Japanese GP – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Pure opinion. None of this is said with any malice, although I’m sure there are some who will take it as such! Enjoy it for what it is, and by all means, let me know your thoughts and opinions as to why I am right or wrong. The Good:
What a wonderful few weeks it has been for Sebastian Vettel. Maximum points in the last two races and, in doing so, he has positioned himself a measly 4 points off the top of the Championship pile. As remarked at Singapore, the Red Bull of 2011 was there for all to see at Suzuka – a perfect qualifying result followed by a ridiculously easy victory for the young German. Vettel won the race by 20 seconds, and on the last lap entertained all of us (except perhaps his pit crew) by setting a lap 0.7 seconds quicker than his previous best. So the only logical conclusion to draw from this is that he could have won by an even greater margin had he decided to, a worrying thought for the other title contenders in the paddock. Vettels team have done the business for him by finally giving him a machine that he can take to race wins, and for that reason he is now the Championship favourite despite being in second place.
Terrific drive from Felipe Massa as he secured the best result he could have done in Japan. Having missed out on the Saturday top ten shootout by a fraction, Massa used his slightly newer tyres to his brilliant advantage and leapfrogged his rivals during the pit stops. He then drove the controlled race that his team have been yearning for all year, and was rewarded by his first podium visit in almost 2 years. Felipe seems like the kind of driver that responds to an arm around the shoulder and being told that he is wanted, and the news that Perez will be plying his trade in a McLaren next year appears to have lifted a weight from the Brazilians shoulders. As Alonso himself has intimated, there is no point getting rid of someone if you haven’t got someone who can do a better job to take over. On that basis, Massa has probably won himself another year at the Scuderia based on his recent performances.
Well, well, well. Kobayashi was under intense pressure and speculation going into his home Grand Prix, but you honestly would never have guessed. Rumblings about his seat for next season? An expectant Japanese crowd, starved of home success? A teammate that has outperformed him significantly, particularly in the last 2 races? Watch this race in isolation, and you would assume that Kobayashi was the one on his way to bigger and better things next season as he first put the wind up his rivals by slapping his Sauber onto the second row in qualifying, before stunning us all with an immaculate display in the race to obtain his first ever podium finish. Aware as I am that one swallow does not a summer make, surely this drive will be enough to secure Kamui a place in the cockpit for next season. Hearing the crowd chant his name the way they did is something he will never forget, and the only shame for him is that he doesn’t have more time to lap it up before the next race.
The question has to be asked, did Jenson and his team know what their strategy was? When Kobayashi pitted for the last time for hard tyres, it became very clear very quickly, that Button was losing time behind him. The logical thing to do would have been to bring him in a lap later and trusted that their superior pit stops (couldn’t see that sentence coming a few months ago) would have given him enough of an advantage. However, if Jenson was going to stay out, surely the strategy would then be to keep him out until such a time as he could don the soft tyres and chase after Kobayashi in the latter part of the race. In the end, what McLaren did was somewhere inbetween, and so cost Button a podium spot. Having said all of that, Button was quick in qualifying, only started 8th due to his gearbox penalty, and still brought the car home in fourth, so hats off to him.
I have only two race reviews for Sauber. One is about how poorly they’ve done, and the other is lauding them for a great performance. This week, they have closed the gap to Mercedes in the Constructors title once more, and now find themselves just 20 points behind with 5 races left. It is nigh on impossible to predict how Sauber will do from race to race, and is that lack of consistency that may cost them in their fight to gatecrash the top 5. Will the introduction of Monisha Kaltenborn change anything?
Maldonado qualified in 12th, and managed to stay out of trouble for the entire race, culminating in his first points finish since his win in Spain. Hallelujah. The Bad:
After Singapore: “Barring a non finish from Alonso, it is looking like the end of Hamiltons challenge for another year which is frustrating in the extreme. Frustrating because Hamilton has driven better this year than he ever has in the past, and frustrating because that McLaren MP4-27 is the class of the field.” Well, Alonso didn’t finish, and Hamilton has slashed his Championship deficit by 10 points. However, Hamiltons problem is that Red Bull and Vettel have started to click just at the right time, and anything less than podium finishes just isn’t enough. 5 races left in a McLaren, and surely Hamilton will want to sign off with a bang – however it seems that the Championship battle has left him behind once again.
Poor Mark. His car was clearly the best on the track, but finding himself in the way of a rampaging Lotus and therefore dropping to the back of the field meant he was never going to get the result that his car and his qualifying performance deserved. Webber did really well to make what was virtually a one stop strategy work and bring the car home in 9th, but unfortunately it meant that Button closed the gap on him in the standings yet again. On a lighter note, hie post-race interview was absolute gold. Describing Grosjean as a “first lap nutcase” and saying that “he needs another holiday” was typical Mark ‘tell it as it is’ Webber.
Paul Di Resta
Just when Di Resta thought he had turned a corner with a terrific performance last time out, he had a fairly nothing race in Japan. Meanwhile his teammate made the best of his bad hand and, in doing so, closed the gap between them to an intriguing 7 points. It’s turning out to be the close battle we all expected, just with less points on the board.
From qualifying positions of 4th and 7th, Boullier and co would have expected more than 8 points. They now trail Ferrari by 24 points – the fact that it’s as many as that is down to one driver finishing only half his races. The fact that it’s as few as that is down to their other drivers reliability – he has scored points everywhere except China, which was down to the Great Tyre Fiasco if memory serves me correctly. The Ugly:
This has gotten beyond ridiculous. I accept that things are tricky for Grosjean at the moment – he was clearly caught out trying to be too careful in Japan – but his mistake was not one a racing driver should make. Concentrating on the car on your outside and forgetting about the one in front of you? If the FIA saw fit to ban him after the Spa incident, why no further sanctions this time around? The fact that Grosjean will be racing in Korea makes a mockery of the stand that F1s governing body were clearly trying to make. The worry is, is Grosjean capable of learning from these mistakes? He said that he had learned after being hit with his ban, but being involved in such easily avoidable incidents would suggest otherwise. What is quite annoying, is that Grosjean is capable of good results if he can get around the first lap. Crude maths it may be, but Grosjean has had an incident in 7 of his 14 races this season, and as a result not scored any points. Yet he has managed to accumulate 82 points this season – double that and he sits 3rd in the standings. I’m aware that this is not an exact science, but it goes to prove that Grosjean is a talented driver. The other thing that shows us this is where he qualifies – in Japan he set the 5th fastest time and started in 4th due to Buttons penalty. Unfortunately this means that when he has his first lap brainstorms, he is taking out Championship contenders – Alonso and Hamilton in Spa, and a Red Bull in Suzuka. It is not only the fans that are getting fed up with it either, you only have to look at some of the quotes that have come out from the weekend: “first lap nutcase…needs another holiday” (Mark Webber), “Classic Grosjean” (Martin Whitmarsh), “completely unacceptable” (Christian Horner), “Lotus should take him away and get all the tests done” (Bernie Ecclestone). He is in serious danger of losing the respect of his fellow drivers and the paddock as a whole, and he does not have much time left to put things right.
To his credit, Alonso was still positive after the race, stating that what happened to him could easily happen to Vettel in Korea. He is of course right, but this result must have felt like a heavy punch to the stomach. Vettel is the only driver Alonso will not have wanted to collect 25 points on Sunday, but also he will not have wanted the Red Bull to cruise to them in such a serene manner. Alonso will be acutely aware that, with his Championship lead all but eroded, he is now playing catch up with the Red Bull machine superior to the F2012. Massa did show that it can outperform the other cars, but he was never anywhere near catching Vettel. On another note, how much did Raikkonen ruin Alonsos weekend, albeit unintentionally? His spin in qualifying cost Alonso when he looked sure to set the 3rd or 4th quickest time, then his contact with him on the opening lap ended his race. Seeing as it was also the Lotus of Vitaly Petrov that he got stuck behind in his quest to win the title last season, I think it’s safe to assume that they will be off Fernandos card list this year.
Rosberg started 13th and was unlucky not to make it around the first lap, Schumacher started 23rd and did well to finish 11th. No matter. The upshot is very straightforward, Mercedes scored zero points for the first time since the opening weekend of the season. The fight between Mercedes and Sauber for the coveted 5th place is hotting up, and Mercedes will need to return to their previous consistency to hold off the Swiss teams challenge.
Run Off Areas
Ok, so Hermann Tilke designs good looking tracks, but I am so bored with the massive run off areas his circuits provide. Mistakes are not punished, and that is one of the things that makes Formula 1 so gripping. Suzuka has always been a bit of a throwback as a circuit, and it was nice to see gravel traps claiming two cars. Want to be a guest writer on VitalF1.com?
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