Vettel keeps title hopes alive at Suzuka (Japanese Grand Prix race report)

Vettel fended off Hamilton at the start and was never headed

Vettel fended off Hamilton at the start and was never headed

Sebastian Vettel utterly dominated the Japanese Grand Prix – and he kept his championship hopes alive as the Brawn duo finished at the bottom of the points places.

Vettel also single-handedly kept Red Bull in the constructors’ championship battle.

Jenson Button fought an impressive rearguard action from tenth on the grid. His five-place grid penalty only cost him three places due to a quirk of the rules, but team mate Rubens Barrichello was even better off, losing just one place and starting sixth.

While Vettel streaked away from Lewis Hamilton and Jarno Trulli, Button fell even further back into the pack, slipping to 12th at one point.

Passes on Giancarlo Fisichella and Robert Kubica left him tenth, and he profitted from a collision betwen Adrian Sutil and Heikki Kovalainen to gain two more places shortly before his first pit stop.

In a largely processional race, most changes of positions happened in the pits. Trulli took second place off Hamilton after the McLaren driver faltered on his way back to the track following his last stop.

One notable exception was Kovalainen, who bounced back from his earlier mistake with a thrilling pass on Fisichella down the inside of turn one.

A huge crash for Jaime Alguersuari brought out the safety car with nine laps to go. The Toro Rosso driver lost his car at the exit of 130R and slammed into the barriers at scarcely diminished speed. He climbed from the car unaided but was taken away on a stretcher.

The appearance of the safety car allowed Nico Rosberg to stay ahead of both Brawns with his last pit stop. After the race Button claimed Rosberg had gained four seconds under the safety car, allowing him to stay ahead. If Rosberg got a standard 25-second penalty, it would give Brawn two more points and make them constructors’ champions. (Update: No penalty for Rosberg)

The restart with five laps to go didn’t bring any changes of position. Hamilton’s hopes of passing Trulli were spoiled due to a KERS malfunction.

Vettel was untouchable and nearly scored the perfect result of a win from pole position with fastest lap while leading every lap. But team mate Mark Webber, who started from the pits and made five stops in his RB5, took the fastest lap with three tours remaining.

That didn’t detract from Vettel’s stunning performance in any way. His hopes of winning the title may be slim, especially given his engine situation, but he knows how Kimi Raikkonen won in 2007 and will remember that anything’s possible…

I’ve done a shorter and earlier race report than usual to spend more time working on the post-race analysis, which will be coming up soon…

Japanese Grand Prix

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97 comments on Vettel keeps title hopes alive at Suzuka (Japanese Grand Prix race report)

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  1. The_Pope said on 4th October 2009, 8:15

    Based on his comments, Rosberg definitely did speed under the SC.

    Expect a penalty, and the Constructors Championship to go to Brawn GP in a few minutes :D

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 4th October 2009, 8:16

      Would be a shame to see the title decided that way, but rules are rules.

      • TommyB said on 4th October 2009, 8:21

        Yeah but it will some F1 up now. Every race decided by the stewards. I thought it would get better after the awful decisions last year but no

        • steph90 said on 4th October 2009, 8:25

          I think it should always be decided on track but unfortunately that is a dream and we do need stewards for rules (even though sometimes we all are outraged by punishments). In general, I think it would be better if stewards were just consistent and sorted out the rules and maybe we would accept it a bit more instead of being so frustrated all the time.
          I think constructors will be resolved soon, if not now then Brazil and drivers at Abu Dhabi.

          • TommyB said on 4th October 2009, 8:29

            Eddie Jordans comment about Stewards being F1 referees and they can’t do it out on the circuit.

            They are watching the race. What are they doing during it!! All the decisions come out at the end of the race. I’m sick of getting the race “results” and it changing all the time.

            I didn’t think it could get worse than 08 but it has.

            Bring on 2010 when the whole season will be decided by the stewards

        • Mahir C said on 4th October 2009, 8:26

          every race?

      • The_Pope said on 4th October 2009, 8:22

        As always, Brundle is talking sense on the Red Button coverage regarding this rule issue.

        No post-race icecream though :D

        I gather the issue is that the SC was announced, the drivers get given their lap delta about 10 seconds after, I believe.

        So Button is claiming that Rosberg was 4 seconds faster than his target lap time under that first lap before they all queued up behind the SC.

        Rosberg might say “I didn’t get an advantage, gov'” but there’s rarely likely to be an advantage, because they’re just catching up to the SC train.

        The issue is one of safety, and the rules are clear, so penalty time my friend :)

    • Patrickl said on 4th October 2009, 9:00

      If you look at the lap times, it’s clear to see that Button makes up a lot of time after his stop. He should have been half a second ahead of Rosberg after Rosberg’s stop. Instead Rosberg is 3.5 seconds ahead. That’s where Button gets his 4 seconds from.

      Not sure if Rosberg made a mistake or maybe that the delta thing didn’t work well. Perhaps Rosberg was already close to the pit entry and had less of a slow lap?

      • Mahir C said on 4th October 2009, 9:19

        That is logical, when the accident happened Button and Barrichello was in sector 1. Rosberg should be 20-25 secs up the road. He should be somewhere between the hairpin and spoon curve. So he has less track to travel in slow speed.

        It is not really necessary for Rosberg to break the rules to emerge ahead in this case. Lets say drivers need to be 1km ahead in order to emerge ahead from a pitstop in full racing speed. If Rosberg was smth like 900m ahead, he could still emerge in the lead as his chasers will cover that distance in slower speed, hence more time.

  2. John H said on 4th October 2009, 8:17

    Flawless drive from Vettel. Really hope this goes down to Abu Dhabi now, although Jenson should surely still seal the title.

    Driver of the day however – Jarno Trulli. Let’s hope that’s enough for the Toyota bigwigs $ : )

  3. hannah said on 4th October 2009, 8:17

    i am not sure why but i am starting to want vettel to win despite supporting button at the beginning of the season. Although it doesn’t really look likely with the engine situation and upcoming tracks suiting the brawn more

  4. steph90 said on 4th October 2009, 8:18

    Very happy for Toyota,hope it gives more certainty on the position but I have a feeling only a win will do. Bad weekend in terms of position for Torro Rosso when they did look strong. However, I am happy with the job their drivers are doing.

  5. TommyB said on 4th October 2009, 8:23

    Great drive from Vettel. A masterclass.

    Real shame the title is dragging out this long because it just makes me think there is still a chance but the driver in 2nd never gets any points despite Jenson getting little points. I hope Seb can get 2nd now.

  6. steph90 said on 4th October 2009, 8:27

    I know it keeps hopes up for Seb doesn’t it? Brilliant drive today from him, I would have been happy if either him or Trulli got it, they were the best today by a long way especially Seb.
    If I’m honest I am more excited for next year now though :P. Hopefully next year will be good season for RBR and STR

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 4th October 2009, 9:39

      Losing those points at Singapore will hurt even more now.

      • TommyB said on 4th October 2009, 10:54

        If he wasn’t so close I wouldnt keep thinking. If only he’d done that…if only he’d done this, if only that hadn’t happened etc..

        • Patrickl said on 4th October 2009, 12:53

          Indeen, if he hadn’t been involved in 4 crashes/spins, he could easily have been leading the championship at this point.

          • Jonathan said on 4th October 2009, 16:40

            You could put a different spin on this though: the reliability of the Brawn car and the consistency of Button have been exceptional by comparison.

            If and when Brawn and Button collect their world titles, we’ll look back on that and say it made the difference.

          • Patrickl said on 4th October 2009, 17:25

            Vettel has had one engine failure during the race. Button got rammed off by Grosjean.

            I’d say they are rather evenly matched in DNF’s beyond their own control.

  7. Scribe said on 4th October 2009, 8:28

    It almost strange now that Button is racing like a champion that he keeps qualifiying like a fish. Man even set the car up better than Barrichello today. And yet he came 8th. I agree with Brundle, why is it Vettle is making me nervous.

    Truli got lucky with Hamilton’s KERS, it would be interesting to see at exactly which point it pack’d up, despite his better car Truli couldn’t out hustle Hamilton untill he was carrying round a dead battery.

    Rosberg, great way to start a relationship with Button, He went to talk to the boys expecting a nice little chat and got, DIDJA DO IT YA SCUM from jake, did you, did you? I dont’ think he did, he was as Brawn said in exactly the right place at the right time and simply very lucky. May well be proved wrong.

    • Patrickl said on 4th October 2009, 9:03

      The Brawns put much less emphasis on practising qualifying during free practice than other teams. Maybe it’s time they change that and put some qualifying runs in.

  8. Shyguy1992 said on 4th October 2009, 8:32

    good drive by vettle, but when is he going to win from anywhere but pole?

    • Patrickl said on 4th October 2009, 9:04

      and when he’s not driving on a track that his car is fastest on.

      • oh yeh like monza 2008? did you miss last season???

        • Patrickl said on 4th October 2009, 20:55

          You’re saying the STR wasn’t the fastest car for those conditions on that track?

          Did you miss that Bourdais qualified in 4th and Webber in 3rd?

          Well granted, Hamilton was faster, but he was unlucky with the weather in qualifying.

  9. I’m wondering why they didn’t allow the lapped cars to overtake after the Safety Car period. Instead we had Grosjean having to dive out of the way at the restart, which could have been dangerous.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 4th October 2009, 8:42

      It takes a while because the unlapped drivers have to do a lap and then catch the field again. But with four laps to go they could have done it.

      It’s the same problem again, where is the consistency? Either do it every time or don’t ever do it.

      • adaptalis said on 4th October 2009, 9:00

        Same for the SC in Singapore GP. I think some lapped cars were in between. But was not allowed to unlap themselves which got me confused whether the rule still stands or not.

        • It’s still in the regulations, I was hunting in vain for that “lap delta” thing (same as Keith) when I came across it. Lapped cars should be permitted to overtake as long as there are cars out of sequence in the field, which was obviously the case with Grosjean.

          • You’ll find it’s more to do with how safe it would be for those cars to cycle around the track regaining that lap whilst marshals are on track removing debris.

            “40.11 If the clerk of the course considers it safe to do so, and the message “LAPPED CARS MAY NOW OVERTAKE” is shown on the timing monitors, any lapped cars which are between the cars running on the lead lap at the time the safety car crosses the Line on the track for the first time will be required to pass the cars on the lead lap and the safety car by passing them on their right.”

          • Sorry missed the last bit of that point

            “They must then proceed around the track at an appropriate speed, without overtaking, and take up position at the back of the line of cars behind the safety car.
            If the clerk of the course considers track conditions are unsuitable for overtaking the message “OVERTAKING WILL NOT BE PERMITTED” will be shown on the timing monitors.”

          • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 4th October 2009, 18:25

            I think they need to drop that rule. This isn’t NASCAR, we have 90 second-plus laps at many tracks. There isn’t time for the field to wait for the backmarkers to catch up. It’s not as if we have that many safety car periods over the course of a year anyway.

          • mfDB said on 7th October 2009, 2:52

            I wonder if the lapped drivers could just drop back to the end of the line… couldn’t they just say “lapped cars can now drop back” essentially a blue flag. The team could have radioed him when to drop back to 17th or whatever he was….

        • Ads21 said on 4th October 2009, 18:56

          I have to say i don’t understand why we can’t have a system in Formula 1 where instead of a safey car they fitted the cars with a speed limiter like the one for pitlanes which would be turned on when there’s a full course yellow. It would allow the gaps between the drivers to remain the same whilst still safely neutralising the race.

          • Bad_Whippet said on 4th October 2009, 20:01

            ^ this.

            Having a speed restrictor seems the sensible option, if only to maintain the distance between the drivers – seems a bit fairer than putting in a stellar drive and opening a 5, 10, 15 (whatever) second gap, only for it to be demolished after the appearance of a SC.

            Drivers could be warned over the radio that within ‘X’ number of seconds, their engine will go into automatic ‘SC slow mode’. Job done.

            Still, I imagine there’s problems with this I haven’t thought about, else I guess they’d have implemented this before. It’s late on a Sunday evening and I can’t be bothered thinking too much!

          • Drivers would struggle to keep heat in their tyres and brakes if this were the case.

          • Bad_Whippet said on 4th October 2009, 20:15

            @Kester

            They do anyway, whilst under the SC – hence why we see them weaving across the track to try and keep tyre temps up and hard sudden braking to keep the brakes on song.

            There’s no reason why you couldn’t limit the cars to the same speed they carry under the SC – I’m not suggesting a 30mph limit or anything silly!

    • hollus said on 4th October 2009, 13:13

      Being a bit of a cynic, maybe it was bad for the show.
      Letting Grosjean pass would have been easy, there were some 7 minutes to do it, and it doesn’t matter if he doesn’t quite catch the train again. But it would also have put Trulli in the tail of Vettel, and “Kersey” Hamilton in for a shot.
      As it is, nobody challenged Vettel and we still have two teams in the chase for the driver’s title.
      Actually, the difference in points in the top three is very close to the Hamilton-Alonso-Raikkonen trio of 2007 with two races to go!

  10. steph90 said on 4th October 2009, 8:45

    Howett ‘looks like we have lost Robert’. Trulli unlikely, depends how markets moves for Toyota

  11. Scribe said on 4th October 2009, 8:45

    John Howett just admitted that his not going to get Kubica.

    • mp4-19b said on 4th October 2009, 9:02

      What bout Kimi? Is he retiring as many people seem to suggest. That McLaren move seems highly unlikely now, because Whitmarsh is backing king kovi to retain his seat for next year & beyond. Shame that a top team like mclaren employs mediocre drivers. Such a shame. I think Kimi is retiring :(

      http://en.f1-live.com/f1/en/headlines/news/detail/091004061133.shtml

      • Scribe said on 4th October 2009, 9:24

        I dont understand the logic behind that, Kovy doesn’t bring points, money, he makes McLaren look bad his had his chance and his clearly very uncomfortable inside the team at the moment.

        I think this is merely barganing tools to play with Kimi.
        I don’t see McLaren being that stupid as to keep him it makes no sense.

        • Steph90 said on 4th October 2009, 9:27

          It makes no sense, if Mclaren want the constructors they are going to need the best twe drivers otherwise it is simply a team that exists solely to help Lewis’s ambitions

          • Steph90 said on 4th October 2009, 9:29

            “I don’t sense that we need to make a decision in the next week, two weeks, three weeks, even beyond that,” he said.

            “I think the right and courteous thing to our current drivers is to support them and see if we do a good job and get some results in these last few races.”

            Sounds more like Kovy has to deliver, I doubt Hamilton camp want Raikkonen though. I still say Kimi can drive for Mclaren and expect it, just my opinion

      • Kosmit said on 4th October 2009, 16:33

        I cannot help but wonder what are the other “options” Kubica is talking about. Renault is one, but judging by their current results, they’re not that good. Toyota seems better, and yet the Pole somehow doesn’t want to go there. So what’s left? McLaren? Can be, if Kimi goes to Toyota…

        By the way, why the hell is it that Kubica, being one of the few that did lift on the yellow flag in Q2, still started lower on the grid than some of the other drivers that didn’t go by the rules? (Sutil, Barrichello). Seems kind of unfair. The penalty should’ve been given before Q3 or something, so that the “cheaters” wouldn’t be able to get into the top 10 in the first place…

        • Mahir C said on 4th October 2009, 17:23

          Because they were more than 5 places ahead of him.

        • Patrickl said on 4th October 2009, 17:28

          Indeed. This whole 5 places back stuff is just sheer incompetence.

          On the other hand, if they had tried to sort things out before Q3, they would probably royally messed things up. Now they had 24 hours to make up their minds. It’s not easy to apply rules if you don’t know what the rules are and you need to make them up as you go.

  12. steph90 said on 4th October 2009, 8:58

    Ted : another hour before decision from stewards with Rosberg, Brawn sure ros done a personal best sector, Nico thinks he is in clear. Stewards have telemetry

    • mp4-19b said on 4th October 2009, 9:05

      Why are Brawn so desperate? Its only 0.5 point(s). Do they seriously think that Red Bull are a treat to the constructors title?

  13. steph90 said on 4th October 2009, 9:00

    Nico going up to see stewards with Sam Michael-feels he has to explain himself?

  14. Rohan said on 4th October 2009, 9:23

    Brawn and Button are only complaining because they can see the title slipping from their grasp already. That, and being sore losers.

    • Chris P said on 4th October 2009, 9:27

      Or they think that as they were punished for a very similar incident (not letting off through a yellow flag zone) in quali that the rules should be applied evenly.

  15. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 4th October 2009, 9:28

    Have taken a look at the lap time data regarding Rosberg’s penalty, here’s what I think: Stewards’ decision could give Brawn title

    • Scribe said on 4th October 2009, 9:35

      looks fairly clean cut doesn’t it?
      Congrats Brawn, thats the constructors, I think its very likely that the Drivers will be wrapped up at Intergalos. Unless Button bottles it. Not impossible

      • Scribe said on 4th October 2009, 12:35

        well i was wrong hmmmm,
        The 3.5 he made on Button came from somewhere Rosberg didn’t see the sign its a schoolboys excuse. Another weak judgement from the stewards, whether it was deliberate or not he gained an unfair advantage which he should be stripped of.

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