VF1blog: Vettel makes it fantastic-five in Suzuka
Sebastian Vettel has stormed to his fifth race victory in succession, after a fantastic drive from the Red Bull ace during the 53-lap Japanese Grand Prix. Despite a minor altercation with Lewis Hamilton at the start, the German managed to deny both team-mate Mark Webber and the Lotus of Romain Grosjean the luxury of victory.
At the start Mark Webber defended heavily to his Red Bull team-mate, as Lewis Hamilton tried his hardest to thread his way through the two Red Bulls. Unfortunately for the Briton this endeavor failed horribly, as he collided with Sebastian Vettel and sustained a right-rear puncture. This saw the former Champion plummet through the order, as Romain Grosjean enjoyed a masterful start in his Lotus and flew into the lead at Turns 1 and 2. Further back carnage ensued between Giedo van der Garde and Jules Bianchi, who came together and speared into the retaining tyre wall in a cloud of dust.
Despite the heavy impact into the tyre wall for Giedo van der Garde, the safety car was not deployed as the ever-efficient Suzuka marshals began clearing the stricken vehicles. Meanwhile Lewis Hamilton limped miserably back to the pits for a change of tyres, despite further damage to the floor of his Mercedes. By Lap 6 Romain Grosjean had managed to open up a small lead to the Red Bull duo, with Sebastian Vettel lounging around a distant 3rd after the start. Further down the order Kimi Raikkonen surged up into 10th position around the McLaren of Jenson Button, as Jean-Eric Vergne became one of the first drivers to make a scheduled pit-stop in his Toro Rosso.
After a torrid start to the race for Lewis Hamilton, the Briton failed to improve after his pit-stop. Due to damage sustained to the floor of his Mercedes, the German marque elected to retire him on Lap 6. The brought to a conclusion a brief and highly frustrating race for the 2008 World Champion, as further pit-stops ensued for the likes of Jenson Button, Valtteri Bottas and Adrian Sutil. The sole Mercedes of Nico Rosberg ran extensively wide at Turn 1 as the race progressed, which in turn allowed the Ferrari duo of Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso to close the gap to the German. Nico Hulkenberg and Paul di Resta became the next two drivers to pit on Lap 10, as Fernando Alonso struggled to find a way around his Ferrari team-mate of Felipe Massa.
On Lap 11 Mark Webber elected to pit for Red Bull, along with Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen. This allowed Sebastian Vettel to rise up into 2nd position, with Romain Grosjean still impressing many out in the lead of the race for Lotus. However, the Frenchman soon stormed into the pits a lap later along with Nico Rosberg and Sergio Perez. This saw Sebastian Vettel ominously take the lead of the race, as Mercedesí race failed to improve when they unsafely released Nico Rosberg into the path of Sergio Perez.
This incident in the pit-lane instantly saw the race stewards elect to investigate the issue, before Nico Rosberg was eventually struck with a drive-thru penalty. Fernando Alonso became the next driver to pit for Ferrari, as Mark Webber instantly produced the fastest lap of the race in his Red Bull on fresh tyres. After staying out for several more laps, Sebastian Vettel eventually pitted. This allowed Romain Grosjean to resume his lead of the race, as the reigning World Champion rejoined the action back in 3rd position behind the Frenchman and his Red Bull team-mate.
Once again Daniel Ricciardo had elected to carry out a different strategy from those in front of him, by being one of only two drivers to start the race on the hard tyre compound along with the Caterham of Charles Pic. By Lap 18, the Australian ace had still not pitted for his first tyre stop, and was therefore creating an exciting train of cars from 4th down to to 9th. This battle included the Ferrari duo of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa, as well as the Sauber of Nico Hulkenberg and Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen. Eventually the Sauber ace managed to muscle his way around the future Red Bull star, as Felipe Massa and Esteban Gutierrez banged wheels through Turn 11 in what was becoming a hard fought battle within the midfield.
Daniel Ricciardo finally elected to make his first scheduled stop on Lap 21, as fellow countryman Esteban Gutierrez and Sergio Perez became locked in a grueling battle for 8th position. Several laps later Mark Webber returned to the pits in his Red Bull, as Sebastian Vettel locked up heavily into the final chicane. Further down the order the usual freneticism ensued, as Daniel Ricciardo ran perilously wide at the daunting 130R after trying to overtake Paul di Resta around the outside. Although the Australian ace managed to make the move stick, he was soon under investigation by the race stewards for leaving the track and gaining an advantage. As expected the Toro Rosso driver was struck with a drive-thru penalty, as Romain Grosjean pitted from the lead of the race on Lap 29.
This allowed Sebastian Vettel to once again rise up into the lead of the race, as Felipe Massa became the latest driver to incur the wrath of the race stewards for speeding in the pit-lane. This saw the Brazilian driver struck with a drive-thru penalty, after initially enjoying a highly competitive start for the Scuderia. As the race unfolded it became apparent that both Romain Grosjean and Sebastian Vettel were on two-stop strategies, whereas Mark Webber would have to pit for a third and final time during the closing laps. With the Australian driverís competitive pace, he would have to pass both Romain Grosjean and Sebastian Vettel if he had any hopes of securing his first victory of the season.
Sebastian Vettel made his second and last pit-stop on Lap 37, rejoining the action only just behind the Lotus of Romain Grosjean in 3rd. The German wasted no time in catching the Lotus ace, and perfected a masterful overtaking maneuver several laps later into Turn 1. Mark Webber made his final stop on Lap 42, allowing Sebastian Vettel to quickly return to the lead. The Australian driver made his intentions perfectly clear during his stop, switching to the medium tyre compound in a bid to catch and overtake the leading duo ahead of him.
However, the task at hand proved to be trickier than expected for the 37-year-old. As expected he soon managed to catch up to the rear of Romain Grosjeanís Lotus, however a combination of excellent defensive driving from the Frenchman and the E21ís superlative speed prevented Mark Webber from instantly storming into 2nd position. As Sebastian Vettel causally led at the front, Mark Webber was forced to wait several more laps before eventually muscling his way around Romain Grosjean.
As the closing laps of the race ticked away, Sergio Perez and Nico Rosberg suffered minor contact at the final chicane. This forced the Mexican to dive into the pits with a left-rear puncture, in what was becoming a frustrating afternoon for both Mercedes and McLaren. Fernando Alonso, meanwhile, managed to overtake Nico Hulkenberg for 4th in the closing stages, as Sauber once again enjoyed a tremendously competitive race. Nico Hulkenberg eventually came home 6th after being overtaken by Kimi Raikkonen shortly after Fernando Alonso, with Esteban Gutierrez a jubilant 7th to secure his maiden points in Formula 1.
Out in front though it was a familiar sight as Sebastian Vettel crossed the line to secure his fifth straight victory after Belgium, Italy, Singapore and Korea. The Red Bull ace was followed home by team-mate Mark Webber, who made it a Red Bull 1-2 with Romain Grosjean a promising 3rd for Lotus. With Fernando Alonso finishing a relatively competitive 4th, the Sebastian Vettel will have to wait until India to clinch the Championship. The German has won every Formula 1 event around the Buddh International Circuit, and will unquestionably be the favourite to secure his sixth successive victory in several weeks time.
Author: Andy Young
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