The only real pressure for Sebastian Vettel in Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix came at the start of the 53-lap race as Lewis Hamilton made good use of KERS to briefly draw alongside the leading Red Bull Renault before slotting into second position.
Vettel then controlled the race
from the front to win from Jarno Trulli
and Hamilton and remains in championship contention heading to Brazil.
Behind, it was a tough race for the two championship leaders as Rubens Barrichello
and Jenson Button
finished in seventh and eighth places respectively.
1 . S. Vettel - Red Bull Renault RB5
An impressive drive from pole position to victory keeping himself in championship contention heading to the penultimate round in Brazil.
“What a race! We already had pole position and strategy-wise we were the favourites, but, you know – first of all you have to do the start. We were pretty confident that we could defend our position, as we’ve had good starts in the past, but it was closer than I thought it would be. Going into turn one, I suddenly saw a silver arrow on my left-hand side, but I had the inside line so it was my advantage. After that I put my head down and tried to push with every single lap. The car was fantastic and I was able to create a gap quite quickly. We were two laps longer than Lewis and a lap longer than Jarno in the first stint, so it all worked out and I was pretty much in control of the race.
"After we fitted the soft tyres for the last stint, I wanted to have a little bit of fun. I did one very quick lap, but then my engineer came on the radio and said ‘watch your tyres, there might be a safety car or something’ and two laps later there was the safety car. It’s not what you want when you’re in the lead, but I was still taking care of my tyres and had a good restart. I had a bit of a cushion with Grosjean behind me and then three or four laps to build a gap again that was enough to win the race.
"Finally, we made it! Fantastic. I was screaming with happiness on the radio at the end of the race. The last couple of races have been a bit up and down, sometimes we had pace and sometimes not, but finally we made it. It’s good to be back in first position on Sunday. A huge thanks to all the team and everyone at Red Bull for this.”
2 . J. Trulli - Toyota TF109
Driving for his future in Formula One - which seemingly does not include Toyota - this was his strongest drive of the season. Unable to match the pace of Vettel but a great second stint saw him regain the runner up position at Toyota's home race.
"Standing on the podium in the team's home grand prix is a fantastic feeling and this great result is down to the whole team; the engineers, mechanics and everyone, including Timo. We work really well together as part of a great team and it's a pity he wasn't able to race today. The car, with the new package, has been really competitive all weekend and I knew the start was likely to be the toughest point of the race. We made a strong start and I almost held my position, but Lewis got by and after that I spent the whole race fighting with him.
"I closed the gap and just focused on doing qualifying laps every time; it was fantastic fun and I really enjoyed it. It was not easy to push so hard but I kept fighting and after the first pit stops I was again chasing Lewis really closely. It was just a matter of putting as much pressure on as possible and, thanks to the team for the strategy and fast pit work, we got him at the last stop.
"From then on I pulled away and it was reasonably comfortable, even with the safety car at the end. I want to thank the team; we came here after Timo's great second place in Singapore and again the car was competitive immediately. I really hoped to win but this was the maximum we could achieve and I am extremely happy to be on the podium in Japan."
3 . L. Hamilton - McLaren Mercedes MP4-24
Used KERS to great effect at the start to move second but lost ground in the final pitstop to finish third in his 50th grand prix.
“I tried to get past both Jarno and Sebastian at the start but I couldn’t quite manage to get into the lead. It was a good scrap with Jarno – we were really battling, setting qualifying times as we tried to shave tenths off each other’s laps – but, over the race distance, my car couldn’t quite match his.
“As I exited the pits after my second stop, I lost time with a gearbox problem, which meant I coasted about 100 metres down the pitlane – that cost me about a second. To be honest, it wasn’t a surprise to be jumped by Jarno at the final stops – we needed every tenth to make the gap up to three seconds and we couldn’t quite make it. When we were behind the safety car, I asked the team if they could get the KERS working again so that I could shoot past Jarno but they couldn’t do it and I wasn’t close enough to get in his slipstream at the restart.”
4 . K. Raikkonen - Ferrari F60
Another strong drive from Raikkonen in a car that is not race winning material.
"Today the car wasn’t bad, but it was not quick enough to fight for the podium. This fourth place is useful in terms of keeping the team in third place in the constructors’ championship, but it will be hard to hang onto it over the final two races. I will definitely do everything I can though. I was unable to make up places at the start, especially as the first corner is not that far from the start line and so I was unable to make the most of the KERS. In the first stint, when I was on hard tyres, the situation was a bit difficult, but then, once on the softs, things improved considerably. I managed to close on Heidfeld and pass him at the pit stop, even though, coming away from my stop, I found myself in traffic behind Button. Then there was not much to fight for to the end of the race.”
5 . N. Rosberg - Williams Toyota FW31
Fifth at the chequered flag after a timely second pitstop as the safety car came out. Another strong showing with Williams.
"That was the best I could do today for sure. The car wasn’t as quick as we wanted it to be but we got the best out of it. I had a really good strategy which helped deliver this result. It was a tough race so overall I’m pleased."
6 . N. Heidfeld - BMW Sauber F1.09
Started fourth but lost ground to Raikkonen in the middle stint and then to Rosberg as the safety car came out. A solid run let down my a minor glitch in pitstop.
"Today was not our lucky day. I’m very disappointed with this result. Fourth place was within reach but several things went wrong today, especially at the second pit stop when the rear right wheel nut got stuck. But certainly I don’t want to complain. These things can happen and normally we have very good pit stops. That was when I lost a position to Kimi, and I rejoined the race just behind him. When the safety car came out I lost another position to Nico, who was lucky to refuel while the safety car was out."
7 . R. Barrichello - Brawn Mercedes BGP 001
A shaky second stint saw Barrichello lose time. Unable to make progress he clung on to take two championship points.
"Qualifying proved crucial for my weekend as it put me ahead of Jenson for the race and I was able to make up a point on him. I struggled with the set-up today and wasn't able to get the best from the car which is a shame. I was able to follow Kimi when we were both running on primes in the first stint but once he switched to options, he gained a lot of time on me. We would have finished in sixth place without the safety car and that's the best that I could have hoped for today. It's frustrating but that's the way racing goes and the most important thing is that I gained a point on Jenson this weekend. I'm looking forward to my home race in Sao Paulo in two weeks. The Brazilian Grand Prix is always a very special occasion for me and I'll be giving it my all there to do as well as possible for the championship."
8 . J. Button - Brawn Mercedes BGP 001
Lost two positions on the first lap but soon fought back and then aided by Kovalainen and Sutil clashing. Chased Barrichello with impressive late race pace to score one championship point.
"Today was about picking up points after our eventful qualifying session yesterday and that's exactly what I did. Starting from tenth on the grid was always going to make for a tough race but my pace was really good in the race and I was very happy with the performance of the car.
I was pulling massive amounts of time out of the guys in front me but they were on heavier fuel loads which held me up as it's difficult to overtake here. I did the best that I could in the car that we had this weekend and we got the maximum performance out of it with a points-scoring finish. I only lost one point to Rubens today which is my main priority. Obviously we lost a few points to Sebastian but we were expecting them to be strong here. We go to two circuits now which should suit our car so I'm excited about the end of the season and already looking forward to the next race in Brazil."
9 . R. Kubica - BMW Sauber F1.09
A long first stint did not pay dividends as Renault's new favourite finished just out of the points.
"The entire weekend was unlucky for me. Yesterday I wasn’t able to show my good pace due to the red and yellow flags. Today I was stuck in traffic a couple of times. Furthermore I lost much time at the beginning of the race with a heavy and understeering car. Once the car was lighter and I got into my rhythm I was quite quick. I was then very unlucky with my first pit stop, as after the stop both Kimi and Nick were in front of me. That cost me time. Also after the safety car period I was in traffic. I was stuck behind Jenson. I was quicker than him in the corners, but was not able to overtake as we were missing some top speed on the straights."
10 . F. Alonso - Renault R29
A solid race with a one stop strategy to tenth, but a disappointing weekend again with Renault.
“My race was really decided after qualifying because although the car was competitive and I pushed hard, it was not enough to score any points. We now have to concentrate on the two remaining races and make sure that we qualify well because if we do that I am sure we can score some strong points and have a good end to the season.”
11 . H. Kovalainen - McLaren Mercedes MP4-24
Another so-so race from the under-pressure Kovalainen. Refused to accept he had lost position to Sutil and lost ground early on before making a good pass on Fisichella to take 11th position exiting the pits.
“I’m a bit disappointed with my result. I’m absolutely on the limit of my car and we’re still lacking grip in the high-speed corners, so it’s not possible for me to attack any harder. I pushed from the start to the finish – Adrian tried to make a move but only went halfway, so I was able to stay beside him. When he tried to turn in, I was already on the kerb and I had no more room to avoid him, so I had to lean on him and that was more a problem for him. My second pitstop wasn't fantastic as we had a problem with the right front wheel, so Giancarlo was able to get out right in front of me. I was able to release the pitlane speed-limiter earlier and immediately got on KERS. He gave me some room, so it was quite an easy move – nothing too dramatic.”
12 . G. Fisichella - Ferrari F60
Never a contender for points, the Italian veteran was caught napping and lost position to Kovalainen late in the race.
“I had a better feel for the car this weekend and I think the effect from that could be seen, although maybe not in terms of the results. Today, I could run at a good pace, especially in the middle part of the race. It’s a shame I lost a place in my battle with Kovalainen. We managed to get ahead of him in the pit stop, but then he swerved across to the inside at the only point where I left the door slightly open and he leaned on me, managing to get by. Towards the end, I had to fight off Sutil who was very quick and was on the soft tyre, while I was on the hard: at this point the KERS came in handy. Now I am looking forward to Interlagos in a more confident mood: it will be important to get a slightly better start position to try and finally make it into the points."
13 . A. Sutil - Force India Mercedes VJM02
Started eighth but race compromised by Kovalainen sending him into a spin exiting the chicane.
"It was a really disappointing race. The start was okay and I could keep my position but then I fell back to ninth and was caught behind Kovalainen. I got past him at the chicane but then he cut back across and I spun and lost a lot of time. That was really the end of the race for me. When that happens it's obviously very disappointing as I thought we could have done really well today and got some points. We've just got to look forward to Brazil now - it's a similar type of circuit to here where the car has been competitive."
14 . V. Liuzzi - Force India Mercedes VJM02
A difficult weekend for again for Liuzzi but made a good late-race pass on Nakajima at the end of the pit straight to claim 14th spot.
"Overall I think it was not a bad race. Starting from that position it was always going to be difficult to score points but we showed a strong pace in the race and never gave up. I could have a really good fight with Fernando and the Williams, plus also the Toro Rosso so I think it was a good effort from the team."
15 . K. Nakajima - Williams Toyota FW31
Time is running out fast for Nakajima who still has not scored a point for Williams.
"Obviously it was a difficult race for me. I was on a one stop strategy which was working up to a point but then there was just too much traffic and the safety car came out so it didn’t work out the way we had hoped. It’s a disappointing result at my home grand prix."
16 . R. Grosjean - Renault R29
Rookie Grosjean continued to struggle in the second Renault but at least completed the race distance to gain valuable mileage.
“Overall it was a tough afternoon for me. The car was very heavy on fuel and was difficult to drive as I had a lot of understeer. The Suzuka circuit was also a new experience for me this weekend, but I did my best to complete the race without any problems. I’m now looking forward to the next race in Brazil.”
17 . M. Webber - Red Bull Renault RB5
Fastest lap of the race little consolation for Webber after a catalogue of problems for the Australian.
“I had to make two pit stops on the first two laps, so it was all over from there. On the first lap, the headrest came loose in the car, so I had to come in and get that fixed. I went back out, but the same thing happened so I had to come in again in order for the guys to tape it down. We tested some things today, and tried some other items for future races. That’s all we could really do from there.”
18 . J. Alguersuari - Toro Rosso Ferrari STR4
A relatively strong race until crashing on lap 46 at the 130R. An expensive weekend for Toro Rosso.
“My accident came on the lap after my second pit stop, when I fitted the soft tyres. At turn 15, which you take flat, I lost the rear end of the car and crashed into the wall, but I’m not sure why, as it was inexplicable and I would like to see the data, in case there might have been something wrong with the pressure of the rear tyres or a puncture. I am really, really sorry for what happened. I was pushing every lap and running consistently, in terms of my lap times being almost always within the same tenth. Hopefully, we can have a better race in Brazil."
19 . S. Buemi - Toro Rosso Ferrari STR4
Struggled to get off the line at the start and soon retired with a clutch problem. A wasted opportunity for the Toro Rosso team after showing good pace between shunts.
“I had a problem with the clutch, right from the start of the parade lap, when I couldn’t get off the grid. We tried to fix the problem by adjusting the clutch map, but again for the real start, it didn’t work. Then, after a few laps the clutch failed and I had to retire in the pits. A real shame as the weekend had seemed promising right from Friday in the wet. In qualifying the car was quick enough to get me into Q3 before the accident, so maybe I could have scored points today. Now we have to prepare for Brazil where the top teams might not bring so many developments to their car. So I hope we can end the season with two good races."