Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel converted his pole position into victory with ease, as he took the chequered flag at the end of the FIA Formula One 2012 Japanese Grand Prix. Following him across the line were Felipe Massa and Kamui Kobayashi.
“It’s been a fantastic weekend. Yesterday’s qualifying was perfect and today again, the balance of the car was amazing. We didn’t change too much at the stops; it just seemed to work fantastically well," said Vettel.
It’s a shame for Alonso, it’s not something you hope for.
The reigning World Champion’s race win has particular significance in the battle for the championship, following Fernando Alonso’s unexpected retirement from the race on the first lap. Vettel is now just four points away from snatching the lead from the Spaniard.”
Vettel added, “It’s a shame for Alonso, it’s not something you hope for and it could happen to us at the next race. We’ve seen this year there are a lot of up and downs and things change quickly – we have to keep our heads down and take it step by step.”
Alonso’s team mate, Massa was the sole Ferrari remaining in the race and was left flying the flag for the team after Alonso’s early exit. Massa did a good job as he went on to pick up an impressive second place, which makes it his first podium finish since the 2010 Korean Grand Prix.
Sauber’s Kobayashi was the man of the moment despite not taking the race win. The local hero surprised his supporters when he picked up his first podium finish in Formula One. The Japanese racer took third place on home soil by holding Jenson Button at bay.
McLaren’s Button narrowly missed out on a podium spot after and exciting battle with Kobayashi in the latter stages of the Grand Prix. The 2009 World Champion had an up and down race in the early stages of the proceedings. Button reported via his team radio on lap 18 that he was concerned there might be a problem with the gearbox.
Shortly after he expressed these worries, Button then went on to set the fastest lap at that point in the race. Just a few laps later on lap 21, Button’s fears about his car reignited. He explained that he was missing gears and during another pit stop on lap 36, the Englishman experienced a delay when one of the tyres was slow going on. As a consequence of this, Button was not able to get out ahead of Kobayashi who sailed passed the pits. It was a game of cat and mouse from then on until the end of the Grand Prix between the pair. At times Button was edging closer to Kobayashi who had slow moments, but Button could not pick up enough pace to pass and he had to settle for fourth place in the end.
Button’s team mate and fellow countryman, Lewis Hamilton experienced a similar race, including a delay with the right front tyre being fitted to his car during a pit stop around lap 18. Shortly after this the 2008 World Champion, had a competitive scrap for position with Kobayashi’s team mate, Sergio Perez. Hamilton had the upper hand and was ahead of the Mexican who tried to overtake him.
Raikkonen followed Hamilton to secure a sixth place finish for himself. At the beginning of the race there was sudden carnage as a trail of contact occurred which also involved Raikkonen. The Finnish driver got squashed in between a group of cars, and was tapped slightly by Alonso who had a left rear tyre puncture going into the first corner. Before going off the track in a spin and retiring from the race, Alonso caught Raikkonen in the process and was not able to avoid him. The safety car was deployed for two laps to control the situation and allow for the mess to be cleared.
Fortunately, Raikkonen was able to race on and it was nearly curtains when he had a near miss with Hamilton.
Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg initially had a slow start when the lights went out, but the German seemed to have an uneventful race and picked up a solid seventh place finish.
Williams driver Pastor Maldonado was another of the midfield drivers who seemed to fade into the background and quietly made his way through the field. The Venezuelan could not quite catch Hulkenberg and crossed the line to take eighth place in the end.
Inevitably, the incident between Webber and Grosjean came to the attention of the stewards. The Frenchman was issued with a 10 second stop and go penalty which he served on lap eight. After facing the consequences of his actions, Grosjean was out of harms way and ended up towards the back of the grid. Grosjean’s race went from bad to worse by the time the last lap came around, as he was spotted being pushed into the garage which spelt the end for him. Webber went on to finish the race and picked up ninth place for himself.
With the shakeup in track positions from the issues at the beginning of the race, Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo, was another of the midfield drivers to unexpectedly benefit from other drivers’ misery. The Australian followed behind his fellow countryman and took the final top 10 point scoring position.
Mercedes driver Michael Schumacher was the sole one for the team in the race when his team mate, Nico Rosberg retired from the race at the first corner when his car was hit from behind by Williams driver Bruno Senna. The stewards decided to investigate the incident between the pair and Senna was issued with a drive through penalty which he served on lap 22. Rosberg was not quite so fortunate and did not get to take any further part in the race from lap two.
Caterham’s Heikki Kovalainen was the best of the newest drivers and teams of the field today. The Finnish driver picked up 15th place ahead of Marussia’s Timo Glock.
Kovalainen’s Russian team mate, Vitaly Petrov pipped Hispania Racing’s Pedro de la Rosa to 17th position despite receiving a drive through penalty for ignoring blue flags which he served on lap 51.
De la Rosa was the 18th and final driver to complete the 53 lap marathon race due to the retirements along the way. As well as some of the front runners who unexpectedly made an exit from the proceedings, two of the back markers also failed to make the finish line. Marussia’s Charles Pic was one of them, after his car suffered engine failure around lap 40 and he could no longer participate. Hispania Racing’s Narain Karthikeyan was the other driver from the end of the field who missed out on the chequered flag. The Indian looked to be going nowhere fast on around lap 34, when his car was spotted parked up in the garage.
Despite an eventful race the pole sitter and eventual race winner, Vettel was oblivious to the close action unfolding behind him. To coincide with the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Suzuka circuit, Vettel can now celebrate himself with a double achievement from qualifying and today’s race results.
His first place finish also means that the pressure is now on Alonso to maintain his Championship lead, since Vettel is just four points away from snatching it from his grasp. It is also certain that Kobayashi will mark today’s momentous occasion of securing his first podium finish and to do so at his home Grand Prix. The F1 fraternity now have just one week to prepare for their next test when the Korean race takes place.
Story by: Hannah Taylor