Suzuka, 7 October – The Japanese Grand Prix got off to a very bad start for Scuderia Ferrari, with Fernando Alonso’s car parked in the gravel just a few metres after the lights went out.
However, Felipe Massa shrugged off all the pressure he’s been under regarding his future, to haul his way up from tenth on the grid to the second step of the podium, after a bravura performance over 53 laps of one of the most demanding tracks in the world.
At the start of the weekend, he was reminded he finished second here in 2006 and the Brazilian said he’d love to do that again – and so he did!
To the delight of the Japanese crowd, Kamui Kobayashi completed the podium for Sauber. The Spanish Ferrari man still heads the Drivers’ classification but his lead has now been drastically reduced to 4 points over second placed Sebastian Vettel.
Felipe moves up one place to ninth. The Scuderia is still third in the Constructors’ classification, 20 points behind McLaren.
It was a beautiful sunny Sunday in Suzuka as the 24 cars lined up on the grid, with Fernando in sixth place on row 3 and Felipe four places and two rows further back, with both Ferrari drivers opting to start on the Soft Pirelli.
Fernando’s race only lasted to turn 1 as he lost control of his F2012, after being nudged from behind by Raikkonen and had to retire.
The Safety Car came out as Rosberg parked his Mercedes and Webber pitted with damage, having been hit by Grosjean, but continued.
After a great start, Felipe meanwhile had moved up all the way to fourth behind the lead trio of Vettel, Kobayashi and Button.
Raikkonen was fifth, then came Perez, Hamilton, Hulkenberg, Maldonado, Ricciardo, Kovalainen, Vergne, Di Resta, with Schumacher up from 23 to 16. By lap 5, Vettel in the Red Bull had a 3 second lead over Kobayashi’s Sauber, with Button a further second back in the McLaren, while Felipe was 0.6 off the Englishman’s tail and had Raikkonen’s Lotus a second behind.
Over the next few laps, Felipe kept the gap to Button pretty much constant, while the Finnish Lotus man had drifted to 2.4 seconds off the Ferrari.
Button, Raikkonen and Hulkenberg, followed by his team-mate, Di Resta, started the run of pit stops at the end of Lap 13. Kobayashi came in from second on lap 14 and team-mate Perez did the same next time round.
It was Hamilton and Maldonado’s turn to change tyres on lap 16. Felipe was up to second on lap 17 when he and leader Vettel both came down pit lane, as did Schumacher and Ricciardo.
The next significant retirement came when Perez spun and retired the Sauber from seventh place, stuck in the gravel at Turn 11, after he tried to go round the outside of Hamilton. Lap 19 saw Felipe, now on the Hard tyre, put in a fastest race lap, still second as he tried to reduce the massive 9.8 second gap to race leader Vettel, while Kobayashi was now third, 2.6 behind the Brazilian.
Completing the top six were Button, Raikkonen and Hamilton. Vettel responded with a fastest lap of his own on lap 22, which saw the gap to Felipe just go over ten seconds. By lap 30 the gap between the two men at the front had grown to 12.7 and on this lap, Raikkonen from sixth, was the first of the front runners to make his second pit stop.
Kobayashi, Hamilton and Hulkenberg came in together on lap 31. Hamilton almost collided with Raikkonen as the Englishman was coming out of pit lane, taking his McLaren up to seventh behind the Toro Rosso of Ricciardo, that had yet to make a second stop.
Maldonado pitted the Williams from fourth on lap 33, followed by the Australian Toro Rosso man next time round. Button pitted from third on lap 35, which meant that only Vettel and Felipe had yet to make their final tyre change, the gap between them now 17.1.
The Brazilian was the first to come in on lap 36 fitting the Hard tyre for the remaining 17 laps. The race leader made his final stop next time round and still led Felipe by just under eighteen seconds, while the Ferrari man had 3.3s in hand over Kobayashi.
The local hero had the two McLarens of Button and Hamilton behind him, with Raikkonen completing the top six for Lotus.
At this point in the race, any changes of position were most likely to come right at the end depending on how everyone’s tyres were holding up, with all the lead group on the Hard Pirelli.
While the fans in the stands were hoping to see a Japanese driver on the podium here for only the second time since Aguri Suzuki also came third back in 1990, fourth placed Button had other ideas and was catching Kobayashi with ten laps to go, while there was nothing Felipe could do at this point except settle for second and make sure he brought his F2012 home safely.
In the end, the order remained unchanged and the Scuderia Ferrari crew rushed the length of the pit lane to cheer Felipe on the podium, after a drive that was not only brilliant for him, but also denied points for some of his team-mate’s rivals in the title race.
And now we are down to just five more races, with the next coming up very soon, next Sunday in fact in Korea.
Source: Scuderie Ferrari