Japanese Grand Prix 2010: Race Report


Sebastian Vettel got his title hopes back on track with a serene victory in Japan, leading his teammate Mark Webber home in a race that Red Bull dominated.

Vettel is now level on points with Fernando Alonso in the driver's championship, fourteen points behind Webber, who extends his lead at the top of the standings.

Alonso brought his Ferrari home third, whilst Jenson Button finished fourth ahead of Lewis Hamilton, who was hampered by more gearbox issues in the closing stages of the race.

Michael Schumacher finished sixth for Mercedes just ahead of Kamui Kobayashi, who succeeded with some daring overtaking moves as he fought his way up the field.

Nick Heidfeld rounded off an excellent points haul for Sauber, with Rubens Barrichello and Sebastien Buemi rounded off the top ten.

Lucas di Grassi was the first casualty of seven in the grand prix. He pitched his Virgin into the wall at 130R on his lap to the grid. The car was badly damaged, both wings missing and not all wheels attached, but the Brazilian climbed out uninjured.

It was the grid minus di Grassi who awaited the lights-out to signal the start of the grand prix. Jenson Button was, uniquely amongst the top-ten, on the harder prime tyre, along with those starting eleventh and lower, including Felipe Massa in twelfth.

As the five lights went out, Robert Kubica got past Mark Webber, getting up into second. There was drama for Kubica's Renault teammate Vitaly Petrov though – he speared off to the left into a barrier, barely completing more than a few metres of the grand prix.

Petrov connected with Nico Hulkenberg off the line, thus ending the Williams driver's race as well. In a separate incident, Massa got onto the grass at turn one and collected Tonio Liuzzi's Force India as he rejoined the track in a somewhat cavalier fashion.

All this chaos brought out the safety car, but still the retirements kept coming. Kubica pulled off the track on Lap 3, after his right-rear wheel made a bid for freedom. The Pole's fantastic qualifying and excellent start was to no avail.

The order of the front-runners after Kubica's retirement was Vettel, Webber, Alonso, Button and Hamilton, the top five in the championship leading the race. The safety car came in at the end of Lap 6, but nobody made a meaningful move for position on the restart. Michael Schumacher made a move on Rubens Barrichello at the end of Lap 7, and took sixth place from the Brazilian.

Lewis Hamilton, who started the race on the softer option tyre, was close to the back of teammate Jenson Button's car. Button had started on the harder tyre, and was holding Hamilton up. McLaren had their cars in the wrong order – Button was playing the long game on the more durable prime compound, and Hamilton needed to put in the fast laps while his soft tyre was at its best.

The gap between the McLaren drivers remained at about one second – Hamilton seemingly unable to do anything about his teammate. Meanwhile, the two Red Bull drivers were slowly pulling out a lead over the rest of the pack. At the end of Lap 20, Vettel was 2.3 seconds ahead of his teammate, but 8.1 seconds ahead of third-place man Alonso.

At the end of Lap 22, Lewis Hamilton became the first of the championship contenders to make his mandatory pit stop, pitted from fifth place. He emerged just behind Kamui Kobayashi, who had been delighting the Japanese crowds with a couple of daring overtaking manoeuvres and was sitting sixth.

Schumacher made is pit stop on the following lap, and came out behind Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg, who had a bad start to the race and made his pit stop under the safety car.

Race leader Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso came into the pits at the end of Lap 24. As the Ferrari exited the pits, the camera panned up the pit straight to show Hamilton overtake Kobayashi.

Mark Webber pitted on the following lap, handing the lead of the grand prix to Jenson Button, just has Hamilton set a fastest lap. This was now Button's chance to make his qualifying tyre gamble pay off, put the Brit did not seem to have any extra pace, and he could not pull out a sufficient gap to pit and come out ahead of any of the other championship contenders.

As the field waited for Button to make his stop, the gaps between the top five drivers ebbed and flowed but there were no position changes amongst these runners. Button made his stop for the soft tyre at the end of Lap 38, and re-emerged over eight seconds behind his teammate.

Shortly after Button had made his stop, Hamilton came over the radio to tell his team that third gear had broken. The Brit maintained a respectable lap time, but Button was starting to catch him at the rate of two seconds a lap. With ten laps to go Hamilton was nearly half a minute ahead of sixth-place man Nico Rosberg, and it looked as though only Button was going to get past him. Lewis let Button go on Lap 44 around the spoon hairpin, allowing Button chase down Alonso.

There was drama further down the field, first as Kobayashi overtook Jaime Alguersuari around the outside of spoon. Alguersuari kept moving right into Kobayashi, as though he was not willing to admit defeat, and there was a lot of wheel-banging. The Spaniard came off worse though, requiring a pit stop for a new wing.

Just behind this, Adrian Sutil's engine let go, sending him into a spin as he rounded 130R. The German managed to control the spin, ended it facing the right direction, and drove into the pits to retire in the characteristic plume of smoke.

The drama continued on Lap 49 as Rosberg lost his left-rear wheel in spectacular fashion as he went round turn 5. The wheel left the Mercedes with great force, bouncing loosely until it came to a rest.

Meanwhile, Kobayashi was continuing to move up the field, taking Rubens Barrichello and then teammate Nick Heidfeld, both around the spoon curve. It looked as though seventh would be as good as it got though, as Michael Schumacher was seven seconds up the road and only three laps remained.

The two Red Bull drivers cruised to the finish line, with Sebastian Vettel taking his third race win of 2010, and his second career victory at Suzuka. Mark Webber's final lap was the fastest of the race and he claimed second, and Fernando Alonso was closed behind in third.

Lewis Hamilton survived his gearbox gremlins to finish fifth, behind his teammate. Michael Schumacher had sixth place to show for one of his best races since returning, whilst Kamui Kobayashi, without doubt the most exciting driver of the day, finished seventh.

Seven cars failed to finish the race, which was good news for Lotus. Heikki Kovalainen finished twelfth, which is likely to be the result that secures them tenth place in the constructors' championship this season, resulting in more money, and consolidating their status as number one new team.