Japanese GP - Sunday - Race Report
Vettel cuts Webber's lead...
Sebastian Vettel scored his third win of the season as he headed a Red Bull Racing 1-2 in the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka. Second place for Mark Webber means that he heads the world championship table by 14 points from his team mate and Fernando Alonso, who finished third after another strong drive in the Ferrari.
Vettel converted his pole position but Webber, on the dirty side of the grid, was beaten away by Robert Kubica who, in Webber's words, "went off like a cannon." But, first lap incidents between Vitaly Petrov/Nico Hulkenberg and Felipe Massa/Tonio Liuzzi brought out the Safety Car and while running behind it Kubica lost his right rear wheel and pulled off to retire. Petrov was later penalised five places on the grid at the next race, while Massa escaped.
"We really don't know what happened with Robert," said Renault's Alan Permane. "Normally if you've got a loose nut you lose the wheel straight away, so to have it happen after two and a half laps was odd and we'll have to have a close examination to find out what happened." It seems that a problem with the team wheel guns meant that none of the Renault nuts were correctly torqued.
It was a good break for Webber and meant that as soon as the Safety Car went in, the Red Bulls were able to go away as one and open out a gap at the head of the field. Of the top 10 qualifiers, Rosberg was the only one who chose to get his tyre stop done under the Safety Car.
When the race resumed on lap 7, the order was Vettel, Webber, Alonso, Button, Hamilton, Barrichello, Schumacher, Heidfeld, Sutil, Alguersuari and then home hero Kobayashi, Buemi and Rosberg. Schumacher dived inside Barrichello at the chicane and Rosberg bravely tried to run around the outside of Buemi at the daunting 130R but ran wide. Kobayashi got the crowd cheering by passing Alguersuari.
By lap 20 the Red Bulls, separated by a couple of seconds, had opened a 5s cushion to Alonso's Ferrari, which in turn had 4s over Button's prime shod McLaren, the reigning world champion the only one of the top 10 who elected to qualify on the harder compound Bridgestone. Hamilton, up from his eighth position on the grid, was potentially faster than Button at this point but couldn't get by. He therefore elected to be the first of the championship contenders to stop, on lap 22.
Schumacher came in next lap and emerged right behind team mate Rosberg, who had already stopped of course, and while his tyres were fresh Michael had a good look at going by into Turn 1 and the chicane, but ultimately without success. He remained on Nico's gearbox for the next 24 laps before Rosberg lost his right rear wheel in the fast sector one sweepers and spun heavily into the barrier. Again the team was at a loss to explain why, Rosberg having run since his first lap tyre stop without hint of a problem.
Vettel and Alonso both pitted on lap 24 and Webber was in next time around. There was no thought made to staying out longer and it was the right decision because Hamilton was immediately going quicker on his new primes than the leaders had been going on used options.
With the stops all done except Button's, who was running longer on his primes and now led, there was a 3s gap to Vettel, a similar gap to Webber, Alonso's Ferrari 5s back, then Hamilton from Kobayashi who, like Button, ran a long 38-lap stint on the primes.
Until his stop, Jenson was now effectively the pace-setter which closed up the gaps at the front. When he finally pitted he had Vettel stroking along behind him, with Webber 1s back, Alonso within 2s of the Australian and Hamilton closing in on the Ferrari. Unfortunately for Hamilton he then lost third gear.
Once Button pitted the Red Bulls upped the pace and reeled off the team's third 1-2 finish of the season, with Alonso taking the remaining podium slot. All three men were happy with their afternoon's work.
"An incredible day, fantastic," Vettel said. "This track was drawn for us with all the high speed corners and was more and more fun the lighter the car got. There was a bit of a rest in the middle part of the race behind Jenson because we couldn't go through him and had to wait until he pitted. It's the first time I've won a grand prix for the second time and you have to fall in love with this track!
Webber added: "It was a good day for me. Qualifying was crucial and after that it was hard for me to win the race. I got a bit of luck when Robert had the wheel come off and after that it was basically a formation finish. It was hard to get closer than a second or a second and a half from Seb, who deserved the victory, and Fernando didn't drive too badly either! Jenson stayed out a long time and could have played a role backing us into Fernando but after that track position was king.
"I'm very happy with second place and it's a very good result for the team. I need to win again in the future, I know that, and I'm confident I can do that but reliability can be a factor as well."
Just as Monza was an exercise in damage limitation for Red Bull, so Suzuka was for Ferrari. "It was a tough race," Alonso admitted. "My start was not very good and Robert did a great one on the clean side. There was no pressure from behind and it was impossible to catch Red Bull. We were convinced that this was the worst track left for us, third was the best we could do and we made it."
At one stage there looked like there might have been a bit of pressure from Button with his fresh options at the end. He was two seconds a lap quicker than Hamilton, by then struggling without third gear, so Lewis stayed wide at the hairpin with 10 laps to go and let him go but Alonso quickly got the message, responded, and Button backed off.
The other driver causing great excitement on his options was Kobayashi, who charged past Alguersuari, Barrichello and team mate Heidfeld to finish a fine seventh in his first home grand prix. Heidfeld made it 10 points for the delighted Sauber team, with Barrichello ninth for Williams and Buemi scoring Toro Rosso's first point since Valencia in June.
Webber would no doubt be delighted if Korea does not pass muster when Charlie Whiting makes his inspection on Monday (October 11) but all the indications are that the race will go ahead. With three to go, therefore, the championship position is, 1, Webber, 220; 2, Alonso and Vettel, 206; 4, Hamilton, 192; 5, Button, 189.