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GP Week : Issue 211
A bleak pre-Typhoon Phanfone raceday at suzuka ended in calamity following the appalling accident which befell Jules Bianchi in the closing stages and saw it stopped a few laps early. Bianchi’s accident came as the weather closed in again and drivers, faced with darkening skies and disappearing grip, wrestled with decisions over a late-race stop for full wets. Nothing seemed likely to change the result at the front. Mercedes had dominated the entire weekend, wet or dry, and with Lewis Hamilton the better in the conditions and Nico Rosberg having settled for a “damage-limitation” second, the only question remained over the places. Lewis had followed his team-mate through the first stops, for Inters, but was less-affected by increasing oversteer slowing his team-mate. The pass, when it came, was clean and definitive – DRS on the straight, then sweeping around the outside into Turn 1 as Nico defended the inside: “Fairly straightfor ward, really,” said Lewis. “I had a lot more pace than Nico. This is not a very easy circuit to follow but fortunately I was able to get quite close and particularly in the last corner and I think perhaps he had a small oversteer moment out of the last corner and I didn’t. “Obviously the DRS enabled me to get alongside. I was fairly confident with the balance of the car so I put it there and stuck it out. And after that it was really about trying to ... you know ... the whole approach changed after that because before I was attacking, attacking and after that, I kind of took different lines and managed it differently.” As qualifying hinted, Red Bull had sacrificed a little for next-day wet set-up, while Williams hadn’t, and so the blue cars worked their way for ward, but not as fast as the white ones went backwards. In laps and out laps, and the timing of the switch to Intermediates all played a part but, as the drama on the far side of the circuit was taking place, Sebastain Vettel had sacrificed third place with a late dive for fresh Inters, emerging in fourth, behind team-mate Ricciardo. Was Daniel trying, as he has successfully done before, looking to stretch his rubber to the end? The question was cut short by the red flag and, with the countback to the previous lap, Sebastian took the final podium spot. As with all the drivers, post-race comments were muted and all sharing one concern: "Everything that happened with the racing on track is secondary today, one ofusisinabadshapeandwedon'tyet know how he is,” said Vettel. “Jules had a bad accident and we hope to have some very good news, very soon. Not knowing what's going on feels terrible, I think all the drivers really feel with him, as we know how difficult and slippery it was today; we hope for the very best." Perhaps the biggest and most valuable move in the race was Jenson Button’s decision to stop for Inters before anyone else and, as team boss Boulloier pointed out, his fifth spot might just have been better: "More important than anything else, on behalf of everyone at McLaren I want to say how shocked and sorry we were to hear the news of Jules' accident. Our hearts go out to him, of course, to his family, and to all at Marussia. "As far as today's race was concerned, Jenson was the first driver in the field to stop to fit intermediates, and, having done so, thereafter he drove very well all afternoon. Indeed, he may well have finished third had things panned out better for us at the end of the race in terms of safety car and pit-stop timing. "Even so, the 10 points he scored for fifth place may well be useful to us in our efforts to move up the constructors' championship table. By contrast, Kevin had a disappointing afternoon. From early in the race his car began to develop electronics issues, which we attempted to ameliorate by replacing his steering wheel in an unscheduled pit-stop. "After that he was always going to be playing catch-up – and, although he pulled off some good moves, especially his overtake of Daniel, he was never going to be in with a chance of scoring points here today.” Having maximized their Qualifying performance, the Williams duo struggled in the wet, but still scooped points for sixth and seventh. Again, team boss Smedley was short and succinct with his post-race evaluation: "Our first concern is for the wellbeing of Jules, we hope that everything is okay. In the race we made some good strategy calls and as a result we extracted what we could and finished in a decent position. “The conditions were difficult at the start and equally at the end as it got dark. However, our thoughts and hopes are with Jules, his family and friends, and the Marussia team." The one regular name missing from this story so far is that of Fernando Alonso. With the race stopped after just two laps earlier on, his car simply switched off on the rolling laps as the race re-formed behind the Safety Car. And for team-mate Raikkonen, it was little better – unable to get decent temperature into his Inters he just fell away to finish 12th. And so another wet Japanese Grand Prix ended, this time in disaster. With the event at perhaps the best circuit in the series constantly scheduled for typhoon season, will F1 ever wake up and make a change? Based on history, both here and at places like Malaysia, don’t get your hopes up ... DECISIVE – Hamilton's pass for the lead was clean and impressive, DRS-aided, then round the outside into Turn 1. 26 GPWEEK.com // 26 GPWEEK.com // F1 >>> JAPAN PARTNERS: