Posted by Carrot on October 9, 2011 | No Comments
Alberto Ascari, Juan Manuel Fangio, Jack Brabham, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher, Mika Hakkinen, Fernando Alonso and now Sebastian Vettel. Nine men. Nine men who will be remembered throughout the ages. It’s hard enough to win a single Formula 1 World Championship crown, harder still to win more than one and even harder still to win more than one in consecutive years. Think of the multiple World Champions who don’t appear in that list, Graham Hill, Jim Clark, Nelson Piquet, Jackie Stewart, Niki Lauda. Those men weren’t slack, it’s just that these nine men were so good when it mattered. Today Sebastian Vettel took his place in this exclusive club, third place was all he needed.
Let’s leave history behind for a while and concentrate on today’s race. After being just nine one thousandths of a second away from Vettel in qualifying, Jenson Button demonstrated his ability to play the long game and in doing so took the race win. Fuming after Vettel’s move off the line put him on the grass, he settled down and looked after his tyres to be able to put in the lap times when they mattered, ultimately jumping Vettel in the pits and holding track position to the line. It was an emotional victory for Button, considering his substantial ties to Japan it’s a second home race for him. The other side of the garage didn’t have it so well this weekend. Although second into the first corner, Lewis Hamilton crossed the line in a lowly fifth position. A combination of tyre degradation and a slow puncture in the first stint left him well off the top four and being chased by Michael Schumacher to the flag.
Second place belonged to the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso, who surprised nearly everyone with his consistent pace throughout the race to take Vettel for second and outperform the car for an excellent result. Everyone was concentrating on the battle between Red Bull and McLaren and Vettel’s inevitable crowning but Alonso reminded everyone why he’d won back to back championships and that Ferrari are still in competition with the top two. His team mate had a race that can only be described as standard for this year. Felipe Massa out-qualified Alonso, but after the Spaniard went past him with no resistance, he drifted backwards in the standings. Combined with yet another collision with Hamilton meant he ended up behind Schumacher and finished seventh. If I were Ferrari I’d really be questioning the wisdom of keeping him for yet another season.
Third place, as we all know, was Sebastian Vettel. He only needed one point to be confirmed as champion, but it didn’t seem like he knew that as he harried Alonso to the line, shaking his fist at a back marker that put him out of touch with Alonso. It was Vettel’s first third place of the year, and apart from his one fourth place in Germany, he’s not been out of the top two places all year. While it would have been nice for him to cement his title with the win, he still came home as the top driver from his team and ahead of Hamilton and Massa. Mark Webber’s had a miserable and anonymous weekend. The Aussie never had the pace to match Vettel and ended up fourth, though he did come home ahead of the other second drivers today, Hamilton and Massa.
The fourth fastest team this weekend was, again, Mercedes GP. Michael Schumacher used the safety car to his advantage to gain a free pit stop that put him ahead of Massa, a position he held to the end of the race. His team mate in the second car came from 23rd on the grid to take the last points position in tenth by carving his way through the cars in the midfield for all of the race. The pace shown today is encouraging for Mercedes GP, it’s all well and good being the lonely fourth team but today they proved again that they could mix it with the top three and come through traffic when needed. If only they can produce a better car for next year, they’ll be in contention for race wins.
The other two points positions, eighth and ninth, were taken by Sergio Perez and Vitaly Petrov in the Sauber and Renault respectively. It was a good result for the pair, not only points but also beating their more highly rated team mates. A final note to the performance of Team Lotus who managed to finish on the lead lap. Yes, they were helped by the safety car in that regard, but with Virgin Racing and HRT both two laps down, it must give them serious encouragement to move forward in 2012.
The 2011 Formula Drivers’ World Championship is over, but the Constructors’ Championship is not. Red Bull still need to put that beyond mathematical certainty, but just finishing ahead of McLaren in Korean should achieve that. We’ve still got four races left, a new race in India, the always epic Brazil to finish the season and Korea next week. After all the rain last year Korea will still be interesting to see how the race unfolds in dry conditions, if the rain holds off of course. See you next week.