Sebastian Vettel took a commanding victory at the Japanese Grand Prix leading a Red Bull Racing one-two at Suzuka, with Mark Webber extending his championship lead to 220 points, 14 ahead of race winner Vettel and Fernando Alonso.
This was the perfect weekend for the German. Fastest in both practice sessions on Friday, taking his eighth pole position of the season on Sunday morning followed by his second successive victory on this unique figure of eight circuit a few hours later.
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso finished in third while Jenson Button took fourth for McLaren after take a gamble in starting the race on the prime Bridgestone tyre.
As for his team-mate Lewis Hamilton, he put on a brave fight following a row four grid slot due to the team changing the gearbox, but ironically had a problem with a loss of third gear and came home in a disappointing fifth position.
Most of the incident in the race was compacted into the opening minutes – although the destruction began even before the start of the Japanese Grand Prix, when Virgin Racing’s Lucas di Grassi had a massive crash at the 130R on his way to the grid.
Then when the race got underway, the fast-starting Renault of Vitaly Petrov clipped Nico Hulkenberg’s Williams and slammed into the barriers on the pits straight, moments before Ferrari’s Felipe Massa took to the grass going into the first corner and speared into the side of Tonio Liuzzi’s Force India.
The safety car was immediately brought out, and one of the race’s most intriguing possibilities was removed during the yellow caution period. Robert Kubica had split the Red Bulls off the line, but the second-placed Renault pulled off on lap three after shedding its right-rear wheel while cruising around behind the safety car.
Red Bull therefore resumed one-two formation at the restart, with Vettel and Webber easily pulling away from Alonso at around a second per lap initially.
The only time the Red Bull pair were headed was when Button’s alternative strategy allowed the McLaren to lead from laps 25 to 38, as the reigning world champion ran long on his hard prime tyres before changing to the soft option and mounting a late charge.
Button’s targets were his team-mate Hamilton and rival Alonso. A battle between the McLaren pair would have been interesting but alas Lewis encounter a gearbox issue in the final stages of the Japanese Grand Prix, and into the hairpin on lap 44 Lewis allowed Jenson through with ease. As for the possibility of catching and passing Alonso, the time gap was too great and there wasn’t enough laps left.
This was Michael Schumacher’s strongest performance of the season and to finish in sixth for Mercedes GP is a solid achievement following criticism all year long. Michael would have finished beind his Silver Arrows team-mate Nico Rosberg, who had pitted under the safety car at the start, until the younger German lost a wheel and had a big shunt at the S curves with five laps to the flag. Earlier, Rosberg escaped a near-miss with Sebastien Buemi in an attempt to pass the Toro Rosso on the outside at the 130R went skew.
Home crowd favourite Kamui Kobayashi provided the race entertainment with some brave and superb overtaking manoeuvres. Running on the same tyre strategy as Button, the Japanese driver dived past Jaime Alguersuari’s Toro Rosso and the Force India of Adrian Sutil at the hairpin in his first stint, but drop back behind both after pitting.
After switching to the option tyre, Kobayashi was flying and once again surging pass Alguersuari at the hairpin, with the Toro Rosso breaking the front wing as Jaime trying to retaliate.
The Japanese gained another place when Sutil’s engine blew, then passing Rubens Barrichello’s Williams and his Sauber team-mate Nick Heidfeld to the delight of the home crowd with a hard-earned seventh.
Completing the top ten was Sebastien Buemi while in the battle between the second division teams the Lotus pair of Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli finished in P12 and P13 respectively ahead of the sole remaining Virgin Racing of Timo Glock.
Korea is the next stop in this dramatic Formula One season and following news reports whether this new event will take place due to the late completion, the latest is that it will take place and it will be fascinating how the teams and drivers adapt to the new circuit.
Race results after 53 laps, Suzuka:
1. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1h30:27.323
2. Webber Red Bull-Renault +0.905
3. Alonso Ferrari +2.721
4. Button McLaren-Mercedes +13.522
5. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes +39.595
6. Schumacher Mercedes +59.933
7. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari +1:04:038
8. Heidfeld Sauber-Ferrari +1:09.648
9. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth +1:10.846
10. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari +1:12.806
11. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari +1 lap
12. Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth +1 lap
13. Trulli Lotus-Cosworth +2 laps
14. Glock Virgin-Cosworth +2 laps
15. Senna HRT-Cosworth +2 laps
16. Yamamoto HRT-Cosworth +3 laps
17. Rosberg Mercedes +5 laps
Fastest lap: Webber, 1:33.474
Sutil Force India-Mercedes 45 laps
Kubica Renault 4 laps
Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth 1 lap
Massa Ferrari 1 lap
Petrov Renault 1 lap
Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes 1 lap
Di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth 1 lap
World Championship standings, round 16:
1. Webber 220
2. Alonso 206
3. Vettel 206
4. Hamilton 192
5. Button 189
6. Massa 128
7. Rosberg 122
8. Kubica 114
9. Schumacher 54
10. Sutil 47
11. Barrichello 41
12. Kobayashi 27
13. Petrov 19
14. Hulkenberg 17
15. Liuzzi 13
16. Buemi 8
17. De la Rosa 6
18. Heidfeld 4
19. Alguersuari 3
1. Red Bull-Renault 426
2. McLaren-Mercedes 381
3. Ferrari 334
4. Mercedes 176
5. Renault 133
6. Force India-Mercedes 60
7. Williams-Cosworth 58
8. Sauber-Ferrari 37
9. Toro Rosso-Ferrari 11
Next race: Korean Grand Prix, Yeongam. October 22-24.