Japanese GP: McLaren Mercedes race report

LEWIS HAMILTON MP4-24-02 Started: 3rd Finished: 3rd Fastest lap: 1m33.259s (6th) Pitstops: two (Op-Pr-Op) 2009 points: 43 (6th) A forceful start from third on the grid saw Lewis vault second-placed Jarno...

LEWIS HAMILTON
MP4-24-02

Started:            3rd

Finished: 3rd
Fastest lap: 1m33.259s (6th)
Pitstops: two (Op-Pr-Op)
2009 points: 43 (6th)

A forceful start from third on the grid saw Lewis vault second-placed Jarno Trulli and attempt a move around the outside of leader Sebastian Vettel before slotting into second position for his opening stint.

"I tried to get past both Jarno and Sebastian at the start," said Lewis. "But I couldn't quite manage to get into the lead. It was a good scrap with Jarno -- we were really battling, setting qualifying times as we tried to shave tenths off each other's laps -- but, over the race distance, my car couldn't quite match his."

Unable to keep up with the pace of the leading Red Bull, Lewis's race instead focused on a tactical battle to beat Jarno's Toyota for second. Lewis maintained that position through his first two stints, but was unable properly to defend the place in the final stint after developing an issue with his KERS device.

Lewis explained: "As I exited the pits after my second stop, I lost time with a gearbox problem, which meant I coasted about 100 metres down the pitlane -- that cost me about a second. To be honest, it wasn't a surprise to be jumped by Jarno at the final stops -- we needed every tenth to make the gap up to three seconds and we couldn't quite make it."

With his engineers unable to rectify the KERS fault, Lewis was effectively forced to settle for third position, and then to protect his position after a late Safety Car period bunched the field.

"When we were behind the Safety Car, I asked the team if they could get the KERS working again so that I could shoot past Jarno," Lewis said, "but they couldn't do it and I wasn't close enough to get in his slipstream at the restart."

Nonetheless, Lewis firmly established himself in third place until the flag. On the occasion of his 50th grand prix, his six points today move him to within two points of fifth position in the drivers' championship. The result also moves Vodafone McLaren Mercedes to within two points of third in the constructors' championship.

HEIKKI KOVALAINEN
MP4-24-03

Started:            11th

Finished: 11th
Fastest lap: 1m33.801s (12th)
Pitstops: two (Op-Pr-Op)
2009 points: 22 (12th)

Qualifying ninth but demoted to 11th following his unscheduled pre-race gearbox change, Heikki attacked in the opening laps, making a great start to vault to ninth and moving up a further place after taking Adrian Sutil on lap two.

The pair ran in close proximity for much of the first stint until lap 13, when Adrian dived up the inside of Heikki at the chicane and the pair touched. Adrian spun and Heikki lost a position to Jenson Button as he was delayed by the incident.

Thereafter he pushed hard in the lower fringes of the top 10, stopping on laps 24 -- when a front static hubcab refused to position itself correctly and needed to be replaced at the next stop -- and 39 -- when he chased Giancarlo Fisichella out of the pits and squeezed past the Italian on the kerbs as the pair raced for the first corner. He finished 11th.

"I'm a bit disappointed with my result," Heikki said. "I'm absolutely on the limit of my car and we're still lacking grip in the high-speed corners, so it's not possible for me to attack any harder. I pushed from the start to the finish -- Adrian tried to make a move but only went halfway, so I was able to stay beside him. When he tried to turn in, I was already on the kerb and I had no more room to avoid him, so I had to lean on him and that was more a problem for him.

"My second pitstop wasn't fantastic as we had a problem with the right front wheel, so Giancarlo was able to get out right in front of me. I was able to release the pitlane speed-limiter earlier and immediately got on KERS. He gave me some room, so it was quite an easy move -- nothing too dramatic."

MARTIN WHITMARSH
Team principal, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes

"Suzuka is a terrifically exciting and challenging circuit, for drivers and engineers alike. So for us to have bagged a solid third place here isn't something we need be too disappointed with, particularly bearing in mind where we were performance-wise on fast circuits of this nature only a few weeks ago.

"Ultra-forceful competitor that he is and always will be, Lewis had hoped to be able to take the lead from Sebastian at the first corner. In truth it was never going to be easy, owing to the short run from the start-line to the first corner -- and, once Sebastian had held on to his lead into Turn One, he remained just out of Lewis's reach all afternoon.

"Lewis's focus then turned to his delicately poised battle with Jarno. Emerging from the second pitstops in third place just behind the Italian, Lewis then suffered a KERS malfunction that we were unable to cure. Bearing in mind that he then had to improvise an all-new driving style to compensate for the lack of KERS and the compromised braking balance that the lack of KERS occasioned, he did a truly fantastic job to hold on to third place, and to keep Kimi [Raikkonen] at bay, through to the flag.

"After Heikki's problems in qualifying, compounded by a five-place grid penalty caused by our need to replace his gearbox yesterday afternoon, Heikki tried his hardest today to make up places from his P11 grid slot -- but the reality is that Suzuka is a tricky strip of narrow asphalt on which it's deceptively difficult to overtake. The fact that Heikki is disappointed with his P11 finish is an indication of his competitive spirit -- but he's already talking optimistically about Interlagos.

"Talking of Interlagos, we'll approach the Brazilian Grand Prix with the same mindset with which we've been approaching every Grand Prix since the German: in other words, with a mindset aggressively focused on scoring as many points as possible in an effort to secure third place in the constructors' world championship."

NORBERT HAUG
Vice-president, Mercedes-Benz Motorsport

"A great race from Lewis again and 16 points for him and the team after the last two weekends with his win in Singapore and third place here in Suzuka.

"After his second pitstop, a potential isolation problem with the KERS Hybrid occurred, the root cause of which we are still investigating. As a precaution, the system switched itself off, so after his second pitstop, Lewis had to run without KERS support -- which obviously cost him laptime due to brake-balance issues and less power available.

"Despite this handicap, he did a marvellous job defending his third position from Kimi at the restart after the Safety Car period. In fact, he pulled a gap out between him and the Ferrari in the last laps.

"Heikki was handicapped starting from 11th place after receiving a five-place grid penalty due to changing his car's gearbox following his qualifying shunt.

"Vodafone McLaren Mercedes has scored 51 points in the six races since Lewis's win at the Hungarian Grand Prix at the end of July -- a better score than any other team in that period of time.

"I would like to thank everybody in our team at Woking, Brixworth and Stuttgart for the hard work that was done in order to recover from our bad first half of the season when we scored 14 points in nine races. In the last six, we got 51 -- and that definitely feels much better.

"Finally, congratulations to Sebastian and Red Bull Racing for a superb win today -- this result keeps the outcome of the world championship open."

-credit: mclaren

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Giancarlo Fisichella , Jarno Trulli , Jenson Button , Adrian Sutil
Teams Ferrari , Red Bull Racing , Mercedes , McLaren