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Japan analysis - played to perfection

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Japan analysis - played to perfection 10 Oct 2011
Japanese Grand Prix, Race, Suzuka, Japan, Sunday, 9 October 2011

On the day the 2011 drivers’ title was decided, it was fitting that Sunday’s Suzuka podium featured three world champions, all of whom had driven superb races to take the chequered flag separated by just two seconds. Jenson Button’s victory was a well-earned one, but inevitably it was Sebastian Vettel everyone wanted to talk to after his carefully-judged third place finally put his lead atop the 2011 driver standings beyond the reach of his illustrious rivals. We look back team-by-team on an historic Japanese Grand Prix…

Jenson Button, P1
Lewis Hamilton, P5
Initially Button lost out when Vettel made a very aggressive start, and as he backed off Hamilton stole second place. But then Hamilton picked up a right-rear puncture on the eighth lap and dropped out of sequence. Button then hunted Vettel down, taking the lead during the second stops. A superb drive then saw him eke out an advantage, which he was able to protect against attack from Alonso in the closing stages. He won with honour, as Vettel did enough to secure his title. Hamilton later collided lightly with Massa in the chicane, prompting a safety-car period as debris was cleared up, and later passed Massa to claim fifth place on what he described as a disappointing afternoon.

Fernando Alonso, P2
Felipe Massa, P7
Initially Alonso was unable to present much of a challenge, but as the race progressed the Ferrari’s renowned lightness on its tyres played a key role. In the final stint the Spaniard was able to launch an intense attack on Button and slashed his lead from nearly five seconds to just one before Button stabilised it with three laps to run. Alonso admitted that he wasn’t quite able to challenge for the win, but said that the podium was a major boost for the team. Massa was angry after another (minor) clash with Hamilton, when the latter didn’t see him coming alongside on the outside going into the chicane. The Brazilian’s car was slightly damaged, which he said cost him his chance of a podium finish.

Red Bull
Sebastian Vettel, P3
Mark Webber, P4
Vettel made an aggressive start to veer sharply to the right across Button’s bows, but was not adjudged to have erred by the stewards. He sped away initially, but it was soon clear that the Red Bull’s tyre degradation was high. He clung to the lead until his second stop, but lost out there to Button and subsequently to Alonso and was not able to run at their pace until he was on the medium Pirelli compound for the final stint. By then he could run with them, but not overtake. Nevertheless, third place was more than enough to clinch him a second consecutive world championship. Webber again lost out at the start but was able to come through to a strong, but solitary, fourth.

Michael Schumacher, P6
Nico Rosberg, P10
Schumacher led the race for three laps, 39 to 41, after staying out longer before his final pit stop, and was generally in contention for a top-six placing throughout. His sole problem was a minor clash with Webber when he tapped the Red Bull’s right front wing endplate, but there was no damage. Good strategy and the safety-car intervention helped Rosberg on his way from 23rd on the grid to 10th place and the final point.

Sergio Perez, P8
Kamui Kobayashi, P13
Sauber’s race was tough from the start as Kobayashi’s car went into anti-stall mode and lost places hand over fist. Perez, however, made up for that with a superb run in which he was very gentle on his tyres yet still managed to set the race’s second fastest lap on his way to an eighth-place finish which brought the team within eight points of Force India in the fight for sixth place overall.

Vitaly Petrov, P9
Bruno Senna, P16
Both drivers struggled at the start, Petrov ironically hampering Senna on the exit to the first corner. The Russian later made amends with a sparkling drive back up to ninth, but the Brazilian had an unhappy run to only 16th.

Force India
Adrian Sutil, P 11
Paul di Resta, P12
For a while Force India was knocking on the door of points, but the timing of the safety car didn’t help them. Both drivers lost ground and as a result were prey to the drivers running two-stop strategies later in the race.

Pastor Maldonado, P14
Rubens Barrichello, P17
Another undistinguished race for Williams, who had talked confidently of a performance breakthrough for this race. The cars lacked pace, and the drivers were unlucky with the timing of the safety car.

Toro Rosso
Jaime Alguersuari, P15
Sebastien Buemi, Retired lap 12, loose front wheel
Another disappointing race saw Toro Rosso lose Buemi when the right-front wheel fell off after being improperly fastened on the 12th lap. And though Alguersuari was part of the battle for 11th he was overtaken by Maldonado on the last lap.

Heikki Kovalainen, P18
Jarno Trulli, P19
This was Lotus’s most convincing showing since their debut in 2010. Kovalainen made a brilliant start and ran 14th for some time, and both drivers were delighted not to see any blue flags as they remained on the lead lap throughout.

Timo Glock, P20
Jerome d'Ambrosio, P21
The Virgin duo had strong races, with D’Ambrosio leading Glock for a long while until the wily German found a way by.

Daniel Ricciardo, P22
Tonio Liuzzi, P23
Ricciardo drove an excellent race to keep the Virgins honest, and was only 2.4s adrift of D’Ambrosio by the end. Liuzzi’s car was never sorted after he managed only a handful of laps in practice and qualifying, and he struggled home last, three laps down.
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