Sunday, October 7, 2012

Vettel wins Japanese Grand Prix, Kobayashi wins hearts of Japanese fans

Photo credit: Sauber Motorsport AG
Sebastian Vettel cruised to a wide and easy victory in the Japanese Grand Prix today at Suzuka. With his third win of the season, Red Bull's Vettel becomes the first driver this year to celebrate back-to-back wins, bringing him within four points of Ferrari's Fernando Alonzo, who is currently the leader of the Driver's Championship.

"I think we had a fantastic race and I said to the guys, when you have a dream about how your race car should be, that’s exactly what you’re wishing for, so I’m very, very happy and very proud of the team." said Vettel in the post-race press conference. 

Coming in second was Alonzo's teammate, Felipe Massa, who started in tenth place. Will a second-place podium be enough to secure Massa's position with the team next year? It is the Silly Season and I refuse to listen to the gossip anymore. Time will tell.

The crowd reserved its biggest applause for third-place podium Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi - the first Japanese driver to podium on home soil since 1991 when Aguri Suzuki, driving for Larrousse, was the first Japanese driver to ever podium in a Formula One race. The crowd cheered for the winner but they were drowned out by the chant of Kamui! Kamui! Kamui! 

“It hasn't sunk in yet, it is hard to believe - I achieved my first podium in Suzuka!" said Kobayashi, "It was a fantastic race and we have been working really hard to get to this point since we were lacking pace on Friday. But the Sauber F1 Team did a great job to recover from there."

As races go, this was not the most exciting race of this year's F1 calendar as there was no real threat to Vettel today. There were, however, moments that made this GP well worth watching. Turn 1 saw the retirement of the current points leader Fernando Alonzo as he was nudged by Kimi Raikkonen and suffered a punctured rear tire. Raikkonen then aimed for Perez who was having none of it. Almost at the same time, Romain Grosjean ran into the back of Mark Webber and both Webber and Nico Rosberg are forced off the track. Webber managed to rejoin the field but the day was over for Rosberg. Out came the safety car making things even easier for Vettel.  

...and that was just the first turn!

Grosjean got a 10-second stop-and-go penalty for ''causing a collision''. That is very generous of the stewards as he has been guilty of the same prior to today. After a first-turn crash was deemed the fault of Grosjean, he was given a one-race ban at Spa-Francorchamps and could only watch the excitement at Monza. Where is steward consistency?  

"The rest of us are trying to fight for some decent results each weekend but he is trying to get to the third corner as fast as he can at every race." said Webber. "He needs to have a look at himself, it was completely his fault. How many mistakes can you make, how many times can you make the same error? It's quite embarrassing at this level for him."

The minor battles were the day's guilty pleasures. 

Around Laps 17-22 Kobayashi passed Daniel Ricciardo to take third place- and a possible podium- if Kobayashi could defend his new position, Button radioed his team that his brand new gearbox (for which he took a 5 grid penalty) was not working and Sergio Perez got loose. In a bid to overtake Lewis Hamilton, Perez went wide, slipped over the grass and into the gravel pit. He was done. Lap 22 found Bruno Senna handed his own drive-through penalty for hitting Nico Rosberg at the start.  

Jenson Button spent the rest of the race driving hard behind Kobayashi. It became one of the better shows of aggression and defense of the day. At one point Button came within 1.2 seconds of Kobayashi as they approached the DRS zone, but he was shut out and Kobayashi drove on to his reward. 

The biggest feature of today's race was the incident at the first turn of the first lap. The rest was a good race, but that one incident affected not only grid spots for a couple of drivers in the next race but it totally re-arranged the Leader's Board, tightening it up so only nine drivers are now eligible. That, along with the Kobayashi podium, are the most exciting things I took away from today's race. Vettel looks unstoppable but it is never over until it's over. There are five more Grands Prix left this season. Anything can happen. 

“Today, we were very unlucky: to finish a race like this, at the very first corner is really a shame." said Alonzo. "Contact from Raikkonen caused a puncture to the left rear tyre and my race ended there. Unfortunately, when you start in the middle of the pack, these things can happen, because apart from the performance of the car -and ours is usually better on Sunday - circumstance can count for a lot. That could be seen from Felipe’s race, who started tenth, but produced a perfect race, fighting with the fastest cars." 

Join us next week at Yeongam for the Korean Grand Prix.

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