Vettel’s Suzuka masterclass as Alonso hits trouble

2012 Japanese Grand Prix review

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Suzuka, 2012Sebastian Vettel claimed his third Japanese Grand Prix win in four years with a dominant performance at Suzuka.

He inflicted a major blow on Fernando Alonso’s championship hopes as the Ferrari driver was eliminated in a crash at the first corner.

While Vettel romped to victory Kamui Kobayashi brought cheer to the crowd by taking his first podium finish on home ground.

First-lap disaster for Alonso

Vettel got away cleanly at the start but chaos broke out behind him.

As they charged to the first corner Alonso had Raikkonen to his left and Button on his right. The Ferrari and Lotus pinched together and the consequences were disastrous for Alonso: he was pitched into a spin and came to a stop, his race over.

There was more drama at the next corner involving the other Lotus. Romain Grosjean failed to slow enough for turn two and rammed Mark Webber’s second-placed Red Bull. Both were able to continue.

The chaos didn’t end there – Nico Rosberg’s race also came to an end at the first corner after a tangle with Bruno Senna. Some 20 laps later Senna was handed a drive-through penalty.

The stewards were much quicker to pass judgement on Grosjean, whose previous indiscretions earned him a ban for the Italian Grand Prix. His latest blunder swiftly earned him a ten-second stop-go penalty.

Perez battles Hamilton

The safety car was only required for one lap before the race resumed again. Kobayashi had moved up to second and Vettel instantly pulled out a 1.3 second lead over the Sauber driver as the race restarted.

Button emerged from the first corner mess in third place followed by Felipe Massa. Raikkonen, fifth, had minor front wing damage, but easily resisted Sergio Perez’s attempt to take him around the outside of turn one.

The Sauber driver took to the run-off and returned to the track behind Lewis Hamilton – the very driver whose place he will take next year. Hamilton, struggling with his car as he had in qualifying, began to drop back and fell victim to an audacious lunge from Perez at the hairpin on lap five.

Timo Glock had been 11th when the safety car came in, but was easily passed by those behind him. Heikki Kovalainen’s Caterham was first past, followed by Jean-Eric Vergne, Paul di Resta and Michael Schumacher – the latter having started from the back row.

Button loses ground at first stop

Vettel was in his element, rapidly pulling away from Kobayashi. The Sauber driver was hardly holding up Button, who had dropped two seconds behind. The other C31 also had good pace at this stage, Perez closing in on Raikkonen who was starting to struggle with his tyres.

Button, Raikkonen and Hulkenberg pitted together on lap 13. But the Lotus driver emerged behind Kovalainen and Vergne, and lost a lot of time picking his way past the Caterham and Toro Rosso.

Despite that when Perez pitted on lap 16 he was unable to get out in front of Raikkonen. And when Hamilton came in on the next lap the McLaren jumped back in front of the Sauber.

Perez set about trying to pass the McLaren again but this time it all went wrong. He lost control of his car at the hairpin, spun into the gravel and his race ended there.

Vettel untouchable

As well as lapping quicker than those behind him, Vettel was also looking after his tyres better. He didn’t make his first pit stop until 18, by which time all his major rivals had pitted, and he continued without losing the lead.

Button had a problematic first pit stop with an overheating right-rear wheel hub. Shortly afterwards he reported his gearbox had stopped shifting properly – an ominous warning given Hamilton’s retirement in Singapore and Button’s penalty for a pre-race gearbox change.

Meanwhile Massa jumped ahead of both Button and Kobayashi at the first round of pit stops, taking second place.

Towards the end of his second stint Raikkonen began to be caught by Hamilton. The Lotus made for the pits on lap 31 and Hamilton did the same on the next tour. McLaren produced a superbly quick stop and Hamilton returned to the track just as Raikkonen was approaching turn one.

The Lotus was ahead as they entered the corner side-by-side but the tenacious Hamilton clung to the inside and obliged Raikkonen to back down in turn two. That put him up to fifth.

Kobayashi keeps Button back for podium

The running order remained largely the same over the course of the final stint. Massa fell over 20 seconds behind Vettel, who indulged himself by unleashing the full potential of his car on the penultimate lap, setting the fastest tour of the race.

Second place for Massa ended his two-year podium drought and may strengthen his chances of retaining his Ferrari seat. Kobayashi slipped back from him in the final stages as Button closed on the Sauber, though the McLaren never got close enough to try a move.

Hamilton took fifth ahead of Raikkonen and Hulkenberg, the latter claiming a solid points finish from 15th on the grid. Pastor Maldonado took eight, scoring his first points since winning the Spanish Grand Prix in May.

An unhappy Webber made it to the end of the race with two pit stops having made the first immediately after his tangle with Grosjean. He salvaged two points for ninth place.

The final point went to Daniel Ricciardo, who defended carefully from Schumacher in the closing stages. The Mercedes driver just fell short of taking a point having started 23rd.

And on the weekend Schumacher announced his second retirement from Formula One, Vettel moved closer to becoming his successor as F1’s next three-times world champion.

2012 Japanese Grand Prix

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102 comments on Vettel’s Suzuka masterclass as Alonso hits trouble

  1. grosjeans mistakes has cost lotus 3rd in the wcc now, vital money for the team, plus hes wrecked the car too much
    i know hes a rookie driver, but there are plenty of replacements available who will crash the car less than grosjean and score decent point, kovalinen, sutil, massa, hulkenberg, di resta you name it…,
    completely agree with mark webbers views, you cant crash that much in F1 especially in a team thats supposed to be challenging for regular podiums and wins
    after canada, grosjean was 2 points behind raikkonen, and now look at the gap between the two lotus drivers,

    romain is quick but theres no point in being quick if you are going to crash on the first lap and get banned aswel

    imo lotus should sign kovalinen, hes quick and wasted at caterham, a driver of his calibre deserves a seat higher up the grid

    • Wonderduck (@wonderduck) said on 7th October 2012, 18:15

      i know hes a rookie driver…

      That’s the thing: he’s not. He has 21 F1 races under his belt now; he’s many things, but he’s not a rookie.

      • well said, didnt realise hes been there for 21 races, time flies in the sport
        but my point stands, grosjean is good on his day and that day is rare, most other drivers would have scored same or more points than him which would easily put lotus ahead of ferrari and challenge mclaren and crashed less aswel

        but with eric boullier, you know…

    • Kimi4WDC said on 8th October 2012, 2:39

      I think considering his great qualifying ability and the trend of high finishes by top qualifiers, Lotus lost 2nd place in Constructors with that kind of results. But we can only speculate.

  2. Johnny Five said on 7th October 2012, 16:56

    Anyone else notice this?
    There was a shot from Alonso’s on-board, sitting on the start line as the lights went out, which seemed to show a small puff of smoke or steam from the front left corner of his car just before his wheels started to turn.
    What should we make of this? Has Ferrari adopted water-cooled brakes as used in truck racing?

    • Anonymouse said on 7th October 2012, 17:45

      If you watched the start of the Belgian GP you can see the very same puff of smoke making an intro. Make what you want of it though

    • vho (@) said on 7th October 2012, 19:34

      Could be something to do with the preparation of KERS for some form of launch assistance? Seems illogical to try to cool the brakes before the race given that they need to get up to operating temperature. Perhaps it’s to cool the KERS at the start so they won’t overheat as they’d be extremely valuable at the start.

  3. Fixy (@fixy) said on 7th October 2012, 20:10

    When Massa took second place after the pit stops I already knew he was going to finish there, but I didn’t want to believe it. When Vettel won the race and Felipe was still a couple of corners from the chequered flag, as the cameras followed him I started cheering hard. Then when Kobayashi and Button popped out behind him, the Sauber so narrowly ahead, I went crazy inside. I don’t have a particular feeling towards Kamui, but to see him finally achieving a podium, this year, when he has mostly been beaten by Perez who already has three podiums, was so heart-braking as it was his home race! I genuinely cried with joy for a minute or so, I don’t remember being so happy with a result!
    I, in an unsportsmanlike, selfish way, hoped Vettel made a mistake and dropped at least two positions to have Massa first and Kobayashi second. However he deserved this win so much and the way in which he took it was impressive! The podium finishers today were really amazing in the race.

  4. John H (@john-h) said on 7th October 2012, 21:57

    I don’t want to take too much away from Felipe, but seriously this top-ten tyre rule is an absolute joke, as proved again today.

  5. Young One said on 7th October 2012, 22:15

    If RB was good in Japan, they will dominate Brazil.

  6. Hairs (@hairs) said on 7th October 2012, 22:27

    Massa gets on the podium, then pulls out his champagne too early, and only gets a tiny dribble out of it.

    I understand this sort of thing can happen when you’re out of practice, and over-excited.

  7. Jorge Lardone (@jorgelardone) said on 8th October 2012, 1:41

    Special weekend for Vettel. He showed why he has won two championships in a row.
    Massa made ​​a faultless race with a car very fast and well balanced and Kobayashi gave great joy to their fans with an impeccable race.
    Alonso once again made ​​a bad move which shows their lack of respect with his rivals. But Magic Alonso always have good press so…

  8. Kimi4WDC said on 8th October 2012, 3:03

    Kimi and Lewis, check out Kimi’s reflexes during his on board :)

    • Alex Brown (@splittimes) said on 8th October 2012, 9:04

      Highlight of the race, for me. Brilliant example of this sport at its top level. Lightning pitstop, challenging track, incredible pressure, wheel to wheel, reactions. The mental focus to go from pitstop to flat-out battling on unknown tyres is incredible. Brilliant from both of them. If only the whole grid could drive like this for the whole race.

  9. JCost (@jcost) said on 8th October 2012, 8:09


    Actually, given the massive performance advantage the Red Bull had this weekend, last weekend, and probably next weekend given the new DDRs system

    McLaren was the car to beat at Singapore, Vettel profited from Hamiltons gear box failure. You should not expect such level of dominance for the remaining races, they will eventually struggle somewhere.

    Ferrari haven’t had any pace since Germany and their wind tunnel is broken. McLaren have pace but their drivers are out of the hunt.

    1. What about Monza? I think Ferrari was very fast in Italy.

    2. Hamilton is 42 points behind, I don’t think he’s out of the hunt, that’s a long shot but a win (and it’s not impossible) next week would boost his chances.

    To have a good championship, we need Red Bull to start making mistakes, or for their car to slow down. That hasn’t happened consistently since mid 2009. It’s sad, because I think that Fernando deserves the title more this year than any other driver on the grid

    1. Up until yesterday many people believed that Alonso would cruise to WDC with solid drives but… everybody is exposed to a DNF, same can happen to Red Bull or again with Ferrari…

    2. I don’t think Alonso deserves it more than Vettel or even Hamilton. He’s the one who scored more points from others misfortunes, why is he more deserving?

  10. Alex Brown (@splittimes) said on 8th October 2012, 8:55

    I didn’t catch the incident with Rosberg and Senna. Any opinions on that, anyone? Rosberg clearly saw Grosjean as the real blame, and it would be easy to say likewise without having seen any footage of it in detail. With two major incidents in the first two corners, I’d imagine it would be pretty easy to get caught in a pinch.

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