Vettel takes crucial victory in Japan
Sebastian Vettel needed a bit of fortune to put him in touch with Fernando Alonso in the championship fight, and he received just that today. Contact between Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen at the start resulted in a puncture for the Ferrari driver that ended his race in a first corner spin. Vettel won the race from pole position, ensuring that he maximised the opportunity to take points off the championship leader.
Vettel’s drive was masterful, reminiscent of 2011 when he was streets ahead of everyone else. He pushed when he wanted to, although he never really needed to, and finished the race 20 seconds clear of Felipe Massa, who stood on the podium for the first time since 2010. Kamui Kobayashi became the first Japanese driver to feature on the podium at his home race since 1990 by finishing third, holding off the advances of Jenson Button in the final stages of the race.
Romain Grosjean covered himself in anything but glory by causing yet another first lap incident. The Frenchman appeared to be distracted by a Sauber on his outside when he should have been braking for turn two, and hit the Red Bull of Mark Webber, causing Webber to spin in the middle of the track and doing some minor damage to both cars. In the aftermath of the incident, Bruno Senna touched the back of Nico Rosberg’s car, causing damage to the nose and front wing of the Williams and putting Rosberg out of the race with a puncture. Grosjean received a 10-second stop-and-go penalty – the harshest penalty available to the stewards short of disqualification. Considering the frequency with which he initiates pile-ups, Grosjean could find himself out of a job fairly soon if he doesn’t clean up his act.
McLaren had a surprisingly uncompetitive day, with Jenson Button unable to make an impression on the Sauber of Kamui Kobayashi in the latter stages of the race. Button finished fourth, ahead of team-mate Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton complained of understeer in his car throughout the weekend, but found some pace late in the race as the balance of the car improved. After having easily the quickest car at the last four races, Mclaren will be disappointed at not even making the podium, although Alonso failing to score will certainly give them some consolation.
Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher had a competitive yet unrewarded drive from 23rd on the grid to finish 11th, missing out on a point only through some skillful defending by Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne in the closing stages of the race. Although Mercedes did not achieve the results they would have wanted from the weekend, they will nonetheless be reassured by the pace of the car in race trim. Schumacher set the sixth fastest lap of the race and was quick throughout the second half of the race. Rosberg’s race lasted only 22 seconds, but he had made a good start and would probably have scored points if not for the first lap drama.
Alonso’s lead in the championship has now been reduced to just four points, with Sebastian Vettel breathing down his neck in the Drivers’ Championship. Considering the form displayed today by Red Bull and the lack of pace from Ferrari in the last few races, Vettel is now the favourite to take this year’s title and thereby become only the third driver in history to win three championships in a row. Of course, with five races remaining anything can still happen, and a single retirement for Vettel would swing the balance firmly back towards Alonso.