Japan analysis - Vettel victory sets up five-race showdown 08 Oct 2012
Sebastian Vettel won as he pleased in Suzuka on Sunday, celebrating the venues 50th anniversary with a stylish and crucial success that brought him equal with Juan Manuel Fangios career wins tally, and within four points of the luckless championship leader, Fernando Alonso, who was taken out in the first corner. It means that with just five rounds to go and Red Bull in worryingly strong form, Vettel is now odds-on favourite to retain his title, and the pressure is on at Ferrari to unlock some additional pace from the F2012. We take a team-by-team look at the formbook in Japan
Sebastian Vettel, P1
Mark Webber, P9
Vettel said his RB8 in race trim was the sort of car he dreams about driving, and it showed. The German was in a class of his own as he led every lap and slashed the world championship deficit to Alonso to a mere four points. The manner of his victory should strike terror into the hearts of Red Bulls rivals, with five races left. Webber was utterly out of luck yet again, as he came under attack from Grosjean in the first corner and had to play catch-up to a disappointing ninth place.
Felipe Massa, P2
Fernando Alonso, Retired lap 1, puncture/spin
Alonsos clash with Raikkonen in the first corner left him spinning into retirement with a punctured left-rear tyre, decimated the Spaniards world championship lead and leaves him vulnerable in the coming races. But Massas drive to a strong second place salvaged something for the Scuderia, gave him his first podium since Korea 2010, may well have saved his seat for 2013, and showed the pace of the F2012. It was thus a bittersweet race for the team, and if they were in any doubt that the title fight is well and truly engaged, the Japanese Grand prix brought them face to face with reality.
Kamui Kobayashi, P3
Sergio Perez, Retired lap 19, spin
You could have cut the tension within Sauber with a plastic knife at the start of the race, and Perezs hot-headed performance did little to dispel it. The Mexican lost a battle with Raikkonen going into Turn One on the third lap, then squeaked past Hamilton in the hairpin on the sixth. After his first pit stop he had fallen behind the McLaren driver once more, and when he got caught out slightly under braking for that same corner on the 19th lap, he spun haplessly into retirement. Kobayashi, meanwhile, made up for the teams bitter disappointment in Spa with a superb drive. Massa eventually jumped both him and Button with a later tyre stop, but Kobayashi clung to an excellent podium place despite worn tyres and massive pressure from Button in the closing stages, and it was richly deserved. The result brings the Swiss team within 20 points of Mercedes in the world championship for constructors.
Jenson Button, P4
Lewis Hamilton, P5
Who would have thought after recent races that McLaren would struggle so much on a circuit that ought to have suited them so well? Yet the truth was that the MP4-27 just wasnt fast enough at Suzuka, where Red Bull, Ferrari and Sauber blew them off in race trim even though Buttons best laps was the second fastest. The 2009 champion couldnt quite make it past Kobayashi, while debris from the first-corner shunts hurt Hamiltons car in the early going, and by the time it had been removed in his first stop he had lost too much ground. If anyone doubted his commitment after the confirmation of his imminent move to Mercedes, however, his move on Raikkonen in Turn One on the 32nd proved it beyond question.
Kimi Raikkonen, P6
Romain Grosjean, Retired
Once again, Lotuss ultimate performance disappointed, and the win that once seemed so close seemed no closer. Raikkonen said that sixth was the best he could have hoped for, while Grosjean was in trouble yet again after a silly incident with Webber in the first corner ruined both of their races and cost his team valuable potential points.
Nico Hulkenberg, P7
Paul di Resta, P12
Both drivers lost momentum in the first-corner melee, but Hulkenberg was able to push through to a strong seventh place, right on Raikkonens tail. Di Resta had a clutch problem at the start, and having fallen back as a result of a slow getaway was never able to make up lost ground in a frustrating race.
Pastor Maldonado, P8
Bruno Senna, P14
Incredibly, Maldonados four points for a well-driven eighth place were the first he has scored since his brilliant victory in Spain. Senna spoiled things yet again by colliding with another car on the opening lap, this time Rosberg, and after an early pit stop and a drive-through penalty he finally found a rhythm that suggested he could have been a strong points contender if only he had kept his cool. By the finish he was side by side with Vergne, but still only 14th.
Daniel Ricciardo, P10
Jean-Eric Vergne, P13
Ricciardo lived up to his honey badger billing with a great drive to keep Schumachers Mercedes at bay in their battle for the final point. Vergne was also quick, but lost ground in the opening-lap mayhem and then got trapped behind Kovalainens slower Caterham.
Michael Schumacher, P11
Nico Rosberg, Retired lap 1, accident
This was another terrible race for Mercedes, with Rosberg being taken out in the second corner by Senna, and Schumacher failing to take the final point having fight his way up from 23rd on the grid. With Sauber only 20 points adrift, the alarm bells should be ringing in Stuttgart and Brackley.
Heikki Kovalainen, P15
Vitaly Petrov, P17
For a while Kovalainen looked comfortable in 11th place as he made the most of the opening-lap dramas and kept Vergne and Di Resta at bay, but inevitably he lacked the speed to stay there. Gradually he dropped back to his customary 15th, 8.5s ahead of rival Marussias Timo Glock. Team mate Vitaly Petrov took 17th, after a drive-through penalty for ignoring blue flags.
Timo Glock, P16
Charles Pic, Retired lap 38, engine air pressure problems
Marussia had a curious scare even before the race when Glock reported running over a wheel nut in the pit lane. He believed it to be one of his own, but it transpired it had come from another, unidentified, car. He went on to show that their recent progress wasnt a fluke when he finished 8.5s behind Kovalainens Caterham, but after Pic had fought back from a delay when he overshot his pit his MR01 failed to finish due to problems with its Cosworth engines pneumatic valve system.
Pedro de la Rosa, P18
Narain Karthikeyan, Retired lap 33, handling
De la Rosa reported a reasonable race, compromised by an unidentified problem in his first stop, but Karthikeyans F112 was withdrawn on safety grounds after a problem with its floor attachment.
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