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GP Week : Issue 192
Japan’s beloved suzuka Circuit was the scene of sebastian Vettel’s fifth consecutive victory on the Red Bull racer’s way to his fourth consecutive driver’s title, but it was the twos and threes that really counted on sunday afternoon. While it may have been another win for Vettel, it was hardly the textbook affair we have seen at recent races, with a lights-to-flag victory resulting from the German ingénue opening up a multi- second lead over the course of the first lap before powering on to victory. Far from it. For the first time in recent memory Vettel got off to a poor start, having lined up – unusually – behind teammate Mark Webber. Both Red Bull drivers were left standing by Romain Grosjean, who appeared to have fitted a jet engine to his E21, such was his pace on the first lap of the Japanese Grand Prix. Lurching along in the Frenchman’s wake Vettel made contact with the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton, leading to a puncture that would force the Briton into the pits and – eventually – out of the race. Despite his eventual victory it was an error- strewn afternoon from the defending champion, something Vettel himself admitted in the post-race press conference, drawing attention to the series of lock-ups that characterised his progress around some of the most challenging corners on the current F1 calendar. One man who made far fewer errors was Grosjean, who followed his stellar start with a commanding performance that saw the Lotus in the lead for much of the afternoon. It was on lap 41 that Vettel finally made it past the Frenchman for the lead, slipping past the Lotus on the straight and off to certain victory. At the time of the manoeuvre Vettel was four laps past his second and final stop of the race, after an impressively long second stint that saw the German complete 23 laps on a new primes. Grosjean – also on a two-stop strategy that saw him pit for new primes on lap 29 – was on rubber eight laps older and was there for the taking, with an ever-shrinking lead in the face of a charging Vettel. Webber, meanwhile, had been changed from a two- to a three-stop strategy mid-race, raising questions in the cockpit and pressroom alike. Speaking to the media after the race the Australian was convinced that he could have made a two-stop work, but demands from the pit wall that he cover Grosjean meant that there was little Webber could do but hope for a second-place finish. While the team were convinced that a three- stop would have been quicker for their number two driver, the close running at the front of the pack coupled with the time lost in the pit lane meant that – even to the uninitiated – a win from a three-stop surrounded by drivers stopping twice was going to be mathematically impossible, no matter how fresh the Australian’s rubber in the closing stages. And when push came to shove, the relative youth of Webber’s tyres faded into irrelevance as the Australian emerged from the pits in third place, shod in used mediums already past their best. What life was left in the rubber was lost in the fight with Grosjean, and there was no grip – or time – for Webber to give chase to his all-conquering teammate. Further down the pack, Fernando Alonso finished the race in fourth place after a series of impressive battles, not least with the Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen and the Sauber of Nico Hulkenberg. The 10 points Alonso gained on Sunday afternoon were not enough to make a dent in Vettel’s championship lead, but they were enough to delay the inevitable until the Indian Grand Prix in two weeks’ time. 30 GPWEEK.com // 30 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: F1 >>> JAPAN