Sebastian Vettel took a step closer to his fourth Formula 1 World Championship with a well judged drive to win the Japanese Grand Prix, after out witting teammate Mark Webber and Romain Grosjean, who had set the early pace at Suzuka.
After qualifying it was clear that the Red Bull duo would be hard to beat, as they annexed the front row, with Webber on pole for the first time this season and Vettel beside him on the grid. When the red lights went out, however it was Grosjean who made a tremendous start, and scampered into an early lead with Webber recovering and tucking in to second with Vettel in third.
It was bad luck for Lewis Hamilton, who started from fourth, and worked his way into second heading into Turn 1. But that was that, as, in getting by Vettel, his rear tyre clipped the Red Bull’s front wing and by the time he was in Turn 1 his race was all but over – a puncture putting paid to his afternoon. He recovered to the pits but not long after the damage to the car (caused by the flaying rubber) forced the team to retire the Mercedes.
Early on Grosjean appeared to have the pace to keep Webber at bay, helped by a the prohibition on overtaking in place, as marshals retrieved the cars of Jules Bianchi (Marussia) and Giedo van der Garde (Caterham) who crashed in Turn 1. The Lotus driver is growing in stature with every race and provedto be a the thorn in Red Bull’s side in a race they were expected to dominate. In the end they got their 1-2 but the Frenchman made them work hard for the prize.
Vettel turned a mediocre start in to victory with well judged laps when it mattered, including adhering to a ‘do not go bananas’ order from his pit wall. He stuck to a patient game plan, going longer than most with his second set of tyres, which enabled him to attack Grosjean effectively and decisively to claim his 35th F1 career victory, his ninth triumph of the season and his fourth win in five years at Suzuka.
For a change fans cheered the World Champion, which he acknowledged afterwards on the podium, “First of all I would like to say thanks to all the fans the support we get and the respect is phenomenal. I had a very poor start – I clipped the front wing but after that we were patient and I managed to get past Romain and beat Mark on the tyre strategy. The decision [on the tyres] was made on the first stint because we stayed out longer on the first tyres. It was not easy to make the two-stop work especially in the middle sector but it worked in the end.”
The title is still not his mathematically, but we all know that Vettel is the 2013 F1 World Champion elect, with a landslide victory merely a formality and the Suzuka victory a testament to one of the most impressive campaigns in the history of the sport.
Webber also managed his tyres well and in the last stint was able to bolt on the softer (white stripe) Pirelli which gave him the edge as he stalked Grosjean for second place. Credit goes to the Lotus driver who made life difficult for the Australian, but had to succumb eventually during a thrilling period with several cars – a lap down on the leaders – thrown in the mix to spice things up.
When the dust settled, it was Webber in second with Grosjean third and for us at Grand Prix247 the ‘man of the match’ for his sheer tenacity in the face of a brutal Red Bull attack.
Webber summed up his afternoon, “It’s an amazing circuit. The race today was pretty good, but I’d have liked one more step on the podium but there were different strategies going on. I’m pretty happy with second but you always want a bit more. I got the best from what I could today. In the end we went to a three-stop but we we got back to where we were.”
Grosjean reflected, “What a start. Today was a very good race but the the Red Bull caught us but we were the only ones who were able to challenge them. It is always good to come here, the fans are great and it was a great race.”
Fernando Alonso turned eighth on the grid into fourth place and with it keeping the title fight teetering to the next round.
The Ferrari driver said afterwards, “There were some strong people in front of us and the threat from behind with Kimi [Raikkonen], but the race went [well]. Fourth is a good result but we were lucky with Mercedes’ problems. It was a good race in terms of points for the Constructors’ [title], but we didn’t have the pace for podium.”
“Even if Vettel doesn’t finish all of the races I need to win nearly all [of the remaining races], so it’s a matter of time [before Vettel will be Champion]. We have different goals now, and today they told me I have the record for the most amount of points in F1 history, so it’s a happy day – the leading points scorer in F1 is something great. I know the points system changed, but when someone overtakes me in the points no one will remember the points system change,” mused Alonso.
Alonso’s 2014 teammate, Kimi Raikkonen was comprehensively outshone by his current Lotus teammate throughout the weekend in Japan. nevertheless the Finn recovered from ninth on the grid to take fifth place.
Next up were the Sauber pair of Nico Hulkenberg and Esteban Gutierrez in sixth and seventh respectively, Hulkenberg again mixing it with the top guns and at one stage looking strong for fourth place, slugging it out with Alonso and Raikkonen before his tyres gave up.
Gutierrez scored his first Formula 1 World Championship points, and also became the first rookie of 2013 to score points this season in what was an impressive afternoon for Sauber.
Nico Rosberg was on the back-foot all afternoon as he was released dangerously into the path of Sergio Perez’s McLaren during a pitstop which resulted in a drive through for the Mercedes driver. He worked hard to finish eighth.
A final corner altercation (including WWE style contact) between Felipe Massa and Jenson Button decided the final two placings, the pair finishing ninth and tenth respectively – but only just.
Final word to Vettel, surely the soon to be crowned 2013 World Champion, “I would like to enjoy today, I think it was a fantastic race. I love this race, the people are great and make it a special race. It doesn’t hurt when you win for the Championship. I’ve won four times here now, I’m already looking forward to next year. Regarding the Championship, we have good gap but we keep pushing. It looks very good at the stage but it’s not over until it’s over.” (GP247)
Subbed by AJN.
Japanese Grand Prix, race Result- Sunday, 13 October 2013
|1||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing-Renault||53||Winner||2||25|
|2||2||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing-Renault||53||+7.1 secs||1||18|
|3||8||Romain Grosjean||Lotus-Renault||53||+9.9 secs||4||15|
|4||3||Fernando Alonso||Ferrari||53||+45.6 secs||8||12|
|5||7||Kimi Räikkönen||Lotus-Renault||53||+47.3 secs||9||10|
|6||11||Nico Hulkenberg||Sauber-Ferrari||53||+51.6 secs||7||8|
|7||12||Esteban Gutierrez||Sauber-Ferrari||53||+71.6 secs||14||6|
|8||9||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes||53||+72.0 secs||6||4|
|9||5||Jenson Button||McLaren-Mercedes||53||+80.8 secs||10||2|
|10||4||Felipe Massa||Ferrari||53||+89.2 secs||5||1|
|11||14||Paul di Resta||Force India-Mercedes||53||+98.5 secs||12|
|12||18||Jean-Eric Vergne||STR-Ferrari||52||+1 Lap||17|
|13||19||Daniel Ricciardo||STR-Ferrari||52||+1 Lap||16|
|14||15||Adrian Sutil||Force India-Mercedes||52||+1 Lap||22|
|15||6||Sergio Perez||McLaren-Mercedes||52||+1 Lap||11|
|16||16||Pastor Maldonado||Williams-Renault||52||+1 Lap||15|
|17||17||Valtteri Bottas||Williams-Renault||52||+1 Lap||13|
|18||20||Charles Pic||Caterham-Renault||52||+1 Lap||20|
|19||23||Max Chilton||Marussia-Cosworth||52||+1 Lap||18|
|Ret||10||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes||7||+46 Laps||3|
|Ret||21||Giedo van der Garde||Caterham-Renault||0||Accident||19|
Note – Bianchi and Pic qualified 22nd and 20th respectively, but had 10-place grid penalties after accumulating three stewards’ reprimands. Sutil qualified 17th but had a 5-place penalty for a gearbox change.