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GP Week : Issue 66
YOU could see it from the look in his eyes; maniacal, fevered intensity brewing inside his soul as his heart raced and emotions over owed. This one meant something. He loved the track. He was at one with his car. But there was more to it than that. Deep down, in places he probably hadn't dared to explore until the moment he passed the chequered flag, there was hope. For if he drives like that in the final two races of 2009, there is every reason for Sebastian Vettel to believe that he could snatch the World Championship from under the noses of both Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello. Vettel had looked quick ever since the Suzuka circuit had dried out after the downpours of Friday, and in qualifying he'd taken pole by topping all three sessions. But if his pace had looked ominous then, it was simply mesmeric in the race. Taking a bold and aggressive line into Turn 1, he held his pole lead and then just pulled away from the chasing Lewis Hamilton, who had passed second placed Jarno Trulli at the start from third on the grid. The reigning World Champion, in spite of his KERS unit and lighter fuel load, couldn't get close to Vettel. In the end, Vettel led every lap of the race. He was so quick that even a slow second pit-stop couldn't dent his advantage. And when the Safety Car came out with a smattering of laps to go, Vettel again drove perfectly, displaying that same pace which had given him his early advantages to scorch across the line with a five second lead built up over the final four laps of racing. For Trulli, a race of consistent qualifying-style laps ended up handing him back his second position after the second stops, and with a failing KERS system Hamilton was powerless to get back on terms. It was a second podium in two races for Toyota, and rich reward at the team's home race given the injury sustained by Timo Glock in qualifying. Kimi Raikkonen came home fourth, but had looked racey against Hamilton immediately after the Safety Car had pulled in. Making up one position on his grid slot was all he could have hoped for against the top three in the race. Fifth on the road was Nico Rosberg who was lucky to avoid a post-race penalty for his final pit-stop in-lap under the Safety Car. While his entry lap-time exceeded the time delta, the stewards discovered that a low fuel warning message had over-ridden the timing data on his steering wheel, and as such his slowing was considered sufficient not to warrant a second penalty in two races. His final pit-stop did, however, jump him ahead of Nick Heidfeld, who will feel slightly aggrieved at losing a spot after a solid race, but not as much as the Brawn drivers. Another uninspiring race from Barrichello and Button saw them finish seventh and eighth and miss out on sealing the constructors' championship by half a point. The championship will go on to Brazil. As the sun set over Suzuka, the diehard fans who'd stayed behind to watch the teams pack up got a lovely and unexpected treat. The race winner walked into the middle of the track and, hoisted aloft by his jubilant team, raised his trophy one more time in gratitude for the support he'd received at a track with which he'd fallen in love, and which in return had given him genuine hope of the Formula 1 World Championship. He's a proper bloke, that Sebastian. F1 JAPAN >> 25