Sebastian Vettel became the youngest double world champion in the history of F1 today, the 24 year old finishing third in the race and wrapping up the title with four races still to go.
“To win the championship here is fantastic,” said an emotional Vettel. “I’m so thankful to everyone in the team, working day in and day out pushing hard. We found ourselves in a strong position and it’s great to achieve our goals. This year we have always been one step ahead. There is no secret, it’s step by step. The hardest thing is winning after winning, to go out and do it again. I needed all the support from the team, from Mark everyone working for me.”
The top four cars finished just 8 seconds apart at the end. The race was won with some style by Jenson Button, his 12th Grand Prix victory. Button was the only driver able to match Vettel’s pace in the early stages and who took advantage of some rather conservative strategy by Red Bull which was designed to ensure Vettel got a podium rather than push the limits in search of the race win as well.
Vettel had said before the race that he was going to “go for glory” in the race, to clinch the title in style. It didn’t work out that way, but they had a bigger prize in sight.
Alonso also took advantage of this conservatism to jump Vettel at the third pit stop for second place.
It was Button’s fifth win with McLaren, the first in fully dry conditions and surely one of his best. He extended his lead over team mate Lewis Hamilton in the championship to 32 points.
“This circuit is very special. We love this place so to get a victory here does mean a lot,” said Button.
Strategy was critical and pre-race predictions from Pirelli suggested that the soft tyres were degrading at around 0.2 secs per lap and it was felt that some cars starting the race on used soft tyres could be pitting as early as lap 7 or 8. The strategy engineers were very much playing a watching and waiting game.
Nevertheless many of the cars outside the top six who had the choice of tyre at the start went for the soft tyres too.
At start Vettel pushed fellow front row starter Jenson Button onto the grass in an uncompromising move which forced Button to back out of the throttle. This allowed Hamilton to pass him around the outside for second place.
The stewards looked into it but decided not to give him a penalty. However in the cool down room before the podium Button picked him up on it saying, “Is this how we’re racing now then?” Vettel did not respond.
Paul Di Resta got a good start from 12th up to 8th, Sutil gained two places from 11th to 9th. While Kobayashi lost four places, to the disappointment of the crowd.
Vettel settled into his usual rhythm early on, opening a gap over Hamilton, while on lap 6 Alonso sailed past team mate Felipe Massa, who had out-qualified him. Massa didn’t put up much of a fight, Alonso was using the DRS which was very powerful on the pit straight today.
Hamilton let Button past as he had a puncture, which brought him into the pits first. This ultimately caused him to lose a track position to Alonso.
Vettel followed into the pits on lap 10, Button and Alonso pitted a lap later and made up three seconds on Vettel in the process.
Button was the only one who could live with the pace of Vettel, matching his pace, while Alonso and Hamilton were a few tenths of a second off and Webber was held up in 6th place by Massa.
Towards the end of the stints on the soft tyres we saw Button and Alonso faster than Vettel and so it was at the end of the second stint.
Vettel had to pit on lap 20 and when Button came in a lap later he was ahead of the German. Alonso didn’t come in on that lap.
Hamilton and Massa tangled again on lap 21, the lap Hamilton came in for his second stop. The stewards looked into it. Massa’s car had some damage on the left side front wing and floor.
Webber undercut Massa for P4 and really came into the race when on lap 24 the safety car was deployed for debris on the track, this allowed all the cars who had only made one stop to pit.
On lap 28 the race was restarted with Button leading from Vettel, Alonso, Webber, Massa and Hamilton, with Schumacher Perez and Di Resta all drivers in the top ten who had been helped by the safety car.
On lap 34, Vettel became the first of the front runners to pit for medium tyres, Webber did the same a lap later, still coping with a front wing which was missing some vital parts.
Vettel emerged in traffic behind Rosberg and Sutil, and was a second a lap slower than leader the Button, which gave Alonso a chance.
Button pitted on lap 37 and Alonso came in a lap later jumping Vettel in the process for second place.
Schumacher led the race for a while, by virtue of making one less stop and helped by the safety car, it worked for him, when he made his third stop he was ahead of Massa.
In the closing stages Alonso closed in on Button as once again the Ferrari proved faster at the end of the stint on the tyres. Button soaked up the pressure and kept his car out of DRS range for Alonso.
JAPANESE GRAND PRIX, Suzuka, 53 laps
1. Button McLaren 1h30:53.427
2. Alonso Ferrari + 1.160
3. Vettel Red Bull + 2.006
4. Webber Red Bull + 8.071
5. Hamilton McLaren + 24.268
6. Schumacher Mercedes + 27.120
7. Massa Ferrari + 28.240
8. Perez Sauber + 39.377
9. Petrov Renault + 42.607
10. Rosberg Mercedes + 44.322
11. Sutil Force India + 54.447
12. Di Resta Force India + 1:02.326
13. Kobayashi Sauber + 1:03.705
14. Alguersuari Toro Rosso + 1:04.194
15. Maldonado Williams + 1:06.623
16. Senna Renault + 1:12.628
17. Barrichello Williams + 1:14.191
18. Kovalainen Lotus + 1:27.824
19. Trulli Lotus + 1:36.140
20. Glock Virgin + 2 laps
21. D’Ambrosio Virgin + 2 laps
22. Ricciardo HRT + 2 laps
23. Liuzzi HRT + 2 laps