Vettel wins; Alonso spins

October 8, 2012 4:19 pm

Sebastian Vettel blew the 2012 FIA Formula One World Championship wide open yesterday with a faultless performance in the Japanese Grand Prix.

The reigning World Champion drove to a memorable victory while title-rival Fernando Alonso span out of the race at the very first corner. The result leaves Vettel just 4 points behind the Spaniard with 125 still to play for.

Sebastian Vettel leads the Japanese Grand Prix on lap one ahead of Kobayashi, Button, Massa, Raikkonen and Perez

The opening lap of the race may be remembered as the defining moment in the struggle for the World Championship, with Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber eliminated at the first corner. Webber started well enough alongside his teammate from the front row of the grid but became a victim of an overly ambitious Romain Grosjean, the French driver causing his eighth start line accident this season. Webber was duly spun when the Lotus driver made contact with the right rear of his Red Bull car, leaving the Australian to rejoin the race in last place. The furious Webber gave Grosjean a roasting after the race in an interview with the BBC, claiming ‘Maybe there should be two [different] race starts…one for him and one for everyone else.’

Nico Rosberg was another driver who was ejected from the race at the first corner, while Kimi Raikkonen was inadvertently pushed onto the grass by Alonso who didn’t realise the Lotus was behind him; a sudden puncture caused by the contact left the World Championship leader in a spin and when he stalled his engine, his afternoon was over.

Fernando Alonso ended his race at the first corner

While some fell back, others benefited from the carnage, particularly Vettel who race off to an early lead ahead of Kamui Kobayashi, Jenson Button (who had climbed from 8th to 3rd in the first corner) and Felipe Massa who stunned everyone by rising from 11th on the grid to run 4th by turn two.

Vettel stretched his lead in the opening stint while Button tried unsuccessfully to hunt down Kobayashi, although the Japanese driver’s teammate Sergio Perez was less lucky. After an impressive overtake on Lewis Hamilton that surely impressed his future bosses at Mclaren, the Mexican was caught out by how early the Briton braked when he next came up behind him. At the notoriously tight hairpin he darted to the outside of the circuit while Hamilton braked on the inside, defensive racing line. Perez ran onto the dirty part of the circuit and lost control, spinning twice before coming to a rest in the gravel trap; his day came to a disappointing end.

Vettel never relinquished his lead after his first pitstop, while Massa ran slightly longer than both Kobayashi and Button to snatch 2nd once the pitstop phase was over. Button closed on the Japanese home-favourite during the middle of the Grand Prix after overcoming an intermittent gearbox problem but couldn’t get close enough to make a move. Hamilton became embroiled in a race-long struggle with Kimi Raikkonen for 5thplace, while Mark Webber was carving back through the slower cars as he endeavoured to claim some worthwhile result in the aftermath of his start line shenanigans.

F1 2012 can’t get more exciting (L-R) Felipe Massa, Sebastian Vettel & Kamui Kobayashi

With his lead unmolested, Sebastian Vettel swept across the finish line at Suzuka and became the first back-to-back winner of 2012, while Felipe Massa drove his heart out to claim his first podium finish since the Korean GP in October 2010. He admitted afterwards that the intervening two years had been ‘hard’ and ‘very, very difficult’ but was ‘very happy’ to be back in the limelight, even if he did trip over his bottle of champagne while climbing onto the rostrum! Kobayashi survived a late-race charge by Button to take his first ever podium at his home Grand Prix in front of an ecstatic Japanese crowd, while Button finished 4th, over twenty seconds ahead of Lewis Hamilton who won his duel with Kimi Raikkonen. Nico Hulkenberg brought his Force India car home in 7th place, while Pastor Maldonado claimed his first points since his Spanish Grand Prix triumph in May; Mark Webber and Daniel Ricciardo made it two Aussies in the points in 9th and 10th. Britain’s Paul Di Resta endured a lacklustre race and ended the day in 12th place, out of the points.

A comeback for Felipe Massa, a maiden podium for Kamui Kobayashi, but neither is in with a chance of winning the title this year. No wonder Sebastian Vettel looked so pleased to be sharing the podium with them as he looks forward to the Korean Grand Prix…

Anthony French

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