Red Bull took a cautious approach in Japan and it paid off.
Both drivers ran short stints on the soft tyres due to high wear and Sebastian Vettel was urged not to risk anything in his battle with Fernando Alonso.
He may not have won the race, but he did win the championship.
|Sebastian Vettel||Mark Webber|
|Qualifying time comparison (Q3)||1’30.466 (-0.69)||1’31.156|
Red Bull drivers’ lap times throughout the race (in seconds):
|Pit stop 1||Soft 22.374s|
|Pit stop 2||Soft 21.596s|
|Pit stop 3||Medium 21.705s|
Vettel damaged his front wing in a minor off at Degner in first practice. The team had to quickly ship a new front wing to the track for him to use on Saturday.
He paid tribute to the team for their efforts after taking his 12th pole position of the year on Saturday: “The nose that I had on the car yesterday morning you couldn?óÔé¼Ôäót really use it anymore. It was crashed.
“I shunted the car at the exit of turn eight and went straight into the barrier, so it wasn?óÔé¼Ôäót really helpful from my side. We got a new front wing out just in time. It wasn?óÔé¼Ôäót easy, but fortunately we did.”
Vettel receive a surprising amount of criticism from some for his defensive move against Jenson Button at the start of the race. Particularly given that his much more questionable weaving at the start in Malaysia this year was largely overlooked.
Vettel did squeeze Button but with the track narrowing to Button’s left it was a rather optimistic attempt to draw alongside the Red Bull.
And, as Vettel pointed out in the press conference, the stewards did not punish Fernando Alonso for pushing him onto the grass in Monza.
That said, Vettel’s claim that “I didn?óÔé¼Ôäót really see him” was undermined by video footage of him looking in his right-hand mirror at the start. Button warned him: “I might not lift off next time.”
The stewards investigated the move and took no action, saying: “Having noted that car one Sebastian Vettel and car three Lewis Hamilton both followed similar lines off the start the stewards decide to take no further action.”
For the first few laps it looked like Vettel was going to do his usual thing – he was five seconds ahead after five laps. But after that Button began to catch him and, once Button had cleared his team mate, the pair who had crossed swords at the start were drawing closer to one another.
Vettel pitted early on lap nine and the ‘undercut’ proved no advantage – Button was much quicker on his in-lap and Vettel’s lead was trimmed to two-and-a-half seconds.
Button continued to draw in over the second stint and Vettel was defenceless when he came to pit again. Button stayed out two laps longer and took the lead. Vettel never saw the front of the field again.
Instead he slipped back into the clutches of Alonso, who ran a long third stint to get in front of the Red Bull driver.
Vettel briefly held tenth after his third pit stop – the lowest position he has occupied in a race all year. Having to pick his way past Nico Rosberg and Adrian Sutil, Vettel lost second place to Alonso.
He piled pressure on the Ferrari driver to begin with, then fell out of DRS range while lapping Jerome d’Ambrosio – Vettel shaking his fist at the Virgin driver.
The team hurriedly reminded him – twice – that third place was more than enough to secure the championship. Vettel duly backed off while a corresponding call went out to fourth-placed Webber telling him not to attack his world champion-elect team mate.
Vettel duly claimed the championship crown with third place and celebrated with a couple of doughnuts in front of the crowd at turn two. This, sadly, was missed by the television cameras.
Afterwards he paid tribute to his team, saying the championship had been won earlier than last year despite them not having as great a performance advantage as they had in 2010:
“I think with a less dominant car than last year we were able to do a very, very good job. We are very strong as a team.
“Every time it mattered, we made very few mistakes, especially at those times when it was critical, we were there, we were performing. I think everyone working for Red Bull Racing can be very proud today”
|Pit stop 1||Soft 21.82s|
|Pit stop 2||Soft 21.369s|
|Pit stop 3||Medium 21.455s|
Webber was disappointed to line up on the third row of the grid: “I?óÔé¼Ôäóm very surprised to be sixth.
“I did my best, but it wasn?óÔé¼Ôäót quick enough and it was a bit of a surprise that I couldn’t go with the pace there at the end.”
Webber only just managed to set a time at the end of Q3 having dived past Lewis Hamilton at the chicane before starting his lap.
He made a better start than usual, not losing any places, but like his team mate was held back by high tyre wear. Red Bull seemed more sensitive than usual to the tyres going off, tending to bring the cars in at the first sign of lap times increasing.
They did this even if it meant bringing both cars in on the same lap, which they did on lap 19. But, far from harming Webber’s race, it allowed him to leap ahead of both Hamilton and Felipe Massa.
He finished the race in fourth despite front wing damage incurred when he hit Michael Schumacher’s car in a half-committed overtaking attempt at the Dunlop curve before the first safety car period.
2011 Japanese Grand Prix
- Rate the race result: 2011 Japanese GP
- Kobayashi greets the fans, Vettel does doughnuts: Suzuka videos
- Hamilton did not have a puncture at Suzuka
- 2011 Japanese Grand Prix: complete race weekend review
- Vote for your Japanese Grand Prix driver of the weekend
- Red Bull: Conservative approach delivers Vettel’s title
- McLaren: Button pleased to win on ‘Red Bull track’
- Ferrari: Alonso edges Vettel for second
- Mercedes: Schumacher closes on Rosberg’s tally
- Renault: Petrov makes progress, Senna slips back
Image ?é?® Red Bull/Getty images