Vettel Wins Japanese Formula One Grand Prix

October 4, 2009 Updated: October 4, 2009

Race winner Sebastian Vettel celebrates on the podium following the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at Suzuka, October 4, 2009. (Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Race winner Sebastian Vettel celebrates on the podium following the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at Suzuka, October 4, 2009. (Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel led from the green flag to the checkered flag at the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at Suzuka, extending the battle for both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships until the next race at Brazil, if not further.

After rained-out practice, and accident-filled qualifying, the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at Suzuka was a calm and controlled race. Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel jumped off early to a healthy lead and kept it, while behind him the field kept their cars on the track. The racing was fast, but the drivers, perhaps chastened by the numerous crashes on Saturday, raced without drama.

Red Bull-Renault driver Sebastian Vettel (L) holds off Lewis Hamilton in his McLaren entering the first turn right after the start of Formula One's Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, October 4, 2009. (Toshifumi Kitamura/AFP/Getty Images)
Red Bull-Renault driver Sebastian Vettel (L) holds off Lewis Hamilton in his McLaren entering the first turn right after the start of Formula One's Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, October 4, 2009. (Toshifumi Kitamura/AFP/Getty Images)

Vettel Untouchable

Vettel was by far the fastest driver on the track; he was never challenged, and cruised to victory with a five-second cushion.

Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel (R) leads Toyota's Jarno Trulli (L) during the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at Suzuka, October 4, 2009. (Toshifumi Kitamura/AFP/Getty Images)
Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel (R) leads Toyota's Jarno Trulli (L) during the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at Suzuka, October 4, 2009. (Toshifumi Kitamura/AFP/Getty Images)

“With pole position and also strategy-wise we were the favorites, but first of all you have to do the start,” said Vettel. “We were pretty confident; we’ve had good starts in the past, so we were confident to defend the position. But it was closer than I thought it would be. Going into Turn One all of a sudden I saw a silver arrow [Hamilton’s McLaren] on the left-hand side. I had the inside so it was my advantage but it was closer than I thought it would be.

“After that I just put my head down and tried to push every single lap. I was able to pull a gap quite quickly. Until the end it was pretty much in control.

Vettel held a ten-second lead through most of the race. Then on lap 44, Toro Rosso’s Jaime Alguersuari crashed coming though Turn Fifteen, the fastest corner of the course, where drivers hit 190 mph. Alguersuari went wide and slammed head-on into the tire barrier. He was uninjured, but the crash brought out a full course caution and bunched up the field.

The race went green with four laps to go. Vettel started strongly and immediately reopened a gap, and went on to win the race.

“On the last stint I wanted to have a bit of fun. I did one very quick lap I think :32.5, then my engineer came on the radio and said “Be aware of your tires, there might be a safety car or anything.” Two laps later there was the safety car. Obviously it’s not what you are hoping for when you are in the lead by roughly ten seconds.

"A very good restart and then three or four phenomenal laps again, to build a gap that was safe enough to win the race.”

Toyota's Jarno Trulli leads Nick Heidfeld's BMW Sauber and Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen during the final of the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix. (Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images)
Toyota's Jarno Trulli leads Nick Heidfeld's BMW Sauber and Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen during the final of the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix. (Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images)

Good Finish for Toyota

Jarno Trulli took second, showing that Toyota, which had been contemplating leaving Formula One, made the right choice to stay another year.

“I knew that the start would be the hot spot of the race, and the most difficult because I had this guy [gesturing at Hamilton] who is very strong at the start, and generally we don’t get very good starts,” explained Jarno Trulli. “As well, this was with the KERS, so it was pretty easy to imagine what would happen in the first corner. But this time the car pulled away pretty well, so I was nearly able to keep the position. But Lewis got by, and I was obliged to follow him.

“From then on it was a fantastic race for me because I really enjoyed running qualifying laps, lap by lap with Lewis, closing the gap, coming closer … It was really, really hard but I really enjoyed it because the car was really strong and everything was fine and it was just a matter of pushing as hard as I could and putting pressure on Lewis. Eventually, thanks to the team and the strategy, we got him at the last pit stop.”

The Toyota crew made a fantastic final pit stop, getting Trulli back into the race in 6.7 seconds, which allowed Trulli to reenter the track just in front of Hamilton. A few tenths more and Trulli would have rejoined the race third, and might never have gotten back around Hamilton; the two were too close in performance.

“From then on it was easy for me. With the safety car, I thought it was going to be a difficult restart. I thought Lewis would be close to me with the KERS power, but then I was pulling away again. I am really happy and I have to thank the team. It was a fantastic result, though I must admit that I really wanted to win, but it was impossible today because he [Vettel] was untouchable.”

McLaren Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton leads Toyota's Jarno Trulli during the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix. (Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images)
McLaren Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton leads Toyota's Jarno Trulli during the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix. (Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images)

McLaren Crippled by Loss of KERS

Lewis Hamilton brought the McLaren home in third. He held second for much of the race, but lost time in the final third, slowed by a malfunctioning KERS system.

“We had a great race, I tried to get both of them [Trulli and Vettel] at the start but they both had really good starts. We had quite a good battle, especially for me and Jarno,” said Lewis Hamilton. “Sebastian drove fantastic for all the race, so he pulled away into the distance, but me and Jarno were battling with our times. I couldn’t match these two in the first sector—and that’s purely down to down force—but in the middle sector I was quite quick and in the last sector, with KERS we were again quite quick.

Rubens Barrichello of Brawn GP finished seventh, one place ahead of points leader and teammate Jenson Button. (Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Rubens Barrichello of Brawn GP finished seventh, one place ahead of points leader and teammate Jenson Button. (Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
“Just before or just after the last stop, I lost KERS, so that lost us a good few tenths per lap. Also when that happens the brake balance changes, all these different things … so it was very hard. "

“I had to have a three-second gap before the last stop and I think I had a 3.1. then on the last couple of laps I lost half-a-second or so. We came out very close, but once he was in front of me it was impossible to keep up.

“These two [Vettel and Trulli] did a fantastic job today,” Hamilton concluded. “We’ll battle them again in the next race.”

Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull Racing celebrates after winning the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at Suzuka Circuit on October 4, 2009 in Suzuka, Japan. (Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull Racing celebrates after winning the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at Suzuka Circuit on October 4, 2009 in Suzuka, Japan. (Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Vettel’s win for Red Bull keeps alive his and his team’s hope in both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships. Vettel is now only two points behind Rubens Barrichello, and sixteen behind leader Jenson Button.

The Brawns, relegated to mid-pack for ignoring a yellow flag in qualifying, were unable to catch the leaders, thought they did manage to finish in the points, with Rubens Barrichello seventh and Jenson Button eighth. Button drove hard to get from his 12th-place start to get into the points, but didn’t have the pace of the front-runners.

Red Bull's Mark Webber had a terrible weekend and a miserable race, yet ended up setting fastest lap. (Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Red Bull's Mark Webber had a terrible weekend and a miserable race, yet ended up setting fastest lap. (Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Button pushed Barrichello hard in the final laps, perhaps risking wrecking both Brawns, but he was under pressure from Robert Kubica’s BMW. In the end, he kept his gap over his teammate and nearest challenger, but couldn’t clinch the championship as most expected.

Poor Mark Webber, who wrecked his Red Bull in Saturday morning practice, had to start from pit lane, and then had to pit repeatedly to make minor adjustments and repairs. He had no time to test-drive he rebuilt car; little problems kept cropping up. Had the car been right form the start, he could have been an important factor in the race, as he showed when he turned fastest lap of the race on lap fifty.

Sebastian Buemi, also driving a rebuilt and untested car, burned oput his clutch at the start and had to retire soon after. This was a bit ironic, as he made it through so many crashes and spins in qualifying to start the race, only to break before completing a lap. Between Buemi and Alguersuari, Toro Rosso had a very expensive and a very disappointing weekend.

The next race, the Formula 1 Grande Premio Petrobras do Brasil, is on Sunday, October 18, 2009.
Please visit the Formula 1.com Web site for travel and ticket information.

 

Driver Standings

 

Constructor Standings

 

Driver

Pts.

 

Team

Pts.

01

Jenson Button

85

01

Brawn-Mercedes

156

02

Rubens Barrichello

71

02

Red Bull-Renault

120.5

03

Sebastian Vettel

69

03

Ferrari

67

04

Mark Webber

51.5

04

McLaren-Mercedes

65

05

Kimi Räikkönen

45

05

Toyota

54.5

06

Lewis Hamilton

43

06

Williams-Toyota

34.5

07

Nico Rosberg

34.5

07

Renault

26

08

Jarno Trulli

30.5

08

BMW Sauber

24

09

Fernando Alonso

26

09

Force India-Mercedes

13

10

Timo Glock

24

10

Toro Rosso-Ferrari

5

 

2009 Formula 1 Fuji Television Japanese Grand Prix

Pos

No

Driver

Team

Laps

Time/retired

Pts

1

15

Sebastian Vettel

RBR-Renault

53

Winner

10

2

9

Jarno Trulli

Toyota

53

+4.8 secs

8

3

1

Lewis Hamilton

McLaren-Mercedes

53

+6.4 secs

6

4

4

Kimi Räikkönen

Ferrari

53

+7.9 secs

5

5

16

Nico Rosberg

Williams-Toyota

53

+8.7 secs

4

6

6

Nick Heidfeld

BMW Sauber

53

+9.5 secs

3

7

23

Rubens Barrichello

Brawn-Mercedes

53

+10.6 secs

2

8

22

Jenson Button

Brawn-Mercedes

53

+11.4 secs

1

9

5

Robert Kubica

BMW Sauber

53

+11.7 secs

 

10

7

Fernando Alonso

Renault

53

+13.0 secs

 

11

2

Heikki Kovalainen

McLaren-Mercedes

53

+13.7 secs

 

12

3

Giancarlo Fisichella

Ferrari

53

+14.5 secs

 

13

20

Adrian Sutil

Force India-Mercedes

53

+14.9 secs

 

14

21

Vitantonio Liuzzi

Force India-Mercedes

53

+15.7 secs

 

15

17

Kazuki Nakajima

Williams-Toyota

53

+17.9 secs

 

16

8

Romain Grosjean

Renault

52

+1 lap

 

17

14

Mark Webber

RBR-Renault

51

+2 laps

 

Ret

11

Jaime Alguersuari

STR-Ferrari

43

Accident

 

Ret

12

Sebastien Buemi

STR-Ferrari

11

+42 laps