Hannah Taylor, F1 Correspondent
- Button wins Japanese Grand Prix in style
- Vettel finally clinches the 2011 crown
- Constructors’ Championship stil undecided
In an action packed Formula One2011 Japanese Grand Prix, both Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel had the taste of victory in their own ways at the end. As the chequered flag waved to mark the duration of the 53 lap marathon, Button crossed the line as the winner. The McLaren driver displayed a show stopping race performance, as he overcame the changeable race conditions, which included a safety car period, lots of competitive overtaking manoeuvres and the challenge of the tyre wear.
Button expressed his feelings on picking up the win, and complimented Vettel on his back to back world title achievement.
“… The performance has been in the car all weekend. It’s such an emotional victory for me: there’s so much history at this circuit, and the crowd here has been amazing, this is second only to a home victory for me…Seb has done a great job all season and he deserved to win the title. He was given the equipment and just got on and did what was required of him. But, for us, there’s still more that we can achieve this year. I’d love to go out and fight to win the next few races, and I think we have the car and the team to go and do that,” explained Button.
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso was only 1.1secs away on the final lap from catching Button, but had to settle for second place as he ran out of laps and time to do so. Red Bull driver Vettel completed the trio of Champions’ podium line up to take third place, and as a result also becomes the ninth and youngest ever driver in F1 history to seal back to back World Championships.
Vettel explained what it means for him to retain his title, and appreciates the work that the team behind him to allow him to do so.
“I want to thank all the guys and girls in the factory in Milton Keynes, as it’s not just us here pushing very hard, it’s them as well – from the post office to the design office to the engineering office here at the track, their effort is just incredible… We set ourselves the target to win the championship this year and so, to win it by Japan with four more races to go, is difficult to put into words – it’s as confusing as the first one. I never imagined I would win one championship and so to win this second one is amazing,” said an emotional Vettel.
Following the usual pre-race procedure of the formation lap, all 24 cars lined up on the grid and in particular Vettel was in a poised position to pounce and get started as made his bid to pick up the one World Championship point that he needed, to maintain the Drivers’ title for the second consecutive season. As a result of this the exciting race action began before the drivers had barely got going. Vettel and Button were side by side momentarily at Turn One, when Button suddenly found that he had no track left to run on. The 2009 World Champion had to retreat to the grass run off area, as the pair were within a whisker of coming together.
Under the FIA regulations the drivers are permitted to make one change of direction only, but with this manoeuvre it seemed that Button thought the contrary. After getting into Button’s path, Vettel appeared to move back to take the racing line. In doing so, this seemed to be what vented Button’s frustration. He reported via his team radio that Vettel deserved a penalty for it. Nevertheless, the stewards decided to investigate the incident on lap two. Following a period of deliberation into the scrap between the pair, the stewards decided to take no further action with it.
With the stewards having made their decision on the matter Button still became the victim from it and dropped down to third position. Consequently, the Englishman’s team mate and fellow countryman took advantage of the opportunity and took second place from him. As well as Button losing out at the start, Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi also suffered disappointment. The Japanese driver did well to qualify in seventh place yesterday, in a bid to put on a good show for his home crowd. Sadly, he did not get off to the best start and dropped down to 12th place. As he fell down the field rapidly, the famous dare devil driver had a close encounter with Force India’s Adrian Sutil on lap two. Fortunately, both drivers narrowly avoided each other and continued racing.
While a select few of the field experienced the domino effect and dropped down the pack, Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg was motoring towards the front. Having started the race from 23rd place after his technical issues yesterday, the German had already got up to 19th position on lap five of the race.
As the McLaren duo had demonstrated at the beginning of the Grand Prix, with the in team battle that formed for position, it was a similar situation for the Ferrari boys. For only the third time this season, Felipe Massa out qualified his team mate Alonso yesterday. However, Alonso did not allow his Brazilian team mate to maintain the lead from him for long into the Grand Prix. The Spaniard found the opportunity to overtake him on lap five. This meant that Massa quickly lost his hold on fourth place, and had to settle for fifth place and follow his fellow prancing horse.
In addition to the on track action which entertained the spectators, Hispania Racing’s Vitantonio Liuzzi dismounted the Suzuka circuit temporarily and took the scenic route. The Italian driver appeared to experience a lack of down force on his car, which led him to do a bit of country driving as he approached the “S” bends on the track.
Meanwhile, where the front runners were concerned, Vettel was getting down to business as he maintained his lead in first place on lap six. The German has now maintained his pole position starts in 12 out of the 15 races so far this season. Throughout the Grand Prix there were lots of impressive overtaking manoeuvres, and some of which occurred between team mates. The first to take place which came to the forefront of the action, was as early as lap seven and the Williams duo were scrapping for position.
Former Ferrari driver Rubens Barrichello made his move stick as he snatched 13th place from Pastor Maldonado at Turn Eight. The McLaren two then followed shortly after this, as Button gained momentum as he chased down Hamilton. The squabble between the two drivers did not last long as Hamilton had to pit for a tyre change on lap eight. Before doing so, Alonso was able to get on Hamilton’s tail though. It was then reported that Hamilton’s visit to the pits was unscheduled. It appeared that Hamilton and Alonso may have had a coming together at the 130R corner. Consequently, Hamilton’s car suffered a right rear puncture, which meant he had to pit unexpectedly to repair it.
Following Hamilton’s unscheduled pit stop, it seemed to provoke some of the field to make their planned ones. Vettel was the first to blink at the end of lap nine. With Vettel temporarily out of the picture, Button was handed the lead but was under pressure from Alonso who was catching him. Massa came next in the line-up and was followed by Vettel’s team mate Mark Webber in fourth place. Force India’s Paul di Resta had also made a promising start, as he was on Webber’s tail in fifth place at the time. However, the advantage that these drivers appeared to have over Vettel did not last long as some of them made their pit stops on lap 10. Button, Alonso, Webber and di Resta were all in sync with each other when they made their visit to the pits. As those four drivers were out of the way momentarily, Massa was handed the lead in the race as he was yet to pit. By this time polesitter Vettel had caught up with him though and was just behind in second place. Button re-joined the race in third place, and pipped Alonso and Hamilton in the process. Lotus Renault’s Vitaly Petrov also found himself in the mix, as he was maintaining sixth place at the time.
Eventually on lap 12 Massa was forced to give up his hold on first place. After making his necessary visit to the pits, Massa re-joined the proceedings in fifth place. At this point with the pit stop window in force, the drivers opted for the soft compound of tyre. Not only did they have the risk of overheating tyres, which would affect the grip on the track, there was also the factor of general tyre wear which they had to manage. While Massa and the other drivers that pitted had problem free pit stops, Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Buemi was not quite so lucky. The Swiss driver left the pits after his tyre change, and shortly after could no longer compete. He went off the track and his right front tyre came off his car. This spelt the end of Buemi’s race as the damage was beyond repair for him to continue.
As the season finale is getting closer the midfield teams are working hard to score as many points as possible. With this in mind today’s race provided lots of interesting overtakes between the drivers. On lap 13 there was a tight battle between Maldonado who was in 12th place and yet to stop, di Resta was following in 13th position and Toro Rosso’s Jaime Alguersuari was the last of the trio in 14th place. As two of the five rookies in F1 this season, Maldonado and di Resta put up a good fight between each other for position. In the end di Resta’s persistence paid off and he got into 12th place. While this scrap was in progress most of the line-up remained the same. However, within the top 10 positions, Mercedes driver Schumacher was tackling Petrov for position. Eventually, Schumacher succeeded and took seventh place from the Russian on lap 14.
A few places in front of the Petrov and Schumacher battle were being hotly contested. At that stage in the race Massa had the upper hand and was holding onto fifth place from Webber. Massa seemed to be on a charge, as he was hunting down fourth placeman Hamilton. This battle went on for a few laps following this, and at one point Hamilton struggled for grip at Turn Two. As a result of this, Massa and Webber who were running well, had the opportunity to close the gap on the 2008 World Champion.
It was a similar situation for a few key midfield runners on lap 16. There was an exciting three way scrap forming between Maldonado, Alguersuari and Kobayashi. At that stage Maldonado was leading in 12th place from the other two drivers on his tail. However, Maldonado lost out not long after when he had to finally pit. The Venezuelan driver re-joined the race in 17th place. While Kobayashi took over 12th position, Barrichello was in the mix in 13th place and Alguersuari just behind in 14th position. As a result of Maldonado making his stop, he was accompanied by Lotus Renault’s Bruno Senna. The Brazilian driver had also visited the pits for his tyre change, but there was a slight delay in him getting away. Consequently, his track position fell and he found himself down in 18th place and Maldonado was ahead in 17th position.
Of all the battles for position that occurred in the Grand Prix, it seemed that the Hamilton and Massa saga was the most intense scrap. On lap 19 Hamilton was in front of Massa and holding onto fourth place. Their squabble continued for a few laps and resulted in a bit of contact. This scrap between the pair mirrors their coming together at the previous race in Singapore two weeks ago. On lap 21 Hamilton made his pit stop for a tyre change, and Massa’s team mate Alonso got out ahead of him. Unfortunately, Hamilton did not have quite as smooth a pit stop as the Spaniard. In the process of the tyre change, there was a problem with the rear tyre going on. After a bit of a delay in the pits, Hamilton was free to go but had to visit again soon after.
Massa and Hamilton got too close when they met on the track. Massa had little room to manoeuvre during the incident, and was virtually on the edge of the track. As a result of the pair having a knock, Massa needed a new front wing and Hamilton had a little damage that needed seeing to as well. Consequently, the stewards decided to investigate the collision at Turn 16 between them. As a result of their altercation though, the safety car had to be deployed on lap 24. With the knowledge that the cars were under control with the safety car guidance, the race marshals could clear the debris from the collision. On lap 27 when the safety car finished its duties and returned to the pits, it was reported that the stewards would take no further action on the incident.
Before the incident between Massa and Hamilton took place, the Red Bull drivers had a touch and go moment in the pits. Vettel appeared to be losing time before his tyre change, and after making his stop he re-joined the race in fifth place. Meanwhile, Webber was also keen to change his tyres and they appeared one after the other, which put the pit crew under pressure to deliver both slots without any problems. Luckily, the gamble that they took paid off, and Webber also got back racing and re-joined from seventh position.
Button, who was leading the race until he made his pit stop, managed to get out ahead of Vettel and re-joined comfortably in fourth place on lap 21. Before the safety car appeared though, Vettel was on Button’s tail and chasing him for first place. Fortunately, Button was lucky when they had to be under those conditions, it meant Vettel was not able to catch him and take the lead.
As well as the nail biting moment in the pits when Vettel and Webber stopped within seconds of each other, there was a near miss between Rosberg and Kobayashi on lap 25. The pair were head to head at the pit exit, but narrowly avoided any contact. Rosberg was leading in 12th place from Kobayashi though.
There was a mysterious moment with Webber on lap 27. The Australian was spotted with damage to his front wing, but it was unknown as to when and what happened. It was reported that it may have been in a scrap with Schumacher, but the exact cause was not confirmed until lap 29. According to reports the incident between the two drivers happened three to four laps before the safety car. However, both drivers’ cars seemed to be ok, and there was not need to change Webber’s front wing. Nevertheless, Webber continued to race on as well and the damage did not appear to affect him too much.
Following the hold up with the safety car situation, Button got back on track and was topping the timesheets. On lap 29 he was pulling away with the lead from Vettel, as he recorded a lap time of 1:37.576secs. Soon after this solid time was set, Button improved on it to edge away from Vettel. The Briton crossed the line with a lap time of 1:37.519secs, and was 2.2secs ahead of Vettel who was behind in second place on lap 30.
The popularity of general scraps for position in the field throughout the race continued. On lap 30 a four way battle progressed between a few midfield runners. At that point in the race, Petrov was maintaining the final point scoring position in 10th place. Sutil was closely behind him in 11th place, and Rosberg and Kobayashi were trailing behind him. The scrap between the drivers carried on, and Petrov was the first to slip up under pressure. After Turns One and Two into the “S” bends, Petrov had a slight wobble and took a lot of kerb at one point. As a result of this, Sutil had a slight bump to the ground in his car. Despite this the German was able to snatch 10th place from Petrov. Rosberg came through next in 11th position, and Petrov dropped down to 12th place.
Similarly, but on a smaller scale and with only two cars involved, the famous Hamilton and Massa fight resumed on lap 32. Massa was leading the Englishman in fifth place, and Hamilton was chasing him down in sixth position. It was just one lap later that according to the times set, this battle was even closer than it looked on track. A tiny margin of eight seconds covered the top six drivers. The line-up was as follows: Button was leading the way in first place, and Vettel was holding onto second position. Alonso and Webber were next in third and fourth place. To complete the six way battle, Massa and Hamilton were in fifth and sixth place respectively.
The top six driver line up soon had a shuffle when the next pit stop window arrived. Vettel was the first to nod and with no other choice he had to have the harder medium compound of tyre. Webber responded to his team mate’s pit stop, and followed shortly after this on lap 35. It seemed that the tyres across the field were a problem today, and for Red Bull they appeared to have overheating issues. Despite this both drivers emerged from the pits, and Vettel was ahead in ninth place. Webber was a couple of places behind the now double World Champion, and landed 11th place after his pit stop.
As a result of ending up a little down the field, Vettel had to make his way through traffic. At this moment Vettel was on newer tyres than Button who had not stopped again. However, Button who was leading from Vettel, was still faster than him in any case. While Vettel was left tackling the traffic Hamilton made his tyre change and re-joined in 10th place. Button and Massa followed on from him and made their pit stops next. With Vettel having traffic flow problems and getting delayed, Button was able to get ahead of him after his stop. Button re-joined the race in third place, while Vettel was in fifth position. At the very front of the field and due to others pitting, Alonso led the field for a short while before he had to make his stop. Schumacher, who had made his way to the top, took over the lead temporarily. While the German controlled things from first place, some key overtaking moments occurred. Going into Turn One at the 130R corner, Hamilton took seventh place from Massa. At the same part of the circuit a similar situation also unfolded on lap 38. On this occasion though, Alonso pipped Vettel to take third place from him. Although he had dropped down to fourth place Vettel still set the fastest time on lap 39. He crossed the line with a 1:36.931secs. Vettel was true to form in terms of his speed, and improved on this time on lap 40. He then topped the timesheets with a 1:36.539secs, even though Schumacher was leading three places in front.
The defining moment which organised the final running order for the top three, came on lap 42 and 43 of the race. Schumacher inevitably had to pit on lap 42, which meant Button took over the lead once again. As he began to run away with the lead, Button would have been oblivious to the scraps behind him. Vettel was on a charge in third place, and hunting down Alonso in an attempt to get second position. On his mission to do so a scrap between the pair formed at the DRS activation zone. This occurred as Alonso was the first to lap back marker, Liuzzi and Vettel followed him through on lap 43.
Meanwhile, Button was extending his impressive lead as Alonso was delayed, and Button was then 4.9secs ahead of him. At the same time Button’s team mate Hamilton who was running in fifth position was potentially under threat from sixth placeman Schumacher on lap 44. Fortunately, Hamilton did not yield to the pressure that Schumacher put him under. As a result of this, Hamilton maintained his position at the end of the race and finished in fifth place. Sadly, Hamilton was not within reach to take Webber’s fourth place, but he still picked up some valuable points. Schumacher also had a good result, despite not catching Hamilton and came next in sixth place overall.
While those drivers quietly went on to finish their race uninterrupted, there was still a bit of activity in the top three and midfield. Di Resta and Petrov were having a late scrap for position in the final seven laps of the race. Sadly, di Resta dropped down to 12th place as a result of this. The situation did not improve for di Resta, when Rosberg seized the opportunity to pass by, as Petrov ran wide at one stage and had a slight wobble. Consequently, di Resta dropped further down the line up to 13th place. It appeared that di Resta’s downfall was due to tyre wear, which was the common factor for many drivers at the end of the Grand Prix. On the other hand, di Resta’s team mate Sutil, had got into ninth place at the time. As the race came to a close though, the positions changed again to complete the line-up. Petrov managed to secure ninth place, and got ahead of Rosberg who picked up the final point scoring position.
Sutil pipped his Scottish team mate di Resta to 11th position, but both drivers still missed out on the points. Kobayashi would have hoped for a better result on home soil, but had to settle for 13th place in the end. As one of the rookies in F1 this season, Maldonado did well to finish higher than his Brazilian team mate, and he grabbed 14th place as Barrichello was back in 17th position. Alguersuari and Senna landed in a Williams sandwich, as Alguersuari pipped the Brazilian driver to 15th place. Towards the back of the field, Team Lotus were victorious over the other newest F1 teams. Heikki Kovalainen had the better grid slot though, as he pipped team mate Jarno Trulli to 18th place. Where the two remaining rival teams were concerned, Marussia Virgin Racing ended up in the middle. German driver Timo Glock beat his Belgian team mate, Jerome d’Ambrosio to 20th position. Finally, to make up the back of the pack, Hispania Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo got in front of team mate Liuzzi to secure 22nd place in the end.
On lap 45 Vettel was still trying to close the gap on Alonso, but even with his DRS he did not have enough momentum to make his move stick. However, on the penultimate lap, Vettel appeared to drop back as Alonso was pulling away closing in on Button. Despite this appearing to be the case, Vettel was three tenths of a second faster than Alonso. Where the Alonso and Button scrap was concerned, Button seemed to be suffering with tyre wear, which meant Alonso could edge nearer to him.
On the other hand, Button did not let the tyre wear issue prevent him from increasing his lead at the end. Button was still half a second faster than Alonso on lap 52. In the end though Button was out of reach, and Alonso failed to catch him as the chequered flag waved. Button’s winning time that clinched his victory and he recorded it on the last lap was a 1:36.568secs. As a result of the final race classification, there were five World Champions in the top six positions. In addition to the other drivers that made it into the top 10, Massa took seventh place overall, and Sauber’s Sergio Perez did well to finish behind him in eighth place. The Mexican driver had a tough weekend, after struggling through with flu, so the reward of some points would have been a good consolation prize. However, it is certain that his team mate Kobayashi may have wanted to finish were Perez did for his home race. Nevertheless, it was a solid result for Perez and the Sauber team on the whole.
After a thrilling race and Button securing the win, it is certain that he will not be solely in the limelight today. As a result of Vettel picking up the valuable point he needed, from picking up a third place finish, he has become the 11th driver to finish the Japanese Grand Prix as the World Champion. In addition to that statistic as part of his track record this season, he has had 14 podium finishes and nine race wins so far on his way to retaining his World Championship crown.
Vettel’s reign on the Driver’s title now means that he has 324 points to his name. Button has increased his lead to 210 points as he maintains second place from Alonso, who is just eight points away from catching him. Webber is currently in fourth place in the Standings with 194 points, but Hamilton is only 16 points adrift in fifth position.
Unfortunately, the Red Bull team were not able to take both titles today. Despite this and Vettel picking up some more points along with Webber, they have added to their big lead. They currently hold first place with 518 points. McLaren are in second place at present with 388 points. Ferrari are next in the line-up with 292 points.
The drivers and teams have less than seven days, until their next challenge as they head to Korea. Particularly in Vettel’s case though he will not have long to recover from his celebrations, that will be sure to take place in the next few days.