Sebastian Vettel dominated the 53-lap Japanese Grand Prix from pole position to keep himself in championship contention on a day that Rubens Barrichello
and Jenson Button
could only record the final points paying positions.
Vettel converted his pole into a comfortable race
lead at the start, even managing to save a little fuel on his first stint and manage the gap back to the fast-starting Lewis Hamilton.
"I do," replied Vettel when asked if he felt great. "The biggest threat was lap one, the start. The car was fantastic, so I was able to push lap by lap and increase the gap bit by bit. Obviously with the strategy we were two laps longer than Lewis and a lap longer than Jarno in the first stint, so it all worked out. Until the end I was pretty much in control.Ē
Starting third, the defending champion made best use of KERS off the line to pass Jarno Trulli
for second position, but was never able to shake off the determined Toyota racer.
Trulli kept the pressure on Hamilton and was able to regain second position in the second and final round of pitstops to take a well-deserved second position at his paymasterís home grand prix.
Exiting the pits for the second time, Hamilton lost a fraction of a second as he either selected neutral rather than the pit lane speed limiter, or the car suffered a minor software glitch. Either way, it is debatable whether he would have been able to stop the rapid Trulli swooping though for second position.
"Generally, we donít get very good starts and Lewis had KERS as well, so it was pretty easy to imagine what would happen at that first corner," explained Trulli. "This time the car pulled away pretty well, so I was able to nearly keep the position, but Lewis came by and I was obliged to follow him.
"From then on it was a fantastic race for me as I really enjoyed qualifying laps, lap by lap, with Lewis, closing the gap and then coming closer," he continued. "I was pushing again and it was not easy at all. It was just a matter of pushing as hard as possible and putting pressure on Lewis. Then eventually thanks to the team and the strategy we got him at the last pit stop. From then on I think it was easy for me." Kimi Raikkonen
pushed hard in the second stint and was rewarded with fourth position as he got the jump on Nick Heidfeld
. The BMW Sauber driver lost time in his second stop as with a sticking wheel nut. This, combined with Raikkonenís charge, lost him a possible fourth position.
Nico Rosberg ran a long first stint in his Williams Toyota from seventh position on the grid and made a second timely pit stop just as the safety car came out on lap 46 to claim fifth position ahead of the unfortunate Heidfeld. Rubens Barrichello
started the event 15 points behind main title rival Jenson Button
but struggled for pace on his second set of tyres and was unable to make progress. Indeed, the Brazilian veteran slipped back and came under intense pressure from his team-mate in the final four lap dash to the chequered flag.
After a tardy getaway, Button pushed hard and made up ground to Barrichello in the middle-segment of the race and his quest for points was helped by Heikki Kovalainen who tipped Adrian Sutil into a spin early in the race.
This gave the championship leader two easy positions and from that point he was able to close the gap to his team-mate from over 12 seconds to less than a second.
With two points for seventh position, Barrichello heads to Interlagos 14 points behind eighth placed finisher Button, while Vettel is now just two points behind Barrichello and 16 behind Button. Brawn Mercedes have not wrapped up the constructorsí championship. They have a 35.5 point advantage over Red Bull with two rounds remaining with 36 still available.
Robert Kubica will be disappointed to start and finish in ninth position in the second BMW Sauber. He pushed Button hard for the final point in the closing laps but despite a few looks down the inside, was unable to make a pass. Fernando Alonso
started back in 16th and made best use of a one stop strategy to finish in tenth position in what was a disappointing weekend for Renault. Team-mate Romain Grosjean made little impression but at least went the distance to finish in 16th.
Heikki Kovalainen started and finished in 11th position in the second McLaren Mercedes. It was another tough race for the Finn who tangled with Sutil early in the race, but he redeemed himself somewhat with an excellent pass on Giancarlo Fisichella
exiting the pits late in the race.
Tonio Liuzzi finished 14th just behind Force India team-mate Adrian Sutil and ahead of the one-stopping Kazuki Nakajima in the second Williams. Mark Webber started from the pit lane as a result of his Saturday practice crash but multiple pitstops to secure the cockpit surround ended any chance of a fight back. The only silver-lining for Webber was his fastest lap of the race.
The Toro Rosso duo of Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi were the only retirements, the former crashing heavily after running wide into the fast 130R turn. Alguersuari was unhurt in the incident but the accident triggered the only safety car period of the race. Buemi meanwhile struggled to get off the line at the start of the race and retired shortly after with a clutch problem.
Subject to penalties, both the driversí and constructorsí championships go on to Brazil with Vettel flying high after a flawless Sunday afternoon drive at Suzuka.
"Looking back I think we have had a great season," said the race winner. "Obviously, we should have been more consistent in order to fight for the championship right now, it was a little bit too much up and down. Sometimes things didnít go our way. Thatís part of racing.
"I think we should be in good shape for the next two races," he continued. "Brazil is a track we know, Abu Dhabi is unknown for everyone, so we donít know, but I think independent from the circuit type, we have always been competitive. As I said before, itís straightforward - win the next two races and then see what the others are doing...Ē