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GP Week : Issue 66
THE Japanese do irony, even if unintentionally, very well indeed. I paid my first visit to Tokyo in the run up to the Japanese Grand Prix and, on my first day, went shopping in Harajuku. I was dropped off at Takeshita street, which as the name suggested, sold nothing but tacky shit. The grandest irony, however, was left for the Suzuka circuit itself. Out in the fan zone they were selling Jenson Button cookies, and I had to ask myself if the biscuits in question would crumble quite as overwhelmingly as the man himself and, it would seem, his championship aspirations. JB really hasn't been on form regularly since Turkey. Only a podium in Italy exists to save his blushes for this second half of the season. Sure, he's won six races in 2009, and by now would have been crowned World Champion under Bernie's Bonkers Medals System, but there is a growing feeling within the paddock that he is inching his way, somewhat underwhelmingly, to the title. A 25-point lead over Vettel with three races to go seemed a large enough advantage. After Japan, and Button scraping into the points while Vettel drove like a man possessed to the win, that lead is now 16 with two races remaining ... and that doesn't seem half as tough a mountain to climb. Suzuka played host to another of the grand ironies of the season as well, for the Brawn cars here were way off race-winning pace. Factor in that Suzuka is set deep in the heart of Honda-land, and is a Honda-owned circuit, and the irony should become clear. The BrawnGP car has had more money thrown at it than possibly any F1 car in history. Its design is the culmination of Honda's vast financial and technical resources, and two years of design genius from the boys over at Super Aguri, a team that Honda itself drove into the ground. But for all of the money that was thrown at its initial design and development, its 2009 upgrades have simply not done the job. Is this because the car's core basis was designed by one team and is now being developed by another? Or is it that the team simply doesn't have the resources to continue to fight at the front? In turn, what -- if either of those possibilities is the major factor -- does that mean for Brawn's 2010 hopes, if they can't get the best car on the grid at the start of the season to the end of that season in the same race-winning state? Suzuka's attendance was at about 60 percent capacity this season. Many factors played into that, not least the lack of a top line Japanese driver such as Takuma Sato, and not least the fact that he could have been driving the car now leading both championships. Has Japan fallen out of love with F1? I don't think so. The passion of the fans is intense, to the point where I was, somewhat embarrassingly, mistaken for Fernando Alonso (well that's what two weeks without shaving will do to you). But for all of that, if Suzuka showed one thing, it is that great racing circuits remain great. Vettel and Hamilton simply loved driving it, to the extent that Hamilton couldn't resist it in the wet and Vettel described it as being designed by the hand of God. For me, it's a place I have long wanted to visit, and only managed for the first time this year. I wasn't disappointed. During practice, I went out to the banking that stands between Degner and 130R and watched the cars pull through the tricky double-right hander before I spun around to watch their rivals fly through 130R at full tilt. Quite simply, there isn't another spot on earth where watching Formula 1 is this good. When I am dead and gone, I hope somebody will scatter my ashes there, on top of that banking. For as long as racing cars go racing, Suzuka is where I want to be. Pos # Driver Team Laps Time Grid 1 15 Sebastian Vettel RBR-Renault 53 1:28:20.443s 1 2 9 Jarno Trulli Toyota 53 +4.8s 2 3 1 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 53 +6.4s 3 4 4 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari 53 +7.9s 5 5 16 Nico Rosberg Williams-Toyota 53 +8.7s 7 6 6 Nick Heidfeld BMW Sauber 53 +9.5s 4 7 23 Rubens Barrichello Brawn-Mercedes 53 +10.6s 6 8 22 Jenson Button Brawn-Mercedes 53 +11.4s 10 9 5 Robert Kubica BMW Sauber 53 +11.7s 9 10 7 Fernando Alonso Renault 53 +13.0s 16 11 2 Heikki Kovalainen McLaren-Mercedes 53 +13.7s 11 12 3 Giancarlo Fisichella Ferrari 53 +14.5s 14 13 20 Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 53 +14.9s 8 14 21 Vitantonio Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes 53 +15.7s 18 15 17 Kazuki Nakajima Williams-Toyota 53 +17.9s 15 16 8 Romain Grosjean Renault 52 +1 Lap 17 17 14 Mark Webber RBR-Renault 51 +2 Laps 19 Ret 11 Jaime Alguersuari STR-Ferrari 43 Accident 12 Ret 12 Sebastien Buemi STR-Ferrari 11 Clutch 13 FORMULA 1 Round 15 JAPAN Points -- Drivers: Button 85, Barrichello 71, Vettel 69, Webber 51.5, Raikkonen 45, Hamilton 43, Rosberg 34.5, Trulli 30.5, Alonso 26, Glock 24. Manufacturers: Brawn 156, Red Bull 120.5, Ferrari 67, McLaren 65, Toyota 54.5, Williams-Toyota 34.5, Renault 26, BMW Sauber 24, Force India 13. opinion WILL BUXTON GPWeek Editor F1 JAPAN >> er 29