Vettel’s Suzuka masterclass as Alonso hits trouble

2012 Japanese Grand Prix review

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Sebastian Vettel claimed his third Japanese Grand Prix win in four years with a dominant performance at Suzuka.

He inflicted a major blow on Fernando Alonso’s championship hopes as the Ferrari driver was eliminated in a crash at the first corner.

While Vettel romped to victory Kamui Kobayashi brought cheer to the crowd by taking his first podium finish on home ground.

First-lap disaster for Alonso

Vettel got away cleanly at the start but chaos broke out behind him.

As they charged to the first corner Alonso had Raikkonen to his left and Button on his right. The Ferrari and Lotus pinched together and the consequences were disastrous for Alonso: he was pitched into a spin and came to a stop, his race over.

There was more drama at the next corner involving the other Lotus. Romain Grosjean failed to slow enough for turn two and rammed Mark Webber’s second-placed Red Bull. Both were able to continue.

The chaos didn’t end there – Nico Rosberg’s race also came to an end at the first corner after a tangle with Bruno Senna. Some 20 laps later Senna was handed a drive-through penalty.

The stewards were much quicker to pass judgement on Grosjean, whose previous indiscretions earned him a ban for the Italian Grand Prix. His latest blunder swiftly earned him a ten-second stop-go penalty.

Perez battles Hamilton

The safety car was only required for one lap before the race resumed again. Kobayashi had moved up to second and Vettel instantly pulled out a 1.3 second lead over the Sauber driver as the race restarted.

Button emerged from the first corner mess in third place followed by Felipe Massa. Raikkonen, fifth, had minor front wing damage, but easily resisted Sergio Perez’s attempt to take him around the outside of turn one.

The Sauber driver took to the run-off and returned to the track behind Lewis Hamilton – the very driver whose place he will take next year. Hamilton, struggling with his car as he had in qualifying, began to drop back and fell victim to an audacious lunge from Perez at the hairpin on lap five.

Timo Glock had been 11th when the safety car came in, but was easily passed by those behind him. Heikki Kovalainen’s Caterham was first past, followed by Jean-Eric Vergne, Paul di Resta and Michael Schumacher – the latter having started from the back row.

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Button loses ground at first stop

Vettel was in his element, rapidly pulling away from Kobayashi. The Sauber driver was hardly holding up Button, who had dropped two seconds behind. The other C31 also had good pace at this stage, Perez closing in on Raikkonen who was starting to struggle with his tyres.

Button, Raikkonen and Hulkenberg pitted together on lap 13. But the Lotus driver emerged behind Kovalainen and Vergne, and lost a lot of time picking his way past the Caterham and Toro Rosso.

Despite that when Perez pitted on lap 16 he was unable to get out in front of Raikkonen. And when Hamilton came in on the next lap the McLaren jumped back in front of the Sauber.

Perez set about trying to pass the McLaren again but this time it all went wrong. He lost control of his car at the hairpin, spun into the gravel and his race ended there.

Vettel untouchable

As well as lapping quicker than those behind him, Vettel was also looking after his tyres better. He didn’t make his first pit stop until 18, by which time all his major rivals had pitted, and he continued without losing the lead.

Button had a problematic first pit stop with an overheating right-rear wheel hub. Shortly afterwards he reported his gearbox had stopped shifting properly – an ominous warning given Hamilton’s retirement in Singapore and Button’s penalty for a pre-race gearbox change.

Meanwhile Massa jumped ahead of both Button and Kobayashi at the first round of pit stops, taking second place.

Towards the end of his second stint Raikkonen began to be caught by Hamilton. The Lotus made for the pits on lap 31 and Hamilton did the same on the next tour. McLaren produced a superbly quick stop and Hamilton returned to the track just as Raikkonen was approaching turn one.

The Lotus was ahead as they entered the corner side-by-side but the tenacious Hamilton clung to the inside and obliged Raikkonen to back down in turn two. That put him up to fifth.

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Kobayashi keeps Button back for podium

The running order remained largely the same over the course of the final stint. Massa fell over 20 seconds behind Vettel, who indulged himself by unleashing the full potential of his car on the penultimate lap, setting the fastest tour of the race.

Second place for Massa ended his two-year podium drought and may strengthen his chances of retaining his Ferrari seat. Kobayashi slipped back from him in the final stages as Button closed on the Sauber, though the McLaren never got close enough to try a move.

Hamilton took fifth ahead of Raikkonen and Hulkenberg, the latter claiming a solid points finish from 15th on the grid. Pastor Maldonado took eight, scoring his first points since winning the Spanish Grand Prix in May.

An unhappy Webber made it to the end of the race with two pit stops having made the first immediately after his tangle with Grosjean. He salvaged two points for ninth place.

The final point went to Daniel Ricciardo, who defended carefully from Schumacher in the closing stages. The Mercedes driver just fell short of taking a point having started 23rd.

And on the weekend Schumacher announced his second retirement from Formula One, Vettel moved closer to becoming his successor as F1’s next three-times world champion.

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2012 Japanese Grand Prix

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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102 comments on “Vettel’s Suzuka masterclass as Alonso hits trouble”

  1. Stewards should investigate the Räikkönen-Alonso incident. Alonso didn’t seem to leave enough space even though Räikkönen was already partly beside him.

    1. @tmekt The only victim was Alonso so there isn’t going to be any penalty for that.

      1. @keithcollantine Räikkönen’s front wing was damaged in that incident and it certainly affected Kimi’s race pace today, so they should investigate it.

        If you ask me, I don’t think it’s worthy of penalty. Things like that just tend to happen at the race starts.

      2. Kimi’s front wing was a victim too. But I guess you’re right.

        Whiting is obviously an altruist.

      3. Kimi should be penalized in line with other lap one collision penalties (Senna, Grosjean). He came in out of shape and ruined Alonso’s race.

        1. Alonso ruined it all by himself by not leaving enough space.

        2. @jcost
          Squeezing another driver into the grass going into a breaking zone, sort of invites trouble.
          I don’t think you can blame Kimi for it. He simply did his to keep his car under control. Alonso was the one who forced him into that situation, and it punched back.

        3. The punctured occurred when Kimi was getting back onto the track once Alonso had ran him off – it was a mere luck of the moment that the two touched. I believe Kimi was already on his brakes but had he’d braked any harder he would’ve locked his brakes and slammed into the back of Alonso. Alonso looked to be the most aggressive at the start and ultimately paid the penalty with his slight weaving.

      4. keith as usual~~ bias alonso fan!!

      5. Sviatoslav Andrushko (@)
        7th October 2012, 11:53

        to Keith: Obviously, you are wrong in this occasion.

        1. @ibis Why? There hasn’t been a penalty.

          1. Sviatoslav Andrushko (@)
            7th October 2012, 16:02

            that is not a proof) stewards aren’t logical sometimes

            I re-read your comment. Obviously, I read it wrong, sorry for that.

            By the way, that was all Alonso’s mistake. If we watch replay from Massa’s camera we will see that Kimi did all he could to avoid the clash. Alonso made two moves to left ignoring that there was a Lotus car. But I believe it was difficult to realise it precisely from Nando’s car where is Kimi. If Alonso waited for a fraction of a second there wouldn’t be an accident. So…

    2. Alonso was ahead of Raikkonen,and not “partly beside him”. Not every accident is someone’s fault. Lets just call this one a racing incident….

    3. franco del as esta triste
      7th October 2012, 12:17

      you must be not very fond of alonso. The guy just ruined his chances today, kimi finished in the points, but you still want fernando to get penalized. jajaja
      you sure are the most sadistic guy in your town.

      1. I don’t necessarily want him to be penalized I’d just like the incident to be investigated.

        I do admit that I’m not that fond of Alonso. I don’t have to be in order to suggest an incident to be gone through.

        1. I think it’s the mood set by Ferrari. If it was Alonso who was pushed to the grass path Kimi hit, whole Ferrari crew and Alonso would have been crying out to stewards even before the puncture incident.

          When you behave like Ferrari/Alonso do, you can’t expect people wont poke at you for the same actions.

          1. This is ridiculous. There was no penalty because this incident does not even warrant one!!! It is a pure racing incident.

            Alonso did not need to leave Kimi any place because there wasnt a moment in the lead up to this fracas, where Kimi was ahead or alongside Alonso. Alonso was getting squeezed on the inside, so he moved out. There was no room for Kimi and he should have lifted a little to avoid contact. Simple as that.

            I dont think anyone should complain..this is racing! If you think Alonso deserves a penalty…well he got penalized in the worst possible way..parked it on the first cant ask for a worst penalty.

  2. Advantage Vettel, game on in the championship.

    1. And despite having driven much worse than either of Alonso or Hamilton(and arguably,Raikkonen) this season,vettel is poised to take over the championship lead. If he is crowned champion this season,he will be placed alongside the likes of Stewart,Lauda,Senna,etc in terms of number of championships won,but he certainly wont have deserved it

      1. @chicanef1 – Vettel hasn’t driven “much worse” than his rivals. Ok, ALonso may have done even better, but Red Bull haven’t been dominant this season. Vettel has had his share of misfortune, yet besides the occasional mistake, he’s has maximized his car, shown great qualifying & race pace (including the grand slam today), and very good racecraft which is why is why he is just 4 points off the championship lead.

        Whoever finishes the Brazilian GP with the most points will have deserved the 2012 championship. Regardless of whether it is Alonso, Vettel, Raikkonen or Hamilton.

      2. YEah, of course Vettel drove so much worse than Alonso today.

      3. @chicanef1 Absolute. Rubbish. You do not win championships by accident, races perhaps, championships no way.

      4. This claim rude and is based on nothing. Can you at least provide some evidence of Vettel being a worse driver than Alonso and Hamilton?

      5. alonso won two titles in a car which was dominant as redbull now…so do you agree alonso is not a worthy champion

        1. Sorry, WHAT? You must be watching F1 from 2007, because neither the R25 nor the R26 was the class of the field. Alonso won in 2005, because of superb consistency and failures of the clearly faster MP4-20. And in 2006, things were much closer b/w Renault and Ferrari, but in the first part of the season, Alonso showed Schumacher-esque consistency when his car was faster, getting 5 poles and 6 wins in the first nine races. And after FIA told Renault to do away with the mass damper system, the R26 was much slower than the 248F1 but Alonso did enough to win the championship comfortably.

    2. Actually, given the massive performance advantage the Red Bull had this weekend, last weekend, and probably next weekend given the new DDRs system, it’s probably Game Over in the championship.

      Ferrari haven’t had any pace since Germany and their wind tunnel is broken. McLaren have pace but their drivers are out of the hunt. Lotus have a reasonable car but would have to win all the races. They haven’t won one all year.

      So while it’s nice to see a tight championship at this point, it actually means that the season is probably over. Fernando needed that lead, and to score heavily today, in order to have a chance of hanging on. Instead, he’s lost all the advantage he built up, and he’s got little chance of getting it back. At the start of the year, form was unpredictable while teams worked out the tyres. Later in the season, there are fewer surprises, the racing is becoming more settled, and the top teams are comfortably ahead of the midfield again.

      To have a good championship, we need Red Bull to start making mistakes, or for their car to slow down. That hasn’t happened consistently since mid 2009. It’s sad, because I think that Fernando deserves the title more this year than any other driver on the grid.

      1. @hairs – Vettel has certainly been one of the best three drivers this year, and is second in the championship as much because of his race craft as his RB8’s performance.
        Red Bull have hardly been consistently the fastest car up until now, and Vettel has used their recent performance spike to devastating effect. He is one of the best drivers in F1 history; you don’t win two world championships, score 34 poles, 24 wins and 2 Grand Chelems by the age of 25 by being a bad driver. Of course he’s deserved it.

        1. I didn’t say Vettel doesn’t deserve it. But I think overall Fernando has done a better job with a worse car than anyone else. This weekend was probably his first mistake, and it cost him everything.

          The difference is, I think, that Fernando is completely at the mercy of his car now. He can overdrive the car and be mistake free for the rest of the year, but still never finish higher than 5th.

          If you like, McLaren and Red Bull have started way out in front, and lost ground to where their cars belong. Alonso has been the opposite, and that’s why I think he deserves to win the championship this year.

          1. As much as I would love for Alonso to win it….deserving to win is one thing…and winning itself is another thing. He who has the most points wins, simple as that.

            Alonso winning the championship this season from here will be something of a miracle. The Ferrari’s performance deficit to the Red Bulls seem to be growing with every passing weekend. All Alonso can hope for now is a non podium finish for Vettel, and a fortunate win somehow.

        2. @vettel1

          Vettel was dominat in Valencia but it was not the case in GB or Monza, who knows they will struggle here and there?

  3. Lotus should consider, if they really want to keep Crashjean for next year. Even though he has speed, he doesn’t collect points due to his racing approach. Montezemolo is probably right not hiring rookies.

  4. Sviatoslav Andrushko (@)
    7th October 2012, 10:47

    If Grosjean makes another first lap crash he should be deprived of his F1-driver licence. He didn’t get his suspension for one race at all.
    WDC is over for me. Clearly, Ferrari has problems developping their car. Ok, Ferrari’s race pace is quite impressive. But horrible quali makes it much harder to challenge the win.

    1. I agree, Grosjean is a dangerous driver. It’s a shame really because he has so much potential but to be perfectly honest I think for Lotus to hold on to him next year would be a mistake; he’s costing them too much money and too many constructors’ championship points.

      1. It should mandatory that Grosjean line up next to Maldonado at every race. LOL.

        1. @manjuboy – Grosjean and Maldonado should have their own separate start after everyone else has done theirs!

          1. At least with Maldonado there seems to be some faint hope that he may change his ways. Grosjean is just so frustrating, after telling the world he’s learnt his lesson, he clearly hasn’t . His first lap incident to races ratio is appalling.

          2. @vettel1
            crazy idea but very funny.

        2. Well that sounds bit harsh to MAL though. He got definitely improved in that area. At least not using his car as weapon in recent races. ;P

          1. @brum55 , @leotef – I know, Maldonado does seem to have made a genuine improvement recently. The same can’t be said for Grosjean though. They both have pace, it’s a shame one of theirs is going to waste.

      2. I think one of the reasons for this is because he refused to get drive coaching from Jackie Stewart; I’m sure Sir Jackie would be able to coax some sense into him

        1. @xjr15jaaag, Heard that there’s no training on the starting chaos. It’s only the area of instinct they say.

          1. But I’m sure that if Jackie tried, he could make him a little more sensible; it may never be eradicated completely, but maybe Jackie would be able to tone it down.

    2. There are some interesting quotes after the incident. Webber said “it was the first-lap nutcase again Grosjean” and that “maybe he needs another holiday” while Grosjean said “I was trying to avoid making any contact, but it didn’t work”. Really? Do tell Romain.

  5. I’m hoping Renault’s alternators will come to the rescue.

    1. …and allow Vettel to win the championship by holding up in the remaining races

    2. It’s sad that that’s the way you want your favorite driver to win the championship.

      1. Its sad that my favourite driver doesn’t stand a chance due to having a dog of a car. It’s also sad to see 2 of his biggest rivals in cars that are the class of the field.

        I think alternators just even out the field.

        1. @todfod How exactly Ferrari has been dog of a car? Today Massa finished 2nd with that “dog of a car” and considering his form during the last few years he is one of the slowest drivers in F1.

          I suspect Ferrari was the fastest car today, or at least at the same level with Red Bull. Only that can explain Massa’s podium finish.

          Maybe Ferrari hasn’t been the fastest at every circuit, but they’ve been close to the top every weekend, except Australia. And when it’s wet Ferrari seems to be the fastest car actually. And they also have the most reliable car.

          So all in all Alonso has the machinery to win the title. If he doesn’t win the title this year he can’t blame the team or car.

          1. Massa was actually quick this weekend, and he has definitely been better since midseason.

          2. Why do people use history & form to assume that Alonso would’ve out-paced Massa & as a possible subsequence, challenge Vettel for the race win? The point is that perhaps Felipe was genuinely quick this weekend (strategy & timing in qualifying is what mainly cost him a place in Q3) & that Fernando was out of the race on the first lap, so let’s be plausible & honest, we won’t get to find out how Fernando would’ve faired in the race.

            Can we move onto Korea please? (it’s just round the corner) I’m looking to see if Felipe’s podium could prove as a catalyst in reviving the ‘old’ as well as if McLaren can respond to the seeming beginning of Red Bull’s assault on both titles.

          3. Massa messed up his fast laps, he is simply faster than Alonso on this track, tough to accept, I know.

    3. You clearly like the strategist who likes to win no matter how. I understand your comment but his tweet was a bit over the top, no? Something about winning from the sea or from the mountains… the accident must have caused something there.

    4. @todfod I was hoping for Lotus’ “device” to give them 0.5 sec per lap, but they didn’t even use it as there was no benefit. So which track(s) were they talking about where they’d get 0.5? Was it Mario Circuit 1 or Banshee Boardwalk? LoL

  6. I think the stewards should have a good look at Grosjean, yes he got a penalty during the race but he deserves more. Once again he destroyed someone’s race at the first lap. He clearly hasn’t learnt from his mistakes and didn’t care he was banned for one race. If I was on the stewards panel I’d kick him out for the rest of the season.

  7. Vettel’s Suzuka masterclass as Alonso hits Kimi

  8. This is getting really bad real fast for Fernando. Will it be 2010 all over again? I hope not, but then Ferrari no longer have a healthy lead to play with. A points finish even 2 places apart will remove the 4 point lead as well. That said, it really is shaping up to a last race finish for the title.

    1. Maybe if Alonso finished today on the podium but unless things change, the title will be wrapped much earlier than the last GP.

    2. Interesting. One DNF can change everything and it can happen to Vettel as well. Hamilton was on the move to catch Alonso and a DNF at Singapore and an car at Suzuka changed the picutre (although is closer to leader Alonso).

      I’m not expecting Red Bull to carry such performance difference to both Ferrari and McLaren until São Paulo, as Vettel noted after the race, it’s an ups and downs season. Some circuits will suit better McLaren or Ferrari than Red Bull, so it’s all about consistency and staying away of DNF.

      1. @jcost Interesting comment, considering you bagged Button for his comment. Button commented “It just shows one bad race makes a massive difference,” and here we are now with you making similar judgement. But I guess if a driver that you hate makes a comment that’s logical, it makes justification for you to find faults and deduce conspiracies.

        1. @vho How? Didn’t Button said it’s ALO vs VET? I don’t get your point.

          Some people are crowning Vettel WDC when he’s 4 points behind Alonso and 38 up Hamilton. As I said, a DNF can change everything but on particular Button comment, his main point was it’s “between Alonso and Vettel”

          1. @jcost It wasn’t his only main point – His exact words were:

            “It’s hard for anyone [to catch Alonso] except Seb at the moment,” Button said.

            “It’s between those two but there’s still a lot of people with a long shot. That’s what we’re all going to go for.”



            “It just shows one bad race makes a massive difference,” Button said.

            “Fernando had his in Spa, Lewis had his in Spa and here, Seb had his at the last race.

            “I had mine in the last race. When no-one has the consistency you can’t close a big gap on someone. Seb is only 29 points behind, that’s a gap that’s shrinking.”

            But yet you focused on four words in his entire quote and not his main point about this season of inconsistent scoring (in the way of DNFs) that is going to make things difficult for anyone else further away from Alonso. Yet you’re now saying that it’s down to consistency – which is what Jenson was identifying in the first place.

            I’m no Button lover, but it seems there are a lot of comments that deduce his 2009 WDC as pure luck and of a far superior car – so tell me which WDC hasn’t relied on both luck and a quick car to win?

    3. It’s going to be worse, cause unlike in 2010. He accumulated his points due to racing….on the other hand, Korea 2010 comes in mind and then how 2007 was gifted :)

  9. Traverse Mark Senior (@)
    7th October 2012, 11:09

    People are only making a big deal of the contact Between Alonso and Kimi because they’re WDC contenders. If it was Massa instead of Alonso, I don’t think anyone would give a flying fig. It was just a typical first corner racing incident.

    1. No it’s because “all da time you have to leave a space”

      1. Sviatoslav Andrushko (@)
        7th October 2012, 11:48

        And this time Alonso should have leave the space.

      2. +1.