Vettel unstoppable in Suzuka; Button homes in on title.
Sebastian Vettel romped to victory in the Japanese Grand Prix to retain an outside chance of winning the world title, but another conservative drive from Jenson Button sees the Brawn driver edge closer to his dream of becoming world champion.
Jarno Trulli finished second in the lone Toyota, much to the delight of the team whose home grand prix has been one of mixed fortunes following Timo Glock’s huge crash in qualifying.
Lewis Hamilton got the jump on Trulli at the start but he was surpassed by the Italian at the second round of pit stops after his KERS system went down costing him half a second a lap.
There was drama in the final few laps of the race when the safety car was deployed following an incident involving Jamie Alguersuari the Spanish rookie lost control at 130R and spun across the track into the tyre barriers.
At the restart all eyes were on Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello in seventh and eighth place, sandwiched by the BMW Saubers of Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica. After some frantic squabbling into the first corner the Brawn drivers held station with Kimi Raikkonen, Nico Rosberg and Nick Heidfeld finishing ahead of them.
That leaves the championship gap at fourteen points in Button’s favour, with just two races remaining.
But there was controversy after the race when Nico Rosberg’s actions during the safety car period were called into question, most notably by an outspoken Button. The drivers must not exceed a determined laptime when racing under the safety and there were doubts about whether Rosberg had done this.
A penalty for Rosberg would see the Brawn drivers promoted to sixth and seventh and that would be enough to crown the team constructors’ champions. Forumula1.com will bring you any news as we receive it.
Sebastian Vettel meanwhile was delighted with his race win and pointed to the start as his only concern.
“Yesterday with pole position and also strategy wise we were the favourites, but first of all you had the start,” he said after taking his third win of the season.
“We were confident and had good starts in the past, so were confident to defend the position.
“It was closer than I thought it would be, going into turn 1 I saw a silver arrow on the left hand side. I was on the inside so I had advantage but it was closer than I thought.
“From there I pushed every single lap. The car was fantastic, I was able to get a good lap, we were longer than Jarno and Lewis so it all worked out. Until the end it was all under control until I put the soft tyres on the last stint.
“I wanted a bit of fun so did one quick lap, then the engineer came on and said be careful with the tyres as there might be a safety car and then two laps later there was a safety car. But I was still taking care of tyres. At the restart I was able to use it and had a bit of a cushion with Grosjean behind me. It was a good restart and then built a gap that was safe enough to win it.”
He added: “Finally we made it. It the last couple of races we were a little bit up and down. Sometimes we had the pace, sometimes we didn’t, so it is good to be back in the top position on Sunday.”
Lewis Hamilton conceded that Vettel was out of reach after the start, but he admitted that he was frustrated at losing out to Trulli, largely as a result of losing his KERS system in the second half of the race.
“I was on the radio for the last couple of SC laps asking the team if they could get KERS working again,” he said.
“I needed that to have any chance of passing Jarno at the restart, so I was looking out to see if we could get as close as possible. But I didn’t particularly exit the last corner close enough to get him. It’s always the case that you have to be very close to him, so I was not able to do it.”
“Just before or after the last stop I lost KERS, so that automatically lost us a few tenths per lap, then the brake balance changes,” said Hamilton.
“I had to have a three second gap before the last stop, and had 3.1 then there was the last couple of laps, and I lost half a second.
“Once he was in front of me it was impossible to keep up with him. They did a fantastic job and we will battle at the next race.”
As in Singapore a week ago, the Japanese grand prix was something of a processional affair with little in the way of overtaking. And that will surely trigger more questions about the changes introduced this year to improve the racing spectacle.
Besides the safety car in the final few laps, the only other point of drama came when Adrian Sutil dived down the inside of Heikki Kovalainen at the Casio chicane. Sutil was spun around, but both drivers lost places – and gifted Jenson Button free points.
Heikki Kovalainen dropped to eleventh place ahead of Giancarlo Fisichella who continues to struggle at Ferrari, while Sutil placed thirteenth.
Tonio Liuzzi finished fourteenth ahead of local favourite Kazuki Nakajima and Romain Grosjean.
Mark Webber’s miserable weekend continued. Having started last following his crash in qualifying – which forced Red Bull to change his chassis – he made two visits to the pits in the opening few laps due to a problem with the carbon-fibre surrounding his cockpit.
Toro Rosso rookie Sebastian Buemi joins Jaimie Alguersuari on the DNF list after he retired with a mechanical problem.