Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor James Parker
Sebastian Vettel took his 35th career win and his 4th victory in 5 years at Suzuka after a race long 3 way tactical battle. Second was his team-mate and pole sitter Mark Webber, who succumbed to greater tyre wear during the Grand Prix and forced to make an extra pit stop, whilst a battling Romain Grosjean claimed his 2nd consecutive podium by coming home in third place after a leader like drive for Lotus.
Off the start, both Grosjean and Hamilton made fantastic getaways off the second row. Whilst Grosjean managed to jump all three off the line by going round the outside of Vettel, Hamilton was not so fortunate. Trying to squeeze into an ever decreasing wedge between the two Red Bulls, his right rear tyre touched Vettel’s front end fence which resulted in a puncture for the Mercedes man. It was Grosjean, Webber, Vettel and Rosberg as your top 4 after the drama had settled.
Further back, going into turn 1, the Caterham of Van Der Garde and the Marussia of Jules Bianchi touched, which sent them both spearing off into the gravel and therefore out of the race. Alonso had jumped up to 6th behind his team-mate Massa, whilst Raikkonen had a poor start and was back to 11th. Hamilton was forced into the pits due to his puncture and was sent out on a 19 lap stint on the harder compound tyres. This was short lived however as by lap 8 Hamilton retired from the damage sustained from the puncture.
Due to Charles Pic receiving a drive through penalty, post qualifying for leaving the pits under a red light, he too came in to serve his punishment at the end of lap 1.
By lap 6, Raikkonen was looking at starting to recover from his poor start, and immediately set about hunting down 10th place man Button. After 1 lap of high pressure, he finally made a move stick going into turn 1 utilising the benefit of DRS.
At this point, there were also very interesting radio communications over at Ferrari, unsurprisingly, with Massa told “strategy function A” over the radio. At first thought it sounded ominously like Rob Smedley had come up with a new codename for “Felipe, Fernando is faster than you” but nothing came from it.
Jenson Button was the first man to trigger the first stops, pitting on lap 9 for the harder compound tyres. But it wasn’t until lap 12 that the top 3 started to blink. Webber pitted from 2nd, bolting on a set of hard compound tyres and rejoined in 6th as he looked for the undercut to Grosjean.
Grosjean immediately responded on lap 13 and rejoined ahead of Webber to gain track position, whilst Alonso, who was looking at jumping his team-mate during the first pit stop phase emerged on lap 14 not only behind Massa again, but the pair had also been jumped by Hulkenberg who had moved up to 5th. Race leader at this point, Vettel then came in on lap 15 to bolt on a set of hard tyres, rejoining back behind both Grosjean and Webber.
There was further drama, as Rosberg seemingly exited his box after his first stop and directly fed into the path of the McLaren of Perez, who did well to avoid contact. On lap 15 this was confirmed as an unsafe release by the stewards who handed the Mercedes driver a drive through penalty for his troubles – releasing Hulk up to 4th.
After the first stops had been completed, Daniel Ricciardo, one of the men to start on the harder tyre was looking at doing a longer first stint and found himself compressing the following pack headed by provisional 4th place man Hulkenberg.
Hulkenberg had a great run out of spoon corner on lap 20 however, and decided to pull off a bold move going up the inside of the Torro Rosso at 130R. In the chaos, Alonso jumped on a mistake from his team-mate into the final chicane, and made a move stick going into turn 1 utilising DRS on Massa.
Massa was on the backfoot following that move, and the following lap was attacked by 8th place man Gutierrez into the hairpin. Running side by side for the entire corner, the pair banged wheels before the Sauber driver gave up the attack going into spoon. This then allowed Raikkonen who was stalking behind to get a great run going into 130R and he pulled off a great move round the outside.
Up front, Webber was looking to apply the pressure, and when he stopped for a second time on lap 25, had got the gap down to under 1 second to Grosjean. The Lotus driver stayed out with Vettel, whilst Webber started to gain huge chunks of time on the pair – going 1.4 seconds faster on fresh harder compound tyres – Vettel then told by Rocky to push hard.
It wasn’t until lap 30 that Grosjean came in for his second stop. Due to the undercut, Webber managed to easily jump the Frenchman when he remerged from the pitlane, however would the Lotus man need to stop again? A 23 lap stint from there was the target.
At this point, Vettel inherited the lead, and was looking to go a fair bit longer on his harder compound tyres to minimise the length of his final stint. Finally pitting on lap 38, he too bolted on a set of harder compound tyres again and rejoined behind both Webber and Grosjean.
Felipe Massa’s day was going from bad to worse, as the Ferrari man was handed a drive through penalty for speeding in the pitlane on lap 33. After a solid day it looked like the only place the Brazilian would be going is backwards.
Vettel after his final stop was looking hugely racy on lower fuel. By lap 41 he had stalked the back of Grosjean for 2 laps and decided to make his move into turn 1 using DRS – making it stick for provisional 1st place.
Due to Webber pitting much earlier for his first two stints thanks to higher tyre wear, a final 3rd stop was needed to complete the race. Coming in on lap 43, he was then told to hunt down 2nd place man Grosjean ahead of him and overtake him if he wanted a chance at Vettel. For the next 5 laps the Lotus man defended stoutly from a couple of attacks going into turn 1 from Webber and he looked comfortable.
However traffic was fast approaching the pair, a train of 5 cars who were all fighting for minor positions outside the points including the two Williams cars, Sutil and Perez. By lap 51, both Webber and Grosjean were squabbling hard, and the Australian made a half lunge going into Spoon – unsuccessfully.
But at the start of lap 52, Webber’s superior tyre advantage made itself known as he got a great exit out of the final chicane and made a bold move stick going into turn 1 on Grosjean.
Further back, after getting passed by Alonso earlier on due to fresher tyres, Hulk was defending his 5th place hard from Kimi Raikkonen. But on lap 52, after 3 laps of hard pressure, the Finn decided to try an optimistic move going round the outside into the final chicane – hanging it all out; he managed to squeeze his Lotus past to get 5th. Putting huge faith in Hulk, he was rewarded.
But up front it was all about Vettel, who after playing a race long chess game with Grosjean and Webber, made superior tyre life pay over his team-mate. Putting in the laps immediately after his second stop to pass Grosjean, it released him to build a comfortable cushion.
It was the German’s 35th career victory, his 5th on the trot and his 4th win in 5 years at Suzuka. Whilst Fernando Alonso halted title winning proceedings with his 4th place, the Ferrari man is simply delaying the inevitable. For Grosjean, the Red Bull ‘s were just too fast on lower fuel. But the star of the day surely had to be Gutierrez, who finished just 1 place behind his more experienced team-mate in 7th and achieved his first points of the year – the first points for any rookie on the grid in 2013.
Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery said: “This was always going to be a very close race, with
little difference in lap times between the two nominated compounds. As a result we saw varied approaches
to strategy, with both the medium and the hard tyre being used at different points for the second and third
The majority of drivers stopped twice as we expected: wear is quite low at Suzuka due to the flowing
nature of the circuit – which means that traction demands are low – but the high lateral energy loads mean
that the limiting factor is degradation.
This of course is exacerbated when you have a close race with the cars following behind each other, as aerodynamic efficiency is compromised and the cars slide more. Vettel was able to use a two-stop strategy to make the difference here, but it was extremely close with Webber and Grosjean. Once more we received a great welcome in Japan: one of the most difficult circuits in the world for drivers, cars and tyres, with an absolutely amazing atmosphere thanks to some fantastic fans.”
Fastest times of the day by compound
Longest stint of the race
Medium: 18 laps – C. Pic
Hard: 27 laps – P. Di Resta
|1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault||53||1:26:49.301|
|2||Mark Webber||Red Bull-Renault||53||+7.129|
|11||Paul di Resta||Force India-Mercedes||53||+1:38.572|
|12||Jean-Éric Vergne||Toro Rosso-Ferrari||52||+1 lap|
|13||Daniel Ricciardo||Toro Rosso-Ferrari||52||+1 lap|
|14||Adrian Sutil||Force India-Mercedes||52||+1 lap|
|15||Sergio Pérez||McLaren-Mercedes||52||+1 lap|
|16||Pastor Maldonado||Williams-Renault||52||+1 lap|
|17||Valtteri Bottas||Williams-Renault||52||+1 lap|
|18||Charles Pic||Caterham-Renault||52||+1 lap|
|19||Max Chilton||Marussia-Cosworth||52||+1 lap|
|Ret||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes||7||Collision damage|
|Ret||Giedo van der Garde||Caterham-Renault||0||Collision|
World Drivers Championship
World Constructors Championship