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)

  1. Wynan said on 4th October 2009, 9:34

    Boring Boring! It’s time to get out Kova, Hope Kimi will be driven next year!! (Sorry for my english ^^)

  2. May upset some Button fans but…

    RE: Rosberg investigation – Anyone else think it’s a bit desperate to try to recover a point in this way?

    Doesn’t sound like a ‘potential world champion’ talking.

    Button has already been massively lucky this season so why not focus on driving like someone worthy of winning a championship (that includes qualifying performance)instead of relying on things like this.

    It wouldn’t have been as bad if Rosberg’s speeding had been questioned by the Brawn team (as a technicality) rather than JB. Barrichello was in the same position to comment and doesn’t have the advantage of being 14 points ahead with only 2 races to go!!

    I wonder how things would have turned out if, at the start of the season, historically strong or big money teams had come out with a double diffuser and whether it would have still been ruled legal. Add to this a testing ban so all disadvantaged teams are forced to ‘develop’ on the race track.

    Such a thing as pushing your luck?

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 4th October 2009, 10:07

      May upset some Button fans but…

      RE: Rosberg investigation – Anyone else think it’s a bit desperate to try to recover a point in this way?

      It was never going to be to Button’s benefit, only the teams.

      Anyway, the FIA have decided not to punish him:

      • Hi Keith :-) – nice site btw.

        The way i see it, the constructors championship is pretty much in the bag for brawn. Only (half) a point needed and even that requires 1 and 2 finishes by RBR. I didn’t see much of an advantage for them.

        It seems to me that Button is getting nervous about Vettel. He appears confident about keeping within reach of his team mate with the same car and strategy knowledge.

        That’s why i thought he was being a bit desperate in trying to claw back a 1 point difference between himself and Vettel.

        • Jenson did’nt come over very well on that point did he. Shame really, because his worth as a champ is already being questioned and he has not got it yet.
          I agree he did come over as desperate.

          • Patrickl said on 4th October 2009, 12:56

            he was fighting like hell to claw back time from Rosberg. He drove a set of amazing laps indeed taking back almost a second and a half from Rosberg.

            How frustrating is it then when your opponent cheats and ends up 3.5 seconds ahead of you?

          • Got to agree with Patrickl, he had been racing so hard to make sure he had the jump on Rosberg, and with the safety car that should have been pretty secured, then to his shock, not only did Rosberg stay ahead, it wasn’t even by a small margin.

            I don’t think the championship points played a large part in his bitterness over the situation.

        • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 4th October 2009, 18:17

          You’re welcome Green, glad you like it :-)

  3. Daffid said on 4th October 2009, 13:15

    Bernie’s been very quiet about ‘Most wins decides the title’. If he’d has his way, it’d have been all over as soon as Vettel got the dubious drive through at Singapore. Hurray for points (even if Jensen still is 100/1 on). No doubt Mr E is sabotaging Jensen’s engine for Brazil as we speak…

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 4th October 2009, 18:16

      Bernie’s been very quiet about ‘Most wins decides the title’. If he’d has his way, it’d have been all over as soon as Vettel got the dubious drive through at Singapore.

      Bit of an irony that, isn’t it?

  4. steph90 said on 4th October 2009, 13:22

    A few months ago Bernie said the medal system would have been better for Seb (even after Button’s wins), bet he is changing his mind now though…

  5. ashes1991 said on 4th October 2009, 14:22

    Was a relatively good race, as much as it hurts me to say it Vettle deserved the win this weekend. I know that button only has t finish 4th or 5th in Brazil, but I dont feel as good about him winning it now, especially if he is just picking up a point or two and Vettle or Barichello is picking up something higher, I think that if Rubens is fast around Brazil then so will Button and will hopefully pick up the title, but Button is worrying me.

    Off the subject but has anyone heard anything about the British GP as Bernie gave them till the 3rd October last weekend but nothing has been said yet?

  6. I fail to see why Rosberg is rated so highly. He goes ok in prac all over the place in qual and even if he quals ok you can almost guarantee he will fade and go backwards. He just seems to go to sleep in the middle stint. Never consistent, but yer he does posses the abilty to have great speed.

    Did Webber take a new engine while starting from pit lane?…
    Did RBR trial a new front nose on Webbers car there as well?

  7. Vettel needs to watch his engines now, I think he has used all of them.

    • Patrickl said on 4th October 2009, 17:42

      There are actually a lot of drivers that used all of their 8 engines at least once:
      Jarno Trulli
      Kazuki Nakajima
      Mark Webber
      Nick Heidfeld
      Nico Rosberg
      Robert Kubica
      Sebastian Vettel
      Timo Glock

      Glock and Heidfeld have already used their ninth engine.

      All the others still have one completely fresh engine left.

  8. Brawn said on 4th October 2009, 17:31

    ‘In a largely processional race, most changes of positions happened in the pits.’
    -And you still always talk about how much better it will be without refueling…

    • Daffid said on 4th October 2009, 17:57

      Ending refueling doesn’t mean the end of pit-stops, though it will probably mean a greater spread of pit-stops, more battles between miss-matched tyres and so forth. Probably… :D

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 4th October 2009, 18:16

      And you still always talk about how much better it will be without refueling…

      Shuffling the order with artificial, race-engineering quirks like refuelling holds no excitement for me. I want to see proper racing that happens on the track.

      • Tiomkin said on 4th October 2009, 19:29

        I see F1 as a team sport, this includes the pit crew, to me they are part of the race. The Team with the best/fastest crew wins. The driver to me is just another member of the team and as is shown each year, replaceable. I will miss re-fueling. But who knows, maybe cars will magically overtake on track next year. I doubt it. The guys on the first few rows will win the processional race, decided on the first corner. (or Bernie, will decide).

        • Random Chimp said on 4th October 2009, 20:01

          Is the double diffuser banned for next year?

          • Steph90 said on 4th October 2009, 20:27

            I don’t think so, not sure though. It was a loophole in the rules which I don’t think ahs been closed up. May be wrong though

  9. StrFerrari4Ever said on 4th October 2009, 17:52

    Great drive by Vettel his got the momentum to put Button under some pressure if he can. If not then Vettel will look back on the season on the various retirements and crashes and think I could have won the title quite comfortably.

    As for Button the Brawn has been very reliable partly cause of all the time Honda spent building it , so he will be very thankful if he wins the WDC in 2 weeks time if he can’t seal it in Sao Paolo then we could see a German take it in Abu Dhabi IMO.

  10. Steph90 said on 4th October 2009, 18:01

    TBbf it is fact…most of changes did happen in the pits :S I didn’t read any opinion, even ifit has been made clear in past articles I found this quite fair.
    I think Vettel should just throw caution to the wind with engine situations, a 16 point gap with two races he may not make that up if he is conservative and the Brawn car may favour the next track

  11. Button made the best of his superior equipment at the time he had it, part good driving, part lucky. He’s perhaps the most average driver who will win the world championship. When you consider the battles we’ve had recently in f1 this is a poor showing from Button just calculating the points. He’ll be nowhere next year against the like of Hamilton, Raikkonen and Alonso in good cars, something i think Brawn understand.

  12. Dennis said on 4th October 2009, 18:56

    I think the Red Bull is favourite for the next track but we’ll see. Yes, Vettel still has a small chance to become world champion but it’s very unlikely at this point. If Button finished 5th in one of the next 2 races Vettel doesn’t have a chance anymore (the gap is 16 points, 5th place = 4 points gap would be 20 so Vettel can’t catch him anymore because he has less victories). If Button finishes 3rd in one of the next 2 races, he is the new world champion for then Barrichello can’t catch him anymore either. If Vettel would be so kind to win the next race as well and Rubens coming in 2nd and Button not scoring any points, then we’ve got a thrilling end to the season!

    So Jenson finishing 3rd means he’s world champion no matter what Vettel and Barrichello do. For Vettel the 16 points gap means he must win at least one of the 2 races and he can’t finish lower than 2nd in either one of the races provided that Jenson doesn’t score one single point. That’s a hell of a job!

    Rubens has a 14 points gap. It’s a little less hard than Vettel’s task but still. He has 2 options. He doesn’t necessarily have to win a race, he can be satisfied with a second or third place in one of the 2 races. If he does finish third, he must win the one after that. If he finished 2nd he can do the same in the race after, but can’t finish lower than second and either way he can’t finish lower than 3rd provided Button doesn’t score a point (or 1 point).

    So in short: Button still has a huge advantage and he shouldn’t worry too much. If he’s driving like he normally does he will probably be able to get 6 points in 2 races. Finishing 6th in both of the races is enough for him whilst Vettel and Barrichello need to push harder than ever to give themselves a theoretical opportunity! (and Vettel is at his last engine as mentioned before)

    Great drive here from Vettel! Didn’t let Hamilton get the better of him here and he totally destroyed the competition. Man that guy is fast! Hopefully he can get a bit more consistent and hopefully they have Mercedes engines next year :) I’m conviced this guy is going to be world champion at some point. Trulli did a fine job as well, another second place for Toyota. They seem to have made some steps. Alonso is probably cranky now. He did well coming from 17 to 10 with that crappy Renault but still!

    As for the driver switches. I don’t know what’s going to happen but I expect Renault to announce the’re hiring Kubica this tuesday. Toyota isn’t a better option IMHO, sure the car is quicker but on the other hand, it’s not very certain how long the brand will stay in the F1 so..

  13. Poor Webber had a dog of a weekend, but Yay for his fastest lap :)

  14. Bartholomew said on 4th October 2009, 22:37

    I missed the race because I forgot about the hour, and now realise that I dont enjoy looking at these 2009 races at all. The only entertaining thing in 2009 is the politics, corruption, and driver market news. The last really exciting season was 2007 : that was absolutely dinamite !

    2009 : ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ 2010 : could be a real good one !

    • You must admit last year last race last lap last corner was the most exciting 15sec in F1 history.

      Well done to the “Max and Berine Comedy Show” :)

  15. wasiF1 said on 5th October 2009, 2:38

    Good race for Vettel & Toyota.I wonder will back to back podium help them to change their decision to stay in F1 for 2010.Next up is Brazil which will suit Red Bull & Toyota.

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