Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Suzuka, 2012

Damage limitation for Alonso as Vettel looks strong

2012 Japanese Grand Prix pre-race analysisPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Suzuka, 2012Sebastian Vettel is in an enviable position ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix.

Starting from pole position he is well placed to inflict serious damage on Fernando Alonso in the championship. The Ferrari driver starts sixth.

But Alonso’s been in this position before. In 2006 he started fifth and had to make up places on the track to catch championship rival Michael Schumacher. But he made it up to second – and then Schumacher’s engine failed, handing Alonso the win.

Are we set for another surprise in Suzuka? Or will Vettel finally become the first driver to score back-to-back wins this year? Here’s a look ahead to the Japanese Grand Prix.

The start

The Japanese Grand Prix got off to a controversial start last year as Vettel firmly resisted an attack from Jenson Button. He edged the McLaren onto the grass as they ran towards the first corner.

The stewards did not penalise Vettel for the move but since then we’ve had the rules clarification which prevents drivers from moving across on their rivals on straights if a “significant portion of the car attempting to pass is alongside”. Vettel fell foul of this rule at Monza.

This year Mark Webber lines up next to Vettel on the front row. It’s unlikely Red Bull will allow their drivers to be as rough with each other as Vettel was with Button.

Kamui Kobayashi, Sauber, Suzuka, 2012Kamui Kobayashi has achieved the highest ever starting position for a Japanese driver in their home race with third on the grid. “From where I am starting I should have a chance to fight for a podium finish,” he said.

“It would be a dream come true if I could achieve my first podium in Formula One in front of my home crowd.” For that to happen he will have to make a much better start than he did last year. From seventh on the grid he was 12th by the end of lap one.

Nor did things work out for him on the other two occasions he started inside the top three this year. He was involved in the Romain Grosjean accident when he started second at Spa. In China he lined up third but was mugged left, right and centre at the start and came at the end of the first lap in seventh place.

With Kobayashi’s place at Sauber for next year rumoured to be under threat, it’s essential he makes a clean start and converts his strong starting position into a good result.


As mentioned in the practice analysis yesterday, two-stop strategies are expected to be the preferred option for most drivers in the race. However rain at the circuit after qualifying may have diminished the build-up of rubber on the track and altered grip levels, which could give teams some surprises in the race. No rain is expected during the Grand Prix.

The top nine drivers will all start on softs. Felipe Massa is the first driver on the grid with a free choice of which tyre he starts on.

Red Bull have their first front row lockout of the year and will be very pleased to have three cars between them and their major championship rivals: Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and the McLarens.

This cluster of cars is likely to provide the major interest in the race. Red Bull’s rivals will be anxious to clear the cars in front of them but they know it won’t be easy.

Jenson Button, McLaren, Suzuka, 2012“Overtaking has never been easy around here,” said Jenson Button, “even with the introduction of DRS. That being the case, it?s quite a surprise that the DRS zone has been shortened for this year.”

Alonso in particular has some serious damage limitation to do. Were the drivers to finish where they start he would leave Japan with his points lead over Vettel trimmed to 12. Every position he can gain, while repelling the advances of the McLarens, will be a bonus.

Further back the Marussias have got in among the Caterhams. But despite having lost out to them in Singapore, Heikki Kovalainen isn’t concerned: “The car?s pace on Sundays has been pretty good all year so the aim now is to have a strong race and be in the right place to take advantage of anything that happens ahead. Really, for me, I?m not worried about the cars behind me.”

However Kovalainen will need some cars to drop out in front of him if he’s to have a chance of claiming the 12th place Caterham need to re-pass Marussia in the constructors’ championship. Last year only one car failed to go the distance.

Finally, keep an eye on Michael Schumacher’s progress from 23rd. He’s saved two sets each of new soft and hard tyres to aid his progress. Last year team mate Nico Rosberg started from the same position and finished tenth.

Qualifying times in full

Driver Car Q1 Q2 (vs Q1) Q3 (vs Q2)
1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1’32.608 1’31.501 (-1.107) 1’30.839 (-0.662)
2 Mark Webber Red Bull 1’32.951 1’31.950 (-1.001) 1’31.090 (-0.860)
3 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1’32.042 1’31.886 (-0.156) 1’31.700 (-0.186)
4 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1’32.029 1’31.988 (-0.041) 1’31.898 (-0.090)
5 Sergio Perez Sauber 1’32.147 1’32.169 (+0.022) 1’32.022 (-0.147)
6 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1’32.459 1’31.833 (-0.626) 1’32.114 (+0.281)
7 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1’32.221 1’31.826 (-0.395) 1’32.208 (+0.382)
8 Jenson Button McLaren 1’33.077 1’31.772 (-1.305) 1’31.290 (-0.482)
9 Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1’33.061 1’32.121 (-0.940) 1’32.327 (+0.206)
10 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1’32.946 1’32.293 (-0.653)
11 Paul di Resta Force India 1’32.898 1’32.327 (-0.571)
12 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1’32.834 1’32.512 (-0.322)
13 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1’33.015 1’32.625 (-0.390)
14 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1’33.059 1’32.954 (-0.105)
15 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1’32.828 1’32.272 (-0.556)
16 Bruno Senna Williams 1’33.405
17 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1’34.657
18 Timo Glock Marussia 1’35.213
19 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1’33.370 1’33.368 (-0.002)
20 Pedro de la Rosa HRT 1’35.385
21 Charles Pic Marussia 1’35.429
22 Vitaly Petrov Caterham 1’35.432
23 Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1’33.349 1’32.469 (-0.880)
24 Narain Karthikeyan HRT 1’36.734

Vettel was in fine form in qualifying, producing the lap time he needed with his first effort every time.

“Yesterday evening I wasn?t too happy as I was losing time in the first sector,” he said. “But I found my mistake and in today?s practice session it worked straight away. I don?t know why I didn?t do it in previous years and it shows you never stop learning.”

He avoided a penalty for holding up Alonso at the chicane. Another driver who escaped a penalty was Kobayashi, after passing by the scene of Raikkonen’s spin: “On my last lap I lost a bit of time because of the yellow flag when I backed off and switched off the DRS,” he said.

Raikkonen’s spin left him behind Grosjean on the grid for the ninth time in 14 races: “I was on a good lap and I was pushing – maybe a little too hard ?ǣ and lost the rear,” explained Raikkonen. “It?s a shame as the car feels the best it has all weekend.”

It was a poor qualifying session for Lewis Hamilton, particularly in Q3. Had he been able to match his Q2 time he would be two places higher on the grid. He blamed set-up problems for his struggle.

Sector times

Driver Sector 1 Sector 2 Sector 3
Sebastian Vettel 32.498 (1) 40.580 (1) 17.602 (1)
Mark Webber 32.565 (2) 40.832 (3) 17.693 (2)
Kamui Kobayashi 32.807 (5) 41.090 (6) 17.776 (9)
Romain Grosjean 33.007 (9) 40.852 (4) 17.754 (7)
Sergio Perez 32.842 (6) 41.212 (10) 17.850 (14)
Fernando Alonso 32.795 (4) 41.129 (7) 17.767 (8)
Kimi Raikkonen 32.853 (7) 41.003 (5) 17.791 (11)
Jenson Button 32.719 (3) 40.782 (2) 17.701 (3)
Lewis Hamilton 32.960 (8) 41.208 (9) 17.708 (4)
Felipe Massa 33.258 (14) 41.296 (12) 17.739 (5)
Paul di Resta 33.149 (11) 41.396 (14) 17.782 (10)
Pastor Maldonado 33.136 (10) 41.490 (16) 17.886 (17)
Nico Rosberg 33.599 (17) 41.187 (8) 17.813 (12)
Daniel Ricciardo 33.590 (16) 41.485 (15) 17.842 (13)
Nico Hulkenberg 33.153 (12) 41.263 (11) 17.856 (15)
Bruno Senna 33.164 (13) 41.646 (17) 18.010 (18)
Heikki Kovalainen 34.452 (22) 42.142 (19) 18.063 (19)
Timo Glock 34.348 (19) 42.605 (21) 18.260 (21)
Jean-Eric Vergne 33.704 (18) 41.729 (18) 17.873 (16)
Pedro de la Rosa 34.457 (23) 42.626 (22) 18.186 (20)
Charles Pic 34.387 (20) 42.722 (23) 18.320 (22)
Vitaly Petrov 34.398 (21) 42.316 (20) 18.361 (23)
Michael Schumacher 33.383 (15) 41.335 (13) 17.751 (6)
Narain Karthikeyan 34.721 (24) 43.090 (24) 18.381 (24)

Massa was ahead of Alonso early in qualifying. But when it came to the crunch in Q2 it all went wrong for him.

Ferrari technical director Pat Fry said: “Felipe was fast all day, but at the moment when he should have made the most of his second set of soft tyres, he was unable to exploit all their potential: we now need to understand why this set of tyres did not live up to expectations.”

Speed trap

Pos Driver Car Speed (kph/mph) Gap
1 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 311.7 (193.7)
2 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 311.6 (193.6) -0.1
3 Romain Grosjean Lotus 311.3 (193.4) -0.4
4 Jenson Button McLaren 310.7 (193.1) -1.0
5 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 310.5 (192.9) -1.2
6 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 310.2 (192.7) -1.5
7 Michael Schumacher Mercedes 309.8 (192.5) -1.9
8 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 309.6 (192.4) -2.1
9 Mark Webber Red Bull 309.5 (192.3) -2.2
10 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 309.3 (192.2) -2.4
11 Felipe Massa Ferrari 309.1 (192.1) -2.6
12 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 308.9 (191.9) -2.8
13 Pastor Maldonado Williams 308.3 (191.6) -3.4
14 Sergio Perez Sauber 307.7 (191.2) -4.0
15 Paul di Resta Force India 306.9 (190.7) -4.8
16 Lewis Hamilton McLaren 306.7 (190.6) -5.0
17 Timo Glock Marussia 306.3 (190.3) -5.4
18 Bruno Senna Williams 306.2 (190.3) -5.5
19 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 305.3 (189.7) -6.4
20 Pedro de la Rosa HRT 305.0 (189.5) -6.7
21 Charles Pic Marussia 304.9 (189.5) -6.8
22 Vitaly Petrov Caterham 303.3 (188.5) -8.4
23 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 303.0 (188.3) -8.7
24 Narain Karthikeyan HRT 301.2 (187.2) -10.5

Over to you

Will Vettel get his third win at Suzuka? Can Alonso get onto the podium from sixth? And where will the Saubers finish?

Share your views on the Japanese Grand Prix in the comments.

2012 Japanese Grand Prix

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Image ?? Ferrari spa/Ercole Colombo, Sauber F1 Team, McLaren/Hoch Zwei