Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel won the Japanese Grand Prix from pole position at the Suzuka circuit and kept himself in the mix, albeit very slightly, in the championship battle. Jarno Trulli was jumped at the start by Lewis Hamilton but regained second place after the second round of pit stops and matched Toyota’s best showing this season as Hamilton settled for third place.
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The Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen finished in 4th place ahead of the Williams of Nico Rosberg and the BMW of Nick Heidfeld who finished 5th and 6th respectively. Rubens Barrichello led teammate Jenson Button for the 7th and 8th place finishes and that reduces Button’s lead in the Championship battle to 14 points with two races remaining. Robert Kubica and Fernando Alonso rounded off the top ten.
Championship leader Jenson Button and his teammate Rubens Barrichello, along with five other drivers, were handed five places grid penalties for setting their qualifying laps under yellow flags; and Heikki Kovalainen and Vitantonio Liuzzi suffered the same penalties for a gearbox change. That dropped Jenson down to 12th on the grid and Rubens to 6th and Button’s misery was compounded further by an awful start which saw him drop down to a lowly 14th after the first few laps.
There were not many incidents as the race unfolded but there were many battles up and down the order which made exciting viewing. While Vettel maintained his lead at the start, Hamilton had nudged ahead of Jarno Trulli and try as he might, Hamilton couldn’t pull enough a big enough gap to Trulli and ultimately lost the place at the second pit stops. Kimi Raikkonen drove a strong second stint which helped him nudge ahead of Nick Heidfeld after their pit stops.
The race was pepped up with six laps to go as Jaime Algersuari crashed his Toro Rosso into the barriers at the 130R which brought out the Safety Car and that bunched the field close together. The restart was anticipated to throw up some lunges and passes – probably from Button who had Rubens just in front of him – but all drivers drove steadily enough and maintained their positions. Robert Kubica managed to close on to the rear of Jenson Button at the end and that might have prevented Button from launching an overtaking manoeuvre on Rubens.
Mark Webber had probably the most forgettable race of his career as he started from the pit lane and had to make a further four stops – two to fix his neck restraint, another one to fix a puncture and his regulation tyre & fuel stop! That meant he was propping up the tail of the field but did manage to set the fastest lap of the race right at the end.
Jenson Button now has a 14 point lead over his teammate Rubens Barrichello with Sebastian Vettel now just 16 points behind. With two races to go, the advantage is very much with Button and even decent points finishes would ensure he wraps up the WDC. A DNF or outside-the-points finish would be disastrous though! Rubens and Vettel have nothing to lose so they will try to push Button as much as they can…hope the best man wins. There are other mini-battles in the standings as well, McLaren vs. Ferrari for the third place in the constructors’ title and Lewis Hamilton vs. Kimi Raikkonen for the fifth place in the drivers’ standings. The gap is 2 points in both the tables so expect this one also to go down to the wire.
The next race is at Interlagos in Sao Paulo, Brazil in two weeks time and given that its Barrichello’s home track, he surely would want to win there. Button can allow his teammate to win and if he finishes second, he will clinch the championship. If Barrichello wins and Jenson finishes 3rd, they will be level on points going into the final round at Abu Dhabi! And then there’s Vettel in the mix as well…should make for an exciting season finale. Bring.It.On.