Vettel the man as others flounder in Japan

27486 1 thumbnail 750x550 page1 92906“Having a comfortable lead in the title race, with two races to go and virtually no idea if you will be able to do anything to stop other people taking it out of your hands, must be a bizarre sensation.”

Forumula1.com’s Hugh Podmore on the threat that Vettel still
poses to championship leader Jenson Button after a flawless drive in Suzuka.

Sebastian Vettel demonstrated two things today in his superb victory in Japan. The first was that he has lost none of the bone-crunching speed which has seen him being compared to Michael Schumacher, but which a combination of unreliability and bad luck has blunted this season. The second was that he most certainly has no intention whatsoever of giving up on the world championship. Jenson Button leads him by fewer points now than did Hamilton to Raikkonen in 2007 with two races to go, and Raikkonen became champion.

Vettel’s dominance was chiefly the product of a car which loved the fast, sweeping corners of Suzuka. Team-mate Mark Webber should have been up there too, and would have, if he had not been having one of his periods of terrible luck. Nevertheless Webber set fastest lap, coming as he was in 17th and about two laps down on the field, a testament both to the Australian’s professionalism and the RB5’s outright potential. Adrian Newey and his team’s final upgrades of the year, which arrived just before Singapore, have seemingly restored the RB5 to the sharp end of the grid. It is thought that Interlagos and Abu Dhabi will not suit it so much: Red Bull might yet resent more the decision to whack a penalty on Vettel for speeding in the pitlane in Singapore.

But it was the same Vettel that got the maximum from the package today, and made no mistakes. His drive was flawless – he managed the tyres expertly, and even consciously saved fuel during his first stint. This management of what he had at his disposal carved him out a little extra window of time, a margin for error. And an error came at the second stop, when his right front tyre momentarily did not want to come off. Everyone stayed cool, however, knowing that thanks to the driver they all had the race in the bag.

No-one else had particularly stellar races, it has to be said. For long periods of time, European viewers watching the race in the small hours will have drifted back to the realms of sleep. Second-placed Jarno Trulli was having a great weekend for the home team Toyota, however. He drove well and quickly, and thanks to his strategy and businesslike pitstops from the Toyota pit team, managed to jump Lewis Hamilton for second. Hamilton drove with typical consistency and verve, albeit hampered by the weight of a malfunctioning KERS system that manifestly hadn’t paid for its ride.

Heikki Kovalainen had one of the more interesting races this morning. His early speed held up Adrian Sutil, who promptly sized the Finn up and went for a move down at the final chicane. At the second part of the chicane Kovalainen hopped over the kerb and drove into Sutil, who by then had the place. Sutil was unfairly blamed for the incident by some commentators. Kovalainen did manage to redeem himself later however, by passing a soporific Giancarlo Fisichella as they exited the pitlane together.

As for the championship contenders, nothing really changed. Rubens Barrichello complained of a lack of grip caused by a bad set-up, and Jenson Button never looked like having the real pace to challenge the upper echelons of the grid. Their seasons have been so up and down, their fortunes so fluctuating, that both must be starting to wonder about whether the title is destined for their hands. They have been blessed with reliability, but performance levels very different from race to race. For Button in particular it must be frustrating. Having what is still a comfortable lead in the title race, with two races to go and virtually no idea if you will be able to do anything to stop other people taking it out of your hands, must be a bizarre sensation.

Meanwhile Sebastian Vettel knows that he must win the next two races. He has to go all out, to maximise what he has, and beat the Brawns. Which is exactly what he did today.