Sebastian Vettel enjoyed a perfect day at Suzuka claiming pole position and then sweeping to his third win of the season.
Vettel now moves up to joint second in the drivers’ championship, 14 points behind his team-mate, Mark Webber, who was second in the sister Red Bull RB6 and who stays top in the drivers’ championship. It was also only Vettel’s second win from eight poles.
The race began rather chaotically and at the start Vitaly Petrov made contact with Nico Hulkenberg on the start-finish straight, while at the first corner
Felipe Massa lost it at turn one and collected the Force India of Vitantonio Liuzzi. The safety car was immediately deployed as marshals scrambled to clear up the debris. Both incidents are to be investigated by the stewards.
Meanwhile, with Lucas di Grassi having gone out on his way to the grid – when he went off at 130R – the field was five cars down before it had even really got underway.
It didn’t stop there and on lap 3, Robert Kubica, who had managed to split the Red Bulls off the start, had to retire after losing his right rear wheel.
On the re-start on lap 7, Vettel maintained his hold on top spot followed by Webber, Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton and the rest of the pack.
Vettel then nursed a small 1-2 second lead over Webber until his pit stop on lap 25. Webber followed him in to change tyres one lap later and that gave Button P1.
The McLaren man had opted to start on the hard tyre – the only top-ten qualifier to do so. But his gamble didn’t really work out and when he finally stopped himself he rejoined in fifth.
That left Vettel and Webber to cruise home and both easily had the measure of their nearest challenger, winner of the last two races, Alonso. The Ferrari man eventually finished 2.7 seconds adrift.
Button moved up to fourth late on when with 13 laps to go his team-mate, Lewis Hamilton lost third gear. Hamilton eventually had to let the sister McLaren by on lap 43, powerless to resist. After his crash on Friday in first practice and then his five-place penalty for a gearbox change, it wasn’t a weekend he will look back on fondly.
Michael Schumacher inherited sixth, the German finally getting ahead of his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg four laps from the flag. Rosberg crashed out at the S curves when he had some sort of mechanical problem. He walked away unharmed.
Kamui Kobayashi took a fantastic seventh charging up the order after his pit stop on lap 39, which dropped him to 12th. The Japanese driver first went round the outside of Jaime Alguersuari at the hairpin. Despite banging wheels – after Alguersuari refused to yield, he pushed on and almost immediately found himself up to P10 when the engine on Adrian Sutil’s Force India let go.
Kobayashi then passed Rubens Barrichello and his Sauber team-mate Nick Heidfeld to collect another six points.
Heidfeld and Barrichello came in eighth and ninth followed by Sebastien Buemi, who took the final point in tenth.
Alguersuari had to settle for P11 after having to pit a result of his coming together with Kobayashi, while Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli were 12th and 13th for Lotus, the team’s fifth 1-2 finish of the season. Kovalainen’s 12th more significantly was also the Norfolk-based outfit’s best result of the year and all but guarantees the team victory in the battle with Virgin for the new teams honours.
Timo Glock came in 14th for Virgin, 2 laps down like Trulli and Bruno Senna who headed home the Hispania’s in 15th and 16th. Sakon Yamamoto took the chequered flag in front of his native fans, albeit 3 laps adrift. Rosberg was the last of the classified runners in 17th, despite crashing out late on.