Button brings it home for Japanese fans... Vettel’s podium clinches second title... Webber fights through to fourth... and Hamilton and Massa are at it again!
Jenson Button won the race but Sebastian Vettel won the Drivers’ World Championship for the second year in a row at an enthralling Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka on Sunday.
With Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso second and Vettel third, it was an all-World Champion podium as a delighted crowd greeted Button, who has a Japanese partner and a special affinity with the country, and gave a rapturous response to Vettel’s achievement in becoming the sport’s youngest double World Champion.
Vettel, needing just one point for the crown, had to survive an early scare when he moved across aggressively from pole position – his 12th of the year, his 27th in all – to fend off the fast-starting Button, whose McLaren shared the front row with the Red Bull star.
“Surely he’ll get a penalty for that?” asked Button straight away on team radio, and the news came quickly that the incident was under investigation by the stewards, guided this weekend by Australia’s 1980 World Champion Alan Jones.
But by lap six of the 53 they had decided the German had no case to answer and in the early stages it seemed the others had no answer to the Red Bull’s pace as Vettel streaked away into the lead. Then, as predicted, Pirelli’s tyres again began to play their part in the outcome of another action-packed race.
The top three finishers all stopped three times, starting on the yellow ‘soft’ option and then putting together longer stints on the white ‘medium’ prime tyre. In first as early as lap nine, Vettel was back in the pits after 19 laps – and this time Button was close enough to follow the Red Bull in a lap later, complete his stop and emerge as leader of the race.
Although Button relinquished first place in the third frenetic round of pit stops, allowing Michael Schumacher to lead for Mercedes, the 2009 World Champion was back in control by lap 41.
If he thought it would be a stroll to the flag, he had to think again when Alonso’s Ferrari also jumped Vettel at the final round of stops.
The Spaniard came on strong in the closing stages, closing to under a second before Button responded with the fastest lap of the race on lap 52 to seal his third win of the season and his first in Japan.
“This circuit is very special to all of us, so to get a victory in front of a big Japanese crowd really does mean a lot,” said a delighted Button, whose helmet carried special messages of support to the disaster-stricken nation.
“I want to thank every single person here in Japan who’s supported us – hopefully we’ve planted a happy memory in their minds, because a lot of Japan has been through difficult times this year. We did our best and we put on a fantastic show.”
“Where to start?” asked Vettel as he tried to sum up his feelings on another historic F1 occasion. “There is no secret – it’s step by step. In a way the hardest thing is winning again after winning last year. It’s been such a long year, and the good thing is that it’s not over yet!”
Behind the top three Mark Webber came on song in the middle section of the race and brought the second Red Bull home in fourth place from sixth on the grid. The Aussie, though, now faces an uphill struggle in his bid to finish the year in second place as both Button and Alonso hold the advantage over him with just four races to go.
The simmering little feud between Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa continued on-track as the McLaren and Ferrari clashed at Turn 16 just short of half-distance. Once again the stewards had a look but once again they decided it was a racing incident and took no further action.
Hamilton went on to finish fifth, one place ahead of Michael Schumacher, having one of his strongest outings of the season for Mercedes.
With Massa seventh, Sauber’s Sergio Perez again underlined his resolve by coming home seventh ahead of a fast-finishing Vitaly Petrov in the Renault and Nico Rosberg, who brought the second Mercedes through the field from the back row to claim the final World Championship point of the day.
The solitary retirement was Sebastien Buemi’s Toro Rosso, which shed its right front wheel soon after its first pit stop. Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo was 22nd of the 23 finishers with the satisfaction of beating his HRT teammate Tonio Liuzzi.
“I never imagined I would win one Championship and so to win this second one is amazing,” Vettel concluded. “I have a lot of good memories from Formula One, from watching it when I was young, to now and I feel fortunate and blessed to experience today.”
The next race is this weekend in Korea.
Q: Sebastian Vettel is the ninth driver to win back-to-back F1 titles. Can you name the other eight?
A: Alberto Ascari (1952-53), Juan Manuel Fangio (1954-55-56-57), Sir Jack Brabham (1959-60), Alain Prost (1985-86), Ayrton Senna (1990-91), Michael Schumacher (1994-95 and 2000-2004), Mika Hakkinen (1998-99) and Fernando Alonso (2005-06).
1. Vettel 324 points
2. Button 210
3. Alonso 202
4. Webber 194
5. Hamilton 178
1. Red Bull Racing 518 points
2. McLaren-Mercedes 388
3. Ferrari 292