his lead and now had 12 seconds on Massa, next to pit were Kobayashi, Hamilton and Hulkenberg, Hamilton emerged from the pit lane just ahead of Raikkonen, the Finn tried to overtake him but Hamilton didn’t give him an inch and stayed ahead of the Lotus, and also Raikkonen decided to spare his tyres and gave up the fight.
Button pitted on lap 36 and rejoined in fourth place, just ahead of Hamilton. Next of the top five to make a stop was Massa, and he managed to keep his second place. Last man to make a stop was Vettel, and he had no problems at all to stay in the lead with 13 laps still to go.
Despite the fact Button suspected he had a gearbox problem, he was still in fourth place and with ten laps to go he closed in on Kobayashi. But Sauber saw the danger and instructed Kobayashi to up his pace, and the Japanese driver crossed the finish line in third place in front of his home crowd.
Of course Vettel was unbeatable again, Massa finished second and gave Ferrari something to be proud of as he scored 18 points for the Constructors’ Championship and another podium place for the Scuderia from Maranello.
Thus Vettel closed in on championship leader Alonso, and now is only four points behind the Spaniard in second place, Raikkonen is still third in the Drivers’ Championship with 157 points.
Vettel commented after the race, “It’s a shame for Alonso, it’s not something you hope for and it could happen to us at the next race. We’ve seen this year there are a lot of up and downs and things change quickly — we have to keep our heads down and take it step by step.”
Massa, who hadn’t been on the podium since the 2010 Korean Grand Prix, said, “It was a fantastic race! Being back on the podium after almost two years away is just great and I feel really uplifted. They have been two tough years for me and, sometimes, a million things go through your mind, some of them bad, but finally I can be happy!”
But the happiest man at Suzuka was without a doubt Kobayashi, he finally got what he had dreamed of: a podium place at his home Grand Prix, and he still couldn’t believe it. “It hasn’t sunk in yet, it is hard to believe — I achieved my first podium in Suzuka! It was a fantastic race and we have been working really hard to get to this point since we were lacking pace on Friday. But the Sauber F1 Team did a great job to recover from there.”
And he added, “My rear tyres where really bad in the end and I had a lot of oversteer. But regardless of this I had to push to defend my podium place. Only during the final lap did I allow myself to really think I can keep him behind me, because then the best overtaking opportunity at the end of the straight was over, and then I saw all the fans and the raised hands. It meant a lot to me and I want to thank the Japanese fans.”
Next race is already next weekend, the Korean Grand Prix at the Yeongam circuit.