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You are here: Motorsport Formula 1 Japan GP 2012: Vettel triumphs; Alonso crashes out; Massa, Kobayashi make podium

Japan GP 2012: Vettel triumphs; Alonso crashes out; Massa, Kobayashi make podium

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delighted_vettelSebastian Vettel followed up a stunning pole with a dominant victory at the Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka.  The German now is the first back to back race winner this season turning the championship momentum firmly in his favour as the championship leader crashed out on the first lap for the second time in four races. Alonso’s championship lead has now been cut to just 4 points making the final 5 races of the year a straight shootout between the two rivals with Red Bull’s recent dominant pace giving Vettel the edge. It wasn’t all bad news for Ferrari as Felipe Massa finally made the podium for the first time this year with a strong second place having started in 11th. Kamui Kobayashi rounded off the podium taking a popular third place staving off the efforts of McLaren’s Button who finished strongly in fourth. The reception for the Japanese was deafening and the crowd chanting his name calling out their hero must rank among the very best feelings in Kobayashi’s career.

After the first lap mayhem that claimed multiple cars including Alonso and Rosberg, it was a relatively measured Japanese Grand Prix. Hamilton finished a relatively uninspired drive in 5th place ahead of Raikkonen who staved off the  charging Force India of Nico Hulkenberg. Maldonado finished just behind in 8th while Webber finished in 9th. Daniel Ricciardo had to absorb loads of pressure from Michael Schumacher but eventually kept him at bay to take the all important final championship point.

The win was Vettel’s 24th F1 win and third this season keeping Red Bull well ahead in the Constructors championship as well. Alonso put on a brave face saying, “It happened to me this time, it could happen to him next time. It becomes almost a mini championship now and we have to win one point more than the other guy”.Vettel concurred saying that things were quite unpredictable in F1 but was undoubtedly focussed on the final championship phase. Raikkonen and Hamilton are still in with a chance with 157 and 152 points respectively, but both will need a massive step up in pace and consistency to mount a serious title tilt in the remaining five races.

Mayhem at the start

Suzuka’s long start-finish straight narrowing into turn 1 is a recipe for first corner incidents and we witnessed a series of incidents including one with championship level repercussions. The biggest casualty was undoubted Alonso who was nicked by Kimi causing him to spin out of the race – the second time this season after Belgium. Romain Grosjean was once again caught in a first lap incident as he crashed into Mark Webber – he later received a 10 sec stop go penalty on lap 8 with the stewards getting increasingly frustrated by the Frenchman’s continued misdemeanours. Nico Rosberg was an unfortunate victim of the carnage taken out of the race by Bruno Senna who received a drive through penalty. Massa, now flying the Ferrari flag, tip-toed his way through the debris and moved into 4th with a superb start.

This prompted a safety car period while the marshalls tidied up following the action and Vettel left the field standing on the restart. The Red Bull driver continued to dominate, streaming away into the distance reeling off fastest lap after fastest lap with Kobayashi backing the pack up. Sergio Perez had an eventful time on the restart as he was first forced wide dropping two places before he sneaked a smart one on Lewis Hamilton into the hairpin a few laps later.

First Round of Pit stops

On Lap 14, a logjam of cars decided to make their pitstops including Kobayashi, Raikkonen, Button & Hulkenberg. The McLaren’s pitstop went clean but the Lotus exited behind the Toro Rosso of Jean Eric Vergne and the Caterham of Kovalainen which delayed his progress for about a lap before he disposed of both within a few corners. Perez pit shortly after but failed to clear Raikkonen who he was following prior to the pit stop. Kobayashi excited the Japanese crowd with a smooth move on Ricciardo into the hairpin.

On Lap 17, the leaders Vettel & Massa made their stops and it went magnificently for the Ferrari as he exited ahead of Kobayashi to claim what effectively was second place. Vettel of course exited still well in the lead. Sergio Perez once again looked to make the move on Hamilton going into the hairpin but on this occasion it went all wrong as he spun off and beached his Sauber joining Alonso and Rosberg on the list of DNFs

On lap 21, Vettel now lead Massa who in turn lead Kobayashi and Button who were scrapping for 3rd place. Raikkonen, Hamilton and Hulkenberg were 5, 6 & 7 ahead of Pastor Maldonado in 8th. The Aussie duo of Webber and Ricciardo rounded off the top 10.

The race carried on largely uneventfully as Vettel maintained and extended his 10+ second lead over Massa. Former teammate and soon to be retiree Michael Schumacher had started in 23rd following his 10 place grid penalty moved all the way upto 11th as he muscled past di Resta on lap 29.

Pit Stops – Round 2

Raikkonen was the first to make a scheduled second pit stop on lap 30. Kobayashi and Hamilton pit too on the following lap. Hamilton exited alongside Kimi and the duo went side by side into turn 1 before Raikkonen yielded. Button pit shortly after, exiting well behind Kobayashi who was showing good strong race pace in front of his home crowd. Vettel by now had run up an astonishing 17 second lead over Massa underscoring just how strong the Red Bull was. Massa pit on lap 37 and put on the harder tyres as Ferrari decided to take the belt and braces approach. Vettel followed suit a lap later also staying on the harder compounds. Schumacher who pit decided on the softer tyres as he continued his charge from the back of the field.

End Game

The race drew to a finish more or less in formation at the head of the field as Vettel continued to dominate proceedings. Massa was in a strong second but Button was closing in on Kobayashi for the final podium place going into the final 7 laps. Also showing great pace was soft tyre shod Schumacher as he chased down Ricciardo for the final points scoring position. Neither man was quite able to make the final pass though as the top ten finished in formation

Final Point Scorers:

Vettel (Red Bull), Massa (Ferrari), Kobayashi (Sauber), Button (McLaren), Hamilton (McLaren), Raikkonen (Lotus), Hulkenberg (Force India), Maldonado (Williams), Webber (Red Bull), Ricciardo (Toro Rosso)

File Photograph Copyright: Red Bull Racing