Round 15 - Japan 5-7 October 2012
Circuit Length: 5.807 Km
Lap Record: 1:31.540 = 228.372 km/h - K. Raikkonen (McLaren) 2005
Pole Position: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault); 1:30.839 = 230.134 km/h
1st: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault), 1:28.56.242 (av. race speed 207.429 km/h)
2nd: Felipe Massa (Ferrari), 20.639s behind
3rd: Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber Ferrari), 24.538s
Fastest Lap: Vettel, 1:35.774 = 218.276 km/h on lap 52
‘FIRST LAP NUTCASE’ ENDS MARK’S HOPES, SEB STRIKES AGAIN: SUZUKA IN 10 QUICK BITES
We said after Singapore that Sebastian Vettel scented success in the title race. The 25-year-old German can almost taste it now: at Suzuka he became the first back-to-back race winner of 2012 and on another day of first-lap drama the Red Bull driver closed the gap to Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso to just four points with five races remaining.
That’s because Alonso’s race lasted only a few hundred metres before he was tapped from behind by Kimi Raikkonen’s Lotus, slithered off track with a punctured tyre and into instant retirement – the Spaniard’s second no-score in four races. “This is motor sport,” shrugged Alonso. “We have five races and they will be like five finals, five championships… a big fight every time now. It will be like a mini championship because we start with the same points and we need to score one more point in five races. So we will try to do it.”
Seconds after Alonso’s off it was Mark Webber’s turn. After starting from the front row for the first time since Silverstone, the 36-year-old Aussie became the latest victim of Romain Grosjean’s inability to negotiate the first few corners of a Grand Prix successfully as the Red Bull was punted from behind by the Lotus. “I haven't obviously seen what happened at the start, but the guys confirmed that it was the first-lap nutcase again – Grosjean,” said Webber. “The rest of us are trying to fight for some decent results each weekend, but he is trying to get to the third corner as fast as he can at every race.”
Unlike Alonso Webber made it back to pit lane and embarked on a fine comeback drive that netted two invaluable points in Red Bull’s push for a third straight constructors’ title. Grosjean meanwhile picked up a stop-go penalty and there was some poetic justice when he pitted to retire a lap from the end. “Seven incidents this year is more than enough,” added Red Bull team principal Christian Horner. “Mark was a victim of the action today and that cost him at least a podium.”
Vettel had started from his fourth pole position of 2012, his fourth in a row at Suzuka and the 34th of his career – a return that sees him now third in the all-time list behind only Michael Schumacher (68) and Ayrton Senna (65). Vettel has reached that target in just 96 races. Vettel’s win was his third of the season and the 24th of his career, a figure that puts him level with the peerless Juan Manuel Fangio of Argentina.
Behind Vettel – more than 20 seconds behind him – was Felipe Massa, for whom the podium must have felt like a foreign country. It was the 31-year-old Brazilian’s first visit there since Korea in 2010, an absence of almost exactly two years as Korea is the next race on the calendar. With his Ferrari drive under intense scrutiny the result, however fortuitous, could not have come at a better time.
The Japanese crowd went wild – or as wild as Japanese crowds ever do – when Kamui Kobayashi in his Sauber claimed third place, holding off a determined late attack from Jenson Button’s McLaren. The 26-year-old Japanese was making his first-ever visit to the F1 podium and he too may see this as the result that keeps him in the Sauber line-up next season. KK is the first Japanese driver to finish on the podium since Takuma Sato was third for BAR-Honda at Indianapolis in 2004, and the first to be on the Suzuka podium since Aguri Suzuki also finished third in a Lola Lamborghini way back in 1990. It was Sauber’s fourth podium of 2012, though the man with the other three, Sergio Perez, spun out on lap 19.
With Button fourth and Lewis Hamilton fifth, McLaren not only missed out on the chance to hunt down Alonso but also lost further ground in their pursuit of Red Bull for the constructors’ title. Button complained several times of a gearbox glitch – a gearbox change had already cost him a five-place grid penalty – while Hamilton was never in the hunt after qualifying poorly in eighth. They have slipped to 41 points behind Red Bull, with Ferrari a further 20 back in third.
Dan Ricciardo produced another fine display for Toro Rosso to claim the final World Championship point of the day. Ricciardo was buoyed by a ‘victory’ of his own, when he fended off a desperate onslaught from Michael Schumacher in the closing stages. “Right at the end, I was holding off Michael and I was really pleased to have won that battle,” said Ricciardo, who was two years old when Schumacher first raced in F1. “It’s always tougher when you are the slower car in a duel, but with good advice from the pit wall on how to use the KERS to defend in the DRS zone, I managed it. Our work rate as a team has improved and I’m very pleased with the way I drove under pressure. It’s not every day you have a seven times world champion on your tail and given he only has a few more races, it was nice to have a battle with him to put in my scrapbook!”
Schumacher’s final race at a track where he has been on pole eight times and won six was one to forget. His Mercedes started from 23rd on the grid after taking the 10-place penalty for his Singapore indiscretion and the 43-year-old seven-time World Champion’s failure to catch Ricciardo meant he finished 11th. It was a disappointing end to a weekend which started with Schumacher announcing that he will retire for good at the end of the season. With Nico Rosberg out on the first lap after tangling with Bruno Senna – an incident that cost the Williams man a drive-through penalty – it was a thoroughly forgettable weekend for the Silver Arrows.