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

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

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