05 Oct 2009
Japan race analysis - Vettel in a class of his own
The Official Formula 1 Website
Sebastian Vettel came to Suzuka knowing he had to go for broke if he was to keep his title hopes alive. He delivered in style, keeping his cool in a hectic qualifying to put his Red Bull on pole, and then leading from lights to flag to secure ten points. Brawnsâ€™ three points may have been enough to all but assure them of the constructors' crown, but Jenson Buttonâ€™s meagre eighth place means the championship leader will head to Brazil just slightly more nervous, with only two rounds remaining. We take a team-by-team look at Sundayâ€™s eventsâ€¦
Sebastian Vettel P1
Mark Webber, P17
Vettel was simply in a class of his own, and once he had won the start from Hamilton there was no way he was going to be challenged. Even a slow first pit stop, nor the late safety car, gave him any cause for concern. Webber started from the pits and went back there five times, beginning with a stop at the end of the opening lap to deal with a loose headrest, and another to replace a punctured tyre. To prove a point, however, he gave himself and his hard-working mechanics some consolation by setting fastest lap, three-thousandths of a second ahead of Vettel. All things considered, this was a Red Bull tour de force.
Jarno Trulli, P2
For the second race in succession a Toyota finished on the second step of the podium, showing that the TF109 is finally realising the potential it showed at the start of the season. Trulli drove a great race, trading qualifying-style laps with Hamilton and jumping ahead of him in the second stops. It was just the sort of performance Toyota needed on their home ground, but though Trulli described Vettel as â€˜untouchableâ€™ he admitted to disappointment that he was not able to achieve his target of a victory.
Lewis Hamilton, P3
Heikki Kovalainen, P11
Hamiltonâ€™s chance came and went at the start when his KERS was not sufficient to propel him past Vettel. He clung to second ahead of Trulli, but ultimately lost out to the Italian in the second stops after his KERS failed and then the gearbox momentarily went into neutral for 100 metres as he was leaving the pits. The MP4-24 was not quite car enough in the first sector, which is all about downforce, but was competitive in the second and third, and the final podium slot was an honourable result after a tough battle in which he and Trulli swapped qualifying-class lap times. Kovalainen had a brush with Sutil in the chicane on lap 13, which cost him time, but later muscled past Fisichella as they left the pits after their second stops. The Ferrari had edged ahead when the McLarenâ€™s right front wheel momentarily stuck, but he dived ahead before they reached the first corner.
Kimi Raikkonen, P4
Giancarlo Fisichella, P12
Once again Raikkonen got the most out of the underdeveloped F60, but though fourth place helped them to hang on to third in the constructorsâ€™ stakes, Ferrari were left rueing the inability to make up places at the start via KERS because of the relatively short run to Turn One, and the decision to start the Finn on the harder tyre. They did that fearing that the soft rubber might not be sufficiently durable, but were later pleasantly surprised by the way in which it stood up. There was encouragement with Raikkonenâ€™s third fastest lap, and that Fisichellaâ€™s race pace picked up enough for him to set the eighth fastest lap, but disappointment that he let Kovalainen push past as they left the pits having got ahead of him in the second stops.
Nico Rosberg, P5
Kazuki Nakajima, P15
Rosberg said that sixth place was the best he could do with the FW31 at Suzuka, as great strategy helped him to race strongly. There were some moments of tension after the race when he was called before the stewards when it appeared that he did not respond adequately to the deployment of the safety car, but examination of the telemetry on his car revealed that he had no case to answer. Nakajima ran a single-stop strategy, but was stuck in traffic all afternoon and never made any meaningful progress.
Rubens Barrichello, P7
Jenson Button, P8
Suzuka was all about maximising points for Brawn after their qualifying penalties. Barrichello ran sixth until losing a place under the safety car, but Button had a tougher run and had to pass Kubica before benefiting from the clash between Kovalainen and Sutil in the chicane on the 13th lap. He ran much of his race in dirty air, but when he got clear road he was able to haul in drivers in front. He set the fifth fastest lap, and while that was seventh tenths of a second slower than Webber and Vettel, it was a similar amount ahead of Barrichello. Brawnâ€™s haul of three points all but guarantees them the world championship for constructors, as they only need a half point to put it mathematically beyond Red Bullâ€™s reach.
Nick Heidfeld, P5
Robert Kubica, P9
Heidfeld was disappointed not to hang on to fourth place ahead of Raikkonen, after he lost time in his second stop when the right rear wheel nut stuck. Then he lost another place to Rosberg, whose final stop coincided with the deployment of the safety car. Kubica was stuck in traffic much of the race in a fuel-heavy, understeering car. At the end he was faster than Buttonâ€™s Brawn through corners, but lacked the top-end speed to challenge for the final point.
Fernando Alonso, P10
Romain Grosjean, P16
Alonso had an adventurous race on a single-stop strategy, which gave him plenty of headaches with faster cars in the early going but paid off with a 10th place finish by the end. Grosjean had a tough afternoon in a fuel-heavy car that understeered a lot, and never featured.
Adrian Sutil, P13
Tonio Liuzzi, P14
Sutil started eighth after his qualifying penalty, made a place at Rosbergâ€™s expense on the opening lap, then dropped back two spots on the second. On the 13th he appeared to have passed Kovalainen at the chicane, but was spun out as the Finn refused to give way. That dropped him to 12th and ultimately condemned him to a 13th place finish right on former team mate Fisichellaâ€™s tail. Liuzzi felt a little better as far as his â€˜flu was concerned, and twice passed Alonso early on before doing the same to Nakajima more than once
Jaime Alguersuari, Accident on lap 44
Sebastien Buemi, Retired lap 11, clutch
This was a mighty expensive weekend for Toro Rosso, after all the crashes in qualifying. There was trouble right from the start when Buemiâ€™s clutch went wrong, and led to his eventual retirement, then Alguersuari had his second major shunt of the weekend at 130R, thoroughly trashing another car.