F1: Vettel’s display keeps the Brawns at bay

By Andy Darley

CalendarSunday, October 4th, 2009

 
 

Sebastian Vettel kept up the pressure on Jenson Button and Brawn GP with a commanding win in the Japanese Grand Prix, surviving a start-line challenge from Lewis Hamilton to cruise to victory.

Button recovered from his penalty in qualifying to finish eighth, a place behind Barrichello, and the combined three points for the Brawn drivers left the team just a half point short of being crowned constructors’ champions.

But the Englishman’s advantage in the drivers’ championship slipped to 14 points over his team-mate, 85-71, while Vettel’s victory allows the Red Bull driver to close to two points behind Barrichello.

With two races to go, he is now a point closer to Button than Kimi Raikkonen was to Lewis Hamilton in 2007 when the Finn scored his come-from-behind championship victory.

Button said: “Today was about picking up points after our eventful qualifying session yesterday and that’s exactly what I did. Starting from tenth on the grid was always going to make for a tough race but my pace was really good in the race and I was very happy with the performance of the car.

“I was pulling massive amounts of time out of the guys in front me but they were on heavier fuel loads which held me up as it’s difficult to overtake here. I did the best that I could in the car that we had this weekend and we got the maximum performance out of it with a points-scoring finish.

“I only lost one point to Rubens today which is my main priority. Obviously we lost a few points to Sebastian but we were expecting them to be strong here. We go to two circuits now which should suit our car so I’m excited about the end of the season and already looking forward to the next race in Brazil.”

Vettel’s win was secured at the start, when he held off the KERS-equipped Hamilton’s charge. The McLaren driver, starting from third on the grid, found Toyota’s Jarno Trulli harder to overtake than expected and was unable to get a proper run on the leader afterwards.

Trulli, hoping for a morale-boosting result for his Japanese team after Timo Glock’s injury in qualifying forced him to miss the race, stuck doggedly behind Hamilton for the first two stints and was able to regain second place in the final round of pitstops.

Hamilton said: “I tried to get past both Jarno and Sebastian at the start but I couldn’t quite manage to get into the lead. It was a good scrap with Jarno – we were really battling, setting qualifying times as we tried to shave tenths off each other’s laps – but, over the race distance, my car couldn’t quite match his.

“As I exited the pits after my second stop I lost time with a gearbox problem, which meant I coasted about 100 metres down the pitlane – that cost me about a second. To be honest, it wasn’t a surprise to be jumped by Jarno at the final stops, we needed every tenth to make the gap up to three seconds and we couldn’t quite make it.”

Some way behind them Jenson Button struggled at the start, dropping to 12th, but fought back with some of the few overtaking moves seen during the race to pass Giancarlo Fisichella and Robert Kubica.

This put him on the back of Adrian Sutil, who was stuck behind an under-performing Heikki Kovalainen, and when the Force India driver tried for a pass and sent both cars spinning Button gained another two places.

An otherwise quiet race saw little change except the strategic interplay between two-stoppers and three-stoppers until lap 45 of 53, when Toro Rosso’s Jaime Alguersuari delivered a crash that, given the carnage in qualifying, seemed long overdue.

The safety car stayed out until lap 50, reducing the race to a four-lap shoot-out with the field bunched up – but, in a damning indictment of F1’s failure to improve overtaking opportunities, not one place changed hands at the restart.

Behind the podium cars of Vettel, Trulli and Hamilton came Kimi Raikkonen, with Rosberg benefitting from two late pitstops to take a fifth place that was investigated by stewards after the race, as he had clearly been speeding under the safety car.

A penalty for the Williams driver would have promoted the Brawn cars by a place each and delivered the constructors’ title to the Brackley team, but stewards ruled that he was not aware of the precise speed he should been going because the read-out on his steering wheel was displaying a ‘low fuel’ message. Since he had obeyed all yellow flags and other safety instructions he was left unpunished.

Behind Rosberg, Nick Heidfeld finished safely ahead of the two Brawns while his team-mate Kubica found himself stuck behind them in ninth. His unsuccessful efforts to pass Button provided the only real interest of the laps following the end of the safety car period.

Fernando Alonso rounded out the top 10, ahead of Kovalainen, Fisichella, Sutil, Vitantonio Liuzzi, Kazuki Nakajima, Romain Grosjean and Mark Webber. Sebastien Buemi retired with gearbox problems.

Red Bull’s Webber, who started in the pitlane after missing qualifying, suffered a nightmare start to the race that saw him pit three times in the first five laps – twice with a dangerously loose neck rest and then with a puncture. He drove a lonely race to a distant last place, consoling himself by setting the fastest lap of the race near the end.

Japanese Grand Prix result

  1. Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull
  2. Jarno Trulli, Toyota
  3. Lewis Hamilton, McLaren
  4. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari
  5. Nico Rosberg, Williams
  6. Nick Heidfeld, BMW
  7. Rubens Barrichello, Brawn
  8. Jenson Button, Brawn
  9. Robert Kubica, BMW
  10. Fernando Alonso, Renault
  11. Heikki Kovalainen, McLaren
  12. Giancarlo Fisichella, Ferrari
  13. Adrian Sutil, Force India
  14. Vitantonio Liuzzi, Force India
  15. Kazuki Nakajima, Williams
  16. Romain Grosjean, Renault
  17. Mark Webber, Red Bull

Not classified

  • Jaime Alguersuari, Toro Rosso
  • Sebastien Buemi, Toro Rosso
  • Timo Glock, Toyota

Drivers’ championship

  1. Jenson Button, 85
  2. Rubens Barrichello, 71
  3. Sebastian Vettel, 69
  4. Mark Webber, 51.5
  5. Kimi Raikkonen, 45
  6. Lewis Hamilton, 43
  7. Nico Rosberg, 34.5
  8. Jarno Trulli, 30.5
  9. Fernando Alonso, 26
  10. Timo Glock, 24
  11. Felipe Massa, 22
  12. Heikki Kovalainen, 22
  13. Nick Heidfeld, 15
  14. Robert Kubica, 9
  15. Giancarlo Fisichella, 8
  16. Adrian Sutil, 5
  17. Sebastien Buemi, 3
  18. Sebastien Bourdais, 2
  19. Kazuki Nakajima, 0
  20. Nelson Piquet Jnr, 0
  21. Luca Badoer, 0
  22. Vitantonio Liuzzi, 0
  23. Romain Grosjean, 0
  24. Jaime Alguersuari, 0

Constructors’ championship

  1. Brawn, 156
  2. Red Bull, 120.5
  3. Ferrari, 67
  4. McLaren, 65
  5. Toyota, 54.5
  6. Williams, 34.5
  7. Renault, 26
  8. BMW, 24
  9. Force India, 13
  10. Toro Rosso, 5

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