Japanese Grand Prix: Race Analysis

After today’s race, the championship battle has been turned on its head. After Fernando Alonso retired in a turn 1 accident, Sebastian Vettel drove an impeccable race, to claim back to back victories, taking him within 4 points of Alonso, with just 5 races remaining.

Alonso suffered a punctured rear left tyre, after clipping Raikkonen’s front wing. The Finn sustained minor damage to the enfence, yet this was very minor. As for Fernando, the puncture resulted in a spin heading to the outside of turn 1 and 2. The suspension damage meant that it was race over for the Spaniard. Replays would suggest that Jenson Button played a big part in the incident, after moving towards Alonso on the straight. The Ferrari subsequently veered left, into Kimi, who had two wheels on the grass at the time.
This was a racing incident, however not the only collision to take place in the first corner. Romain Grosjean once again caused an avoidable accident, spinning Mark Webber and taking Nico Rosberg out of the race, in the subsequent bottleneck. Mark performed excellently well to recover to 9th place, however the dejected RBR driver commented after the race, stating: “I haven’t obviously seen what happened at the start but the guys confirmed that it was the first-lap nutcase again Grosjean”. The Lotus driver was handed the severe penalty of a 10 second stop and go, yet many drivers, including Webber, consider that another ban might be the right option. “It makes it frustrating because a few big guys probably suffered from that and maybe he needs another holiday”.
Despite being a fan of the Lotus team, I have to agree. It is his 7th incident on the first lap this season, and he cannot keep ruining other drivers races. Lotus have shown faith in him, however he is costing them valuable points. With Massa regaining his past form, Lotus will need both men to score if they are to finish 3rd in the constructors. 
After one fantastic move on Lewis Hamilton into the hairpin, Sergio Perez also ended his race early, trying to recreate the great move. After loosing the back end of the car in the kink, Sergio took evasive action to avoid the back of Hamilton’s McLaren. This sent the Mexican into a spin, and he beached the Sauber in the gravel. Sauber will take great confidence from their overall performance though, with Kamui Kobayshi finishing in 3rd. To a team on a small budget, finishing with both cars in the points is always a fantastic achievement, and Perez’s incident will be a disappointing blow. Their pace this weekend was better than the likes of McLaren, and they could easily challenge Mercedes’ place in the constructors. Judging from this weekends performance.
The Japanese fans had not witnessed one of their drivers on the podium since Aguri Suzuki in 1990. Kobayashi’s podium today is a popular one around the paddock, and will be front page headlines in the Japanese newspaper’s tomorrow morning. As for his position at Sauber, they surly now have to consider keeping him for 2013. His qualifying results have surpassed expectations, yet unfortunate circumstances in the races have often meant that he has been unable to convert these grid slots into points, whereas Perez has excelled. Today, Kamui has proven to his team, that when in a good position, he can set good race pace. Towards the end, he was able to manage the gap to Button, not allowing the Brit to come within passing distance. This control under pressure should be more than enough to convince Sauber to pull out the contract for 2013 and beyond.
After being in the shadow of his teammate all season, today was Felipe Massa’s time to shine. Avoiding all of the first and second corner contact, he emerged in 4th position. His pace was well above average all day, and he managed to jump both Button and Kobayashi in the first stop. In 2nd, it was always going to be impossible to catch the dominant Vettel, however, he extended his lead over the Sauber, to claim his first podium in 36 races. His only mistake of the day, was kicking the champagne over whilst on the podium. 
For Felipe, his turn of form has come just in time. He will still be fighting for his seat come the end of the season, yet his current results must have impressed Ferrari. The quick turn around may have saved Felipe’s F1 career. Again, this is another popular podium in and around the paddock. 
Further down the field, Nico Hulkenburg outclassed teammate, Paul Di Resta with a stunning drive through the pack to finish 7th. This result came despite the German being held up by Lewis Hamilton for large portions of the race. The Brit had struggled through the first stint, yet preferred the Hard compound tyre, which proved to be the better race tyre. The setup on his McLaren was poor for the duration of the weekend, yet Lewis managed a respectable 5th. 
Toro Rosso also had an improved weekend, with Ricciardo finished in the points, fending off the Mercedes of Schumacher very well. The experienced driver could not pass the rookie, who placed his car in the right position, through turns 1 and 2. He made Micheal’s job very difficult, and the team should be pleased with the Aussie’s performance, as well as the pace of their car. 
This weekend was always going to be damage limitation for Fernando, and nothing more. However, it appears that the Spaniard has run out of luck. Ferrari desperately need new updates, as the F2012 is falling behind fast. Vettel and the RB8 are going from strength to strength, and now have a great deal of momentum to carry into the final stages of this season. With new upgrades coming for Korea, Ferrari could quickly loose sight of this championship, which has been led by Fernando Alonso ever since the Malaysian Grand Prix. Can anyone stop Vettel from taking his third title on the bounce?    

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