Singapore saw Sebastien Vettel win. Fernando Alonso would now be looking over his shoulder and digging deep to keep his lead in the Championship Alive. The 15th Round of the Formula 1 season was held at Suzuka Japan. Lewis Hamilton's retirement in Singapore left him 4th in the Standings 50 points behind the leader, his title chances now seemingly over.
The Japanese Grand Prix would however produce a result which would bring ecstasy to one driver and angst and frustration for another. Lets see how it all unfolded!
FREE PRACTICE :
Every car used the option tyres during the second part of qualifying. Di Resta complained over his pit-to-car radio after he had to weave in and out of Webber and Grosjean on a flying lap approaching the final chicane. Felipe Massa, Paul Di Resta, Michael Schumacher, Pastor Maldonado, Nico Rosberg, Daniel Ricciardo, Jean-Eric Vergne failed to make it into Q3. Schumacher's penalty from Singapore demoted him to 23rd from 13th. Vergne after serving his penalty for Impeding started the race from 19th. Thus Senna, Kovalainen and Glock started 2 places further up on the grid in 16th, 17th and 18th respectively, and behind Vergne, de la Rosa, Pic and Petrov moved up 1 place on the grid to start from 20th, 21st and 22nd respectively in front of Schumacher and Karthikeyan.
Q3 began with a lack of action on track. However, the McLarens, Red Bulls and Lotuses all chose to do two separate flying lap efforts. Vettel and Webber had set the 1st and 2nd fastest times on the first timed runs. Button was 3rd, followed by Grosjean and Raikkonen and Hamilton's McLaren. During the 2nd timed run, Kimi Raikkonen ran wide at Spoon curve, and whilst returning onto the track, spun and stopped at the edge of the track. Yellow flags were brought out, and Perez was the only driver in front of Raikkonen who did not have to slow down.
Vettel and Webber were both on faster laps than their previous ones, but were unable improve their times because of the yellow flags. They maintained their grid slots, though, as the team took their 1st front row lock-out of the season!!
Vettel claimed his 4th successive pole at the Suzuka circuit, maintaining his 100% record. This was his 34th pole postion. He moved into third in the all-time list for pole positions, behind Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna. Vettel had held Fernando Alonso up during his flying lap, but he was given a reprimand. An Important Let-off.
Button marginally improved his time, remaining in 3rd place but would eventually become 8th on the grid due to a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change.
Kamui Kobayashi took an impressive 4th place for Sauber, but immediately after he set the time it was suggested that he had not slowed down in the yellow flag area.He had gone green in that sector on the Timing Screen. However he was allowed to keep the place on the grounds he had not used KERS or DRS as normal. Button's gearbox penalty promoted him to 3rd on the grid. This was the best Qualifying position for a Japanese Driver in his Home Race.
Grosjean, Perez, Raikkonen, Alonso, Hamilton, Hulkenberg completed the Top 10. Hamilton moaned about the setup change which robbed him of a better Qualifying position. Hulkenberg's Gearbox change demoted him to 15th on the grid.
The components were now becoming limited for many teams and everyone would have to be careful about the stipulated number of components over a season.
Every driver except Jean-Eric Vergne, Charles Pic and Michael Schumacher started the race on the softer compound 'option' tyres.
At the end of the safety car period, and the beginning of lap 3, Vettel sprinted away from Kobayashi, quickly establishing a 3 second lead and building on it. Sergio Perez attempted to overtake Raikkonen for 5th place at Turn 1, but was forced wide and slotted in behind 6th place Hamilton. He managed to overtake Hamilton at the hairpin after a few laps of closing him down, locking his tyres and creeping around the apex. He then began to move back towards the 5th placed Lotus of Raikkonen.
Heikki Kovalainen had surprised everyone when he was at running in 11th position. The incidents of the First Lap were investigated and Romain Grosjean was handed a ten-second stop-go penalty for the collision he caused. He ended up at the back when his Penalty was served. Michael Schumacher meanwhile had climbed his way from 23th to 14th, despite the German losing telemetry to the team.
Vettel and Massa were the drivers showing good pace when Button became the first driver to make a scheduled pit-stop in the race on lap 13. Raikkonen and Hulkenberg pitted on lap 14 from 5th and 8th positions repsectively, having to make their way past Vergne and Kovalainen after their pit stops.
Kobayashi pitted on lap 16 to promote Felipe Massa to 2nd place, but kept Button behind him as both were temporarily held up by drivers yet to stop. Vettel and Massa pitted on lap 20 and maintained their positions. Massa had leap-frogged both Kobayashi and Button with a quick stop and the Brazilian was clearly having a fantastic resurgence. Perez attempted the same move he had overtaken Hamilton with the previous time at the hairpin on lap 20, but this time Hamilton moved to the inside line and Perez carried too much speed into the corner, sliding round and getting stuck in the gravel trap.
On lap 22, Senna was given a drive through penalty for his contact with Rosberg at the start of the race. By this point, Mark Webber had worked his way back up to 9th place, but had to pit a few laps later.
Hamilton and Kobayashi pitted on lap 31, one lap after Raikkonen, who Hamilton was competing with now for 5th spot. He overtook him at Turn 1 on the following lap. Kimi tried overtaking Lewis on the outside and both left enough racing space for each other. Both Veterans showed how racing should be done
Button, Massa and Vettel piited on laps 35, 36 and 38 respectively, and all retained their positions in 4th, 2nd and 1st, with Kobayashi in 3rd. Michael Schumacher opted for a different tyre strategy and was the only driver on the softer tyres when he pitted on lap 37. He spent much of the remainder of the race behind the Toro Rosso of Daniel Ricciardo, fighting for 10th place, but never eventually gaining it due to some impressive defending.
Button spent the final stint of the race closing to within one second of Kobayashi, but never managing to overtake the Sauber driver.
Sebastian Vettel took the 24th victory of his career and became the 1st driver to take consecutive victories in the 2012 season.
Felipe Massa ended the longest streak a Ferrari driver had ever had without a podium by finishing 2nd, taking his first since the 2010 Korean Grand Prix. Kobayashi became the 3rd Japanese driver to score a Formula One podium, in front of his home crowd, with his best result of 3rd place. The McLarens of Button and Hamilton finished in 4th and 5th places, followed by Raikkonen, Hulkenberg, Maldonado, Webber and Ricciardo who completed the top 10. Romain Grosjean retired on the final lap due to a gearbox problem. It was a smart decision by Lotus F1 as the reitrement allowed them to change components for the next race.
As a consequence of his victory and Alonso's retirement, Vettel closed the gap between himself and championship leader Alonso to just 4 points. In an interview after the race, Mark Webber desribed Romain Grosjean as a "first-lap nutcase" with regard to the collision Grosjean caused between them at the race start.
Alonso also questioned Kimi's refusal to lift the throttle, something he feels would have avoided the incident. However Alonso must remember that every driver is here to race. No one will yield positions easily. Ferrari are renowned for influencing decisions and Alonso thought something would be ruled in his favour. However I don't see the reason for his discontent. Fernando was the one who moved across the track, he was the one who tried to block Kimi's run into the First Turn. Kimi has every right to defend and take a position and Fernando must realise that every driver isn't going to capitulate easily.
Mark Webber was frustrated by the shunt he suffered at the start due to Grosjean. He also indicated that the One Race-Ban wasn't enough for Romain. I am sure Grosjean would emerge stronger from this incident and mature as a driver. I pray that we wouldn't see another incident caused due to him.
The Japanese crowd deserve credit for the atmosphere. The Stand were shouting " KAMUI KAMUI !! " for Kamui on the podium.
The Result has thrown this Title race WIDE OPEN! Vettel has the momentum, Alonso has to muster all his resources to keep his lead.
We now turn our attention to Korea and who would have thought that Vettel would be a Contender this season!! Red Bull Racing have turned it around since Singapore!!!