It’s a week on from Korea and everyone but Red Bull must be scratching their heads. What do they have to do to beat Vettel, or at least stay with the German?
If statistics are anything to go by, they may as well give up the chase. Vettel has been on pole at Suzuka at the last four races, winning three. If Vettel wins and Alonso finishes ninth or worse, the German will notch up another World Championship.
Although Hamilton looked a bit special in the first practice session, Vettel finally stamped his authority over everyone in the second session.
But like they say, it’s what happens on Saturday that counts and anything can happen…
As Q1 got under way, Jenson Button went fastest in his McLaren with a 1:32.6. McLaren appeared to have found some time in their car, as Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen couldn’t beat the Brit. Meanwhile, Red Bull remained in the pits.
Looking to throw a spanner in Vettel’s Championship works, Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso claimed the quickest lap with a 1:32.3.
Hamilton punched in a quick lap but couldn’t match the Spaniard, going second. This knocked Button to third with Lotus’ Romain Grosjean in forth.
Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne’s added some drama as he pulled over at the side of the track and jumped out from his smoking car.
Drivers to not make Q2: 7) Adrian Sutil 18) Jean-Eric Vergne 19) Max Chilton 20) Charles Pic 21) Giedo van der Garde 22) Jules Bianchi
Lewis Hamilton was quick to prove his pace by setting the quickest time with a 1:31.8, but it didn’t take Alonso long to knock him off the top. At this point, Ferrari also looked to have found some much-need time from the F138.
Finally, the Red Bulls showed just what they were capable of with Vettel obliterating the previous efforts with a 1:31.2. Despite making a mistake, teammate Mark Webber managed second fastest.
Ferrari’s Felipe Massa left it very late, although he does manage to make the top 10 shoot out. Because Massa grabbed sixth, this pushed McLaren’s Sergio Perez out of contention.
Drivers not to make Q3: 11) Sergio Perez 12) Paul Di Resta 13) Valtteri Bottas 14) Esteban Gutierrez 15) Pastor Maldonado 16) Daniel Ricciardo
As the final battle began, Sebastian Vettel received some bad news in the form of Kers failure – this must’ve been a recurring fault from the third practice session as he suffered a Kers issue this morning.
And just to rub salt into everyone’s wounds, despite his issues, Vettel set the fastest time – it looks like a foregone conclusion until Webber beat him on a 1:30.9, four tenths quicker.
The Australian then improved his time, with only Hamilton left to beat him for pole.
The Brit can’t match the Red Bull’s pace and finished third. That was Mark Webber’s 12th career pole and the first time he out-qualified Vettel this season.
- Mark Webber
- Sebastian Vettel
- Lewis Hamilton
- Romain Grosjean
- Felipe Massa
- Nico Rosberg
- Nico Hulkenberg
- Fernando Alonso
- Kimi Raikkonen
- Jenson Button
As the lights flashed green in Japan, Mark Webber made a bad getaway, and so did his teammate, Vettel. This results in Lotus’ Romain Grosjean leading the race.
Mark Webber managed to recover into second, with Vettel third. Lewis Hamilton dropped down the field after suffering a light contact with Vettel. Hamilton had a puncture whilst Vettel reported front wing damage.
More contact on the first lap when Giedo Van Der Garde and Jules Bianchi hit at Turn 1, resulting in both going off into the gravel and out of the race.
As per usual, Alonso made up a few places at the start and claimed sixth.
Vettel made an uncharacteristic mistake and ran wide at Turn 2, his left front wheel kicking up dirt. He is then told it’s worth dropping back from Webber and maintaining a two-second gap to preserve his tyres.
By Lap 9, it is confirmed Hamilton is out of the Japanese Grand Prix. Although he only suffered a puncture, he was running last and the car’s data was showing abnormal readings and high rear brake temperatures.
A lap on and Felipe Massa did a good job to hold off teammate Alonso, despite a radio code for “move over”. Why would he when he has no seat next season?
On Lap 15, Vettel pitted and rejoined in third, just ahead of Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo.
Meanwhile Rosberg had to serve a drive-through penalty for an unsafe release.
Because Ricciardo put in a long first stint on older tyres, he was lapping three seconds a lap slower than the leaders, which started to back up the field. Eventually, Alonso jumped on the situation and passed Massa using DRS down the straight.
Lap 29 saw Webber set the fastest lap of the race, a whole 1.4 seconds quicker than Sebastian Vettel. His race engineer tells him to “Put pressure on Grosjean”.
The undercut worked for Webber, as when Grosjean pitted, Webber flew passed him as the Frenchman rejoined the track.
Meanwhile, Massa was under investigation for speeding in the pit lane. It is decided he has to serve a drive-through – it’s a shame as he was running in sixth.
On lap 41, Vettel used DRS to fly past Grosjean down the start-finish straight. Teammate Webber had to make a third stop and rejoined in third, four seconds behind Grosjean.
A determined Alonso passed Nico Hulkenberg around the outside at Turn 1 for forth.
On Lap 52 Webber caught and finally passed Grosjean down the pit straight for second, eight seconds behind teammate Vettel with one lap to go.
Elsewhere on the track, Kimi Raikkonen made a brilliant move past Nico Hulkenberg around the outside at the chicane for fifth.
Sebastian Vettel wins the race but is denied the Championship as Alonso managed forth.
Top 10 Results:
Top 5 Driver Standings:
- Vettel – 297
- Alonso – 207
- Raikkonen – 177
- Hamilton – 161
- Webber – 148
Can Sebastian Vettel seal the deal in India?