Vettel poised to clinch title with tenth win

2011 Japanese GP pre-race analysis

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Suzuka, 2011

Will Vettel run off into the distance again?

The Japanese Grand Prix will begin the way the last race ended: with Sebastian Vettel in the lead and Jenson Button giving chase.

But will Button be able to keep Vettel from his fourth consecutive win?

And can Lewis Hamilton bounce back from a series of poor races to finish on the podium for the first time since his Nurburgring win?

The start

The pole sitter’s advantage has been a controversial in the past at Suzuka. Ayrton Senna complained bitterly when he had to start from pole position on the right-hand side of the track in 1990.

Infamously, he took out Alain Prost at the start of the race after the Ferrari driver, who started second on the grid, beat him to the first corner.

Today pole position is on the left-hand side of the track and the second-placed driver has the disadvantage of starting off-line. With just a 300m run to the first corner, and little braking to be done when they arrive there, the pole sitter has a serious advantage here.

Jenson Button, second on the grid, will have to keep a close eye on his team mate. The third-placed driver has taken second at the start in three of the last four races here.

Button may be the only driver left who can beat Vettel to the championship but don’t expect Hamilton to cut him any slack on that account. Button’s chances of beating Vettel to the title are very remote, and it’s unlikely the team would want to instruct their drivers what order to finish in unless Vettel retires from the race and Hamilton is in a position to hand Button victory. What a scenario that would be.

Keep an eye on the two Ferraris which have made some rapid starts. Particularly Fernando Alonso, who has gained eight places in total on the first laps of the last three races.

Michael Schumacher, eighth on the grid, has done even better. With a net gain of 21 places over the season so far he and Sebastien Buemi (15th) have been the best off the line this year.


Vettel stretched out a commanding lead over Button in Singapore and did the same in Monza, aided by having Alonso and Michael Schumacher between him and the McLarens. Can he do the same here?

Friday practice indicated Red Bull have good long stint performance and tyre life. Button seemed to as well but Hamilton’s lap times dropped off quite quickly.

Button was doubtful about his car’s long-run pace today: “Our Friday long-runs on high-fuel were less than ideal,” he said, “but we?ve seen the form vary significantly between Friday and Sunday, so tomorrow should be very different.”

There is cause for optimism at McLaren: the new Suzuka-spec rear wing appears to have unlocked some more pace from the car. In qualifying, Button was faster than Vettel in the first two sectors of the lap.

Practice made it clear that tyre life is going to be a demanding factor in this race. The growing build-up of rubber on the racing line since then, reducing lap times and increasing cornering speeds, will only add to that.

Enter Kamui Kobayashi in the Sauber, the car which has been kindest to its tyres this year. Starting a career-best seventh on the grid for his home event, he has a chance of a great result for the team here.

Starting alongside Kobayashi on the fourth row is Schumacher. He has two set of fresh soft tyres left giving him a slight advantage over the cars in front of him.

Team mate Nico Rosberg, however, faces a long grind from the back of the field. Schumacher started 24th and finished fifth in Spa – what can Rosberg do from 23rd at another of F1’s greatest tracks?

Unless something dramatic happens to Vettel it’s likely he will win the drivers championship in Japan.

But will he cap it with his tenth win of the season? Have your say in the comments.

2011 Japanese Grand Prix

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42 comments on Vettel poised to clinch title with tenth win

  1. vho (@) said on 9th October 2011, 2:11

    Would love to see someone else win it besides Vettel but still take the title – but nevertheless if he does win it’ll be to his credit. He’s been slower than Jenson through all FPs and then to get pole by 9 thousandths – a credit to him. I fear though the RBs will be extremely quick on heavy fuel load and Vettel will pull away. If the two McLaren’s don’t clash too much they may have enough pace to fight it out with Vettel towards the end of the race. As much I like to see a Ferrari get a great start but I fear if they get ahead of the McLarens then the race will be on Vettel’s plate.

  2. wasiF1 (@wasif1) said on 9th October 2011, 2:14

    The think the winner will be among Button or Vettel given they both survive the first corner.But with Kobayashi on 7th place starting on prime,Schumacher having two sets of option,Roseberg & Perez also have options available I think other then the top 3 the rest 7 positions will be a lottery today.Can’t wait for the race to start.

  3. DVC (@dvc) said on 9th October 2011, 3:07

    I need a live stream for the race. Can anyone help me out with a link?

  4. Shomir (@shomir) said on 9th October 2011, 4:58

    i dont know why, but i still have this feeling Button might fight for the championship

    Vettel retires and button wins, extending it to next race :)

    hope it doesn’t though… want Vettel to win it here, wanted him to win it in Singapore!

  5. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 9th October 2011, 6:32

    From a strategy point of view it’s always nice to see a big name driver miss the first hurdle, so i’m hoping he will deliver a great race for us and his team.

    My eyes are going to be torn at the start between Button and Vettel, massa and Hamilton, can’t wait!

  6. Fixy (@fixy) said on 10th October 2011, 20:29

    @KeithCollantine it’s surprising how this preview has proved very precise – the only “mistake” is that Vettel couldn’t make his tyres last long enough on the first stint – had the Safety Car not driven out, Massa and Alonso, who had done more laps before pitting, would’ve had a great advantage.

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