Sebastian Vettel dominated the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka for a second year in a row, winning from team mate Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso.
The McLaren drivers finished fourth and fifth with Button ahead as Hamilton again hit gearbox problems. It was a new gearbox for this race and he may be needing another one.
It was Vettel’s third win of the 2010 season and the 8th win of his career. It puts him back in the championship hunt.
“This is our circuit,” said Vettel over the radio to his team on the slow down lap.
Vettel started the race from pole for the eighth time, but it was only the second time he has won from pole this season.
But Mark Webber increased his championship lead to 14 points over Alonso and Vettel. He was ten points ahead of Alonso at the start of the race. Hamilton is just about hanging in there 28 points behind, while Button looks like his challenge is running out of steam, 31 points off the lead with a maximum of 75 available. Unless McLaren get a 1-2 in Korea, it’s starting to look like a three horse race.
Vettel took pole position, squeezing out team mate Mark Webber. Lewis Hamilton did a mighty lap for third, which became eighth after he took a five place penalty for a gearbox change. Robert Kubica did an outstanding job to get ahead of Fernando Alonso, while Nico Rosberg again outperformed the car – and his team mate – in sixth. Felipe Massa could manage only 12th.
McLaren again found that the some of the development parts it brought to Japan didn’t translate to better pace and feel on the race track, the new rear wing in particular. They didn’t feel that they had done enough miles on it and so took it off. This is an area McLaren will be reviewing, as they have had some issues with bedding in new parts compared with their rivals.
Lucas di Grassi had a huge shunt on the way to the grid, his car turning right on the exit of the left hander at 130R corner.
The theme continued at the start. Petrov cut across Hulkenberg and hit the wall, taking both of them out. Petrov has been penalised with a five place grid penalty at the next race. Felipe Massa tried to go up the inside on the grass into Turn 1 and took Tonio Liuzzi out of the race, although there was no penalty for him. The incidents brought out the safety car on lap 1.
Webber got yet another poor start, losing second place to Kubica. But the Pole pulled off the track to retire, as they followed behind the safety car. His right rear wheel had come off.
This promoted Button to fourth place. He and Kobayashi started the race on the hard tyre and it was to prove the race’s main tactical interest. Hamilton was fifth with Schumacher sixth, having passed Barrichello at the restart.
Vettel led, from Webber, the Red Bulls pulling away from Alonso at a second a lap. Hamilton was tucked up behind Button, losing half a second a lap to Alonso as Button was on the slower hard tyre.
The opening stint was fairly dull, the Red Bulls driving away from Alonso and the McLarens. Kobayashi lit things up a little with a wild passing move on Alguersuari at the hairpin for P10. It was the first of many entertaining moves from this exciting young driver.
Hamilton pitted on lap 23, the leader Vettel on lap 25 along with Alonso, while Webber pitted a lap later. This promoted Button to the lead.
Schumacher pitted from sixth and found he’d been undercut by Rosberg. The pair got stuck into a spirited battle, Schumacher being told over the radio, there are no team orders but Rosberg has been told not to cut you up if you try a move!
Button and Kobayashi the two drivers who started on hard tyres, stayed out trying to make the strategy work.
Hamilton, recovering from his five place gearbox penalty, had a very strong race, closing on Alonso in the second half of the race until his new gearbox started playing up, he lost 3rd gear with about 15 laps to go. With Button on new soft tyres, he caught Hamilton very quickly and passed him.
Sutil’s engine blew on lap 45, leaving a trail of oil through 130R and the chicane. The German kept going in order to save himself a walk back to the pits.
Schumacher had been stuck behind Rosberg since the pit stops but on lap 48 Rosberg’s car let go and he crashed heavily.
Kobayashi on new soft tyres in the closing stages was electric. He passed Barrichello and Heidfeld, both at the hairpin, moving up to seventh.
JAPANESE GRAND PRIX, Suzuka, 53 laps
1. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1h30:27.323
2. Webber Red Bull-Renault + 0.905
3. Alonso Ferrari + 2.721
4. Button McLaren-Mercedes + 13.522
5. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes + 39.595
6. Schumacher Mercedes + 59.933
7. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari + 1:04:038
8. Heidfeld Sauber-Ferrari + 1:09.648
9. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth + 1:10.846
10. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 1:12.806
11. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 1 lap
12. Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth + 1 lap
13. Trulli Lotus-Cosworth + 2 laps
14. Glock Virgin-Cosworth + 2 laps
15. Senna HRT-Cosworth + 2 laps
16. Yamamoto HRT-Cosworth + 3 laps
17. Rosberg Mercedes + 5 laps