Japan race analysis - more questions than answers 01 Oct 2007
Might Ferrari have won the Japanese Grand Prix, had they gone to the grid with the mandatory Bridgestone extreme wet tyres that every other team knew they had to fit? It was a moot point, but just another of the questions that the first grand prix at Fuji for 30 years threw up in the course of a dramatic afternoon.
Lewis Hamilton won virtually as he pleased for McLaren, notwithstanding attack by Robert Kubica and a near miss courtesy of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, though he was worried after the Kubica crash by a serious vibration. Meanwhile, Fernando Alonso suffered his first non-points scoring race of the season with the team after crashing heavily on the 41st lap. Ferrari, meanwhile, had another reliable day as Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa finished third and sixth respectively. Whether they would have been able to take the challenge to McLaren had it been a dry race was just another riddle that went unanswered.
Renault had their best race of the season and, almost unbelievably, their first podium, courtesy of a very ballsy drive by Heikki Kovalainen, who kept a charging Raikkonen at bay throughout. The Finn totally outshone team mate Giancarlo Fisichella after their first fuel stop, but the Italian also helped make it a profitable day for the champions by taking fifth, so they came away with the highest points tally, of 12.
Red Bull took home another five points via a gritty performance from David Coulthard, but there could have been so much more. Mark Webber was running second, behind Hamilton and ahead of Toro Rossos Sebastian Vettel, under the safety car on lap 46. Up to that point the Australian had set the third fastest lap - 1m 28.940s compared to Hamiltons 1m 28.193s and Alonsos 1m 28.511s. Vettel had led from lap 29 to 31, a first for Toro Rosso, and Webber from 32 to 36. But then, as the pack concertinaed behind Bernd Maylanders Mercedes, Vettel misjudged things and smacked hard into the back of the RB3. At a stroke the Red Bull car was through, much to the chagrin of Webber who had fought off sickness in the cockpit to push his way to the front. The Toro Rosso made it as far as the pits, with heavy frontal damage, before an embarrassed Vettel parked it.
Subsequently, the stewards handed down a 10 grid-place penalty to the hapless German, who earlier had been in floods of tears in the garage.
Even so, Toro Rosso seemed destined to score a point, thanks to Tonio Liuzzi who started from the pit lane in the spare car, but he was adjudged inadvertently to have overtaken Adrian Sutils Spyker under a yellow flag, and when the stewards added a 25s penalty to his race time, the final point, for eighth place, went instead to the German and his Dutch team.
BMW Sauber had a less than happy day, which promised more than Robert Kubicas eventual seventh place. The Pole was involved in the brush with Hamilton on the 34th lap, later served a drive-through penalty for his role in it, and was then attacked by Massa on the final lap in a fabulous, if unruly, duel.
Poor old Heidfelds race was comprised right from the first start behind the safety car, as he got jumped by a whole bunch of guys and fell from third to 10th. He had a misfire and, since his radio didn't work, the team could not inform him when the safety car was coming in. He was thus forced to try and do that by sight in the terrible conditions, and since he was misfiring his way along in sixth gear on the straight when the race went green, he got swamped. Despite that he was still headed for sixth place, when his engine began to sound rough and his F1.07 stopped just by the pit exit on lap 66 for reasons as yet undiscovered.
Behind Sutil and Liuzzi (whose penalty dropped him to ninth) the Hondas of Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button finished 10th and 11th. Button was fourth as the safety car pulled in for the first time, but a clash with Heidfeld as he attempted to take third in Turn One on the first racing lap resulted in a collision that cost him his front wing. He was able to continue without the appendage until his first stop on the 23rd lap, but then he was delayed further by a throttle problem. He passed Barrichello for 11th place on lap 61, but then Takuma Sato savaged him on the final lap and he did not make the flag.
Overall, it was a poor day for Japanese representatives. Toyota only got Jarno Trulli home in 13th place, after the Italian downshifted at the wrong time and spun behind the first safety car, and Ralf Schumacher retired. Hed been troubled by water in the electronics, which among other things took out his radio, and after a pit call he was sent out again only to suffer a puncture. On a day when Toyotas management had reportedly been promised a podium finish, this counted as nothing short of disaster.
Then there was Super Aguri, who saw Sato classified 15th and Anthony Davidson retire after 54 laps with throttle sensor failure.
Meanwhile, Sakon Yamamoto survived a spin and nearly stalling after his first stop to take 12th.
The race was also a disaster for Williams. Rosberg ran well initially before a spin, but was halted by an electronic problem which robbed him of traction control and a consistent gearshift. That made the FW29 impossible to drive, so his day was done. He joined team mate Alexander Wurz, who said he got shunted from behind at the first proper start, spun down to Turn One, and collected the hapless Massa.