Sebastian Vettel won an amazing trio between him, Webber and Grosjean in Japan to take his ninth victory of the season. Vettel managed his tyres right from the start and reaped benefits at the end of the race. Mark Webber was the only one of the three to complete the race on a three stop strategy and could only finish in second, despite starting the race from pole position. Grosjean meanwhile stormed into the lead at the start of the race but ultimately lost out to the faster Red Bulls on his way to third place. Nico Hulkenberg was again impressive in the Sauber while his teammate Esteban Gutierrez scored his first points with a great drive from 14th on the grid. Here are our top 5 drivers of the Japanese Grand Prix but who was YOUR driver of the Day? Answer in the poll or the comments section at the end of the article.
Sebastian Vettel took his ninth victory of the season with a great drive from second on the grid. The German driver managed his tyres right from the start and with some good strategic calls from Red Bull, he was able to take his fourth win at Suzuka from his five outings at the venue. He now only needs to finish in top 5 in India, irrespective of where Alonso finished to take his fourth world title.
Vettel made a poor getaway from first row of the grid and lost out to Lotus' Romain Grosjean and Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton. While Grosjean could safely pass him on the inside, Hamilton got a puncture after making contact with the German. Vettel was initially concerned about his front wing but the team made it clear that there was no damage to his car. From there, Vettel maintained a two second gap to second placed Webber until the first round of pit stops, effectively managed his tyres in the process. This meant that he could run longer than both Grosjean and Webber in his first stint(14 laps to Webber's 11 and Grosjean's 12).
But it was his second 23 lap stint on hard tyres that set up the base for his fifth consecutive win of the season. During this stint, the 26 year old managed his tyres beautifully while lapping consistently in 1:37s. Grosjean, meanwhile was running on a old set of tyres during his second stint and lost out massively to Vettel. He was forced to pit on lap 29 while Vettel could wait eight laps longer to make his final stop. After his stop it was easy for Vettel to get past Grosjean and stand on the top step of the podium for a fourth time in Japan.
After a shaky start to the season, Romain Grosjean made it clear that he can lead Lotus after Raikkonen departs for Ferrari in 2014.
Grosjean made a great start from fourth on the grid and was already into the lead as the field drove passed the tricky first corner. He held his lead from two Red Bulls in the first stint and covered Webber's pit stop on lap 11 by pitting a lap later. But it was his second stint that cost him a chance to win the race. During this stint, Grosjean was running on a used set of tyres and the difference could be seen in his lap times. He pitted on lap 29 while Vettel waited for eight more laps before pitting on lap 37. The latter then put on a DRS assisted move to take the lead of the race.
After losing the lead to Vettel, Grosjean did a decent job of maintaining his pace in the final stint but eventually lost second place to three-stopping Mark Webber. Nevertheless, it was a great result from the Frenchman who an year ago was branded as a 'first-lap nutcase' at this very venue.
Mark Webber made most of Vettel's problems on Saturday to take his first pole of the season. However, on a different strategy to Grosjean and Vettel, he couldn't come out on top on Sunday.
Webber made a poor getaway and lost his lead to Romain Grosjean. He then settled in second, maintaining a decent gap both in front and behind him. He was the first of the trio to pit on lap 11. After the race, Christian Horner said that it was this short stint that forced Red Bull to turn his race into a three stop strategy.
He then did another short stint on hard tyres before coming in again on lap 25. Webber's laptime were pretty good at this time which raises questions why Red Bull didn't extend this stint somewhere around lap 29 when Grosjean made his stop.
After his third stop on lap 42, Webber came out four seconds behind Grosjean whose tyres were now 13 laps old. Webber had to overtake Grosjean in next couple of laps to have a shot at challenging Vettel for the lead. Instead, it took the 37 year old eight laps to get past the Frenchman. By that time it was too late for Webber to come anywhere close to Vettel's gearbox, let alone having a chance of overtaking him.
Nico Hulkenberg continued his auditions for a top seat in F1 with a great drive from to sixth place. The German driver started the race from seventh and maintained his position on the opening lap of the race. He then pitted early on lap 9 and found himself ahead of two Ferraris in fourth place. He did a great job of keeping Alonso at bay but on lap 45, the two time world champion was able to get past the German. Kimi Raikkonen was also able to get past Hulkenberg right at the end of the race, but it was still a great result from the 26 year old who showed his skills against some of F1's best drivers on the current grid.
Critics have been quite vocal about Esteban Gutierrez after his less than impressive F1 debut this season. They believe that the Mexican has been put in F1 a bit too early and doesn't have the skills to compete with some of the greatest drivers in the world. But he proved them wrong with his first career points in form of a seventh place finish. With this, he became first of the five rookies to score a point this season.
Gutierrez started the race from a lowly 14th place but compensated for that with a great start that left him up in ninth place by the end of first lap. That led the foundation for a great result which Gutierrez duly achieved on a two stop strategy.
If he continues to perform like this in remaining four races of the season, he will have a good chance of retaining his seat in F1.