AUTO-PRIX-JPN-F1 Japan F1 GP Auto Racing (Lotus driver Romain Grosjean of France, center, leads Red Bull driver Mark Webber of Australia, front right, and Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany, left, at the star Japan F1 GP Auto Racing (Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain, foreground, steers his car through turn 2 at the start of the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka circuit in Suzuka, Japan Japan F1 GP Auto Racing (Caterham driver Giedo van der Garde of the Netherlands, right, and Marussia driver Jules Bianchi, left, collide at the start of the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzu APTOPIX Japan F1 GP Auto Racing (The wing of Marussia driver Jules Bianchi flies across the car of Caterham driver Giedo van der Garde of the Netherlands, after they collided at the start of the Japan Japan F1 GP Auto Racing (Marussia driver Jules Bianchi of France slides off the track after colliding with Caterham driver Giedo van der Garde of the Netherlands during the Japanese Formula One Grand Japan F1 GP Auto Racing (Marussia driver Jules Bianchi, front, and Caterham driver Giedo van der Garde of the Netherlands crash at the start of the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka circui Japan F1 GP Auto Racing (Marussia driver Jules Bianchi, front, and Caterham driver Giedo van der Garde of the Netherlands sit in their cars after crashing at the start of the Japanese Formula One Gran Japan F1 GP Auto Racing (Lotus driver Romain Grosjean of France, left, leads Red Bull driver Mark Webber of Australia into turn 2 at the start of the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka circ Japan F1 GP Auto Racing (Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain drives his car with a damaged tire during the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka circuit in Suzuka, Japan, Sunday, Oct. 13 Japan F1 GP Auto Racing (Lotus driver Romain Grosjean of France, right, and Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany compete during the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka circuit in Suzu F1 Grand Prix of Japan - Race AUTO-PRIX-JPN-F1 F1 Grand Prix of Japan - Race F1 Grand Prix of Japan - Race AUTO-PRIX-JPN-F1 F1 Grand Prix of Japan - Race F1 Grand Prix of Japan - Race AUTO-PRIX-JPN-F1 AUTO-PRIX-JPN-F1 AUTO-PRIX-JPN-F1 Japan F1 GP Auto Racing (Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany, left, and Lotus driver Romain Grosjean of France race side by side during the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka circui Japan F1 GP Auto Racing (Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany, left, and Lotus driver Romain Grosjean of France race side by side during the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka circui Japan F1 GP Auto Racing (Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso of Spain steers his car during the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka circuit in Suzuka, Japan, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013.(AP Photo/Koji F1 Grand Prix of Japan - Race F1 Grand Prix of Japan - Race F1 Grand Prix of Japan - Race AUTO-PRIX-JPN-F1 F1 Grand Prix of Japan - Race AUTO-PRIX-JPN-F1 F1 Grand Prix of Japan - Race F1 Grand Prix of Japan - Race F1 Grand Prix of Japan - Race AUTO-PRIX-JPN-F1 Japan F1 GP Auto Racing (Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany, center, jumps on the podium as he celebrates after winning the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka circuit in Suzuka, J AUTO-PRIX-JPN-F1-PODIUM APTOPIX Japan F1 GP Auto Racing (Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany celebrates with the trophy after winning the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka circuit in Suzuka, Japan, Sunday AUTO-PRIX-JPN-F1-PODIUM Japan F1 GP Auto Racing (Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany, second right, celebrates along with second placed teammate driver Mark Webber of Australia, second left, and third placed Lotus
Japan's Suzuka circuit is a great track that all the drivers love, but it doesn't usually provide the most thrilling, head-to-head racing. Where it does excel, however, is with surprises and "What just happened there?!" moments, and this year it was no different.

It started with Mark Webber in his Infiniti Red Bull Racing out-qualifying his teammate Sebastian Vettel for the first time this year. They were followed closely by Lewis Hamilton in the first Mercedes-AMG Petronas, the still-solid Romain Grosjean again outdoing teammate Kimi Räikkönen, Felipe Massa racing for another seat in Formula One and putting his Ferrari in fifth, then Nico Rosberg in the second Mercedes, Nico Hülkenberg in the first Sauber, Fernando Alonso in the second Ferrari, and Räikkönen continuing to do himself no favors by qualifying tenth.

For the second year in a row, the lights going out was the cue to start the first corner action...

We can't remember the last time both Infiniti Red Bulls had bad starts – instead of just Webber – but that's what happened in Japan. It looked like a perfect situation for Hamilton, who had placed his car on the line angled slightly right, which would launch him in between Vettel and Webber. Once he found himself there, though, things got a little too skinny in the slot and his right rear tire touched Vettel's front wing. Vettel was able to continue unharmed but Hamilton punctured immediately, the tire coming completely off the wheel by the time he got around the track and damaging the floor. Hamilton got back out on track but retired eight laps later, losing 2.5 seconds per lap because of the damage to the floor.

The real beneficiary was Grosjean, who blasted around Vettel on the right and was first into the first turn, then lead the race for most of the next 29 laps ahead of Webber and Vettel. The Lotus driver did everything right this year – after doing everything wrong on the first lap last year when he plowed into the back of Webber before Turn 2 – staying ahead of the Red Bulls on pure pace. Webber was able to get close but not get around, so on Lap 7 both Red Bull drivers were told to leave two-second gaps to the car in front, save their tires and wait until closer to the pit stop windows.



The first round of pit stops came early and that shuffled the order as we found out who was on what strategy. On Lap 15 the order was Grosjean, Webber, Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo in the Toro Rosso, Rosberg, Hülkenberg, Massa, Alonso, Esteban Gutiérrez in the second Sauber, and Räikkönen. This was when we found out who the losers were, because Ricciardo was on a two-stop strategy and held up everyone behind for nearly six laps. Hülkenberg didn't get around him until Lap 21, and Ricciardo pitted the following lap. In that time, the front three put fifteen more seconds into the drivers behind.

Grosjean was on a two-stop strategy and had come in on Lap 12, re-emerging behind Vettel but in front of Webber. Lest you think the Aussie had managed to ditch his race-killing demon after achieving pole position, it stuck a pitchfork in his Japanese race when his team switched him from a two-stop to a three-stop strategy, and on the other side of the pits, Vettel was put on a two-stop strategy. Webber came in for his second stop on Lap 25, Vettel took over first place and then put in the laps he needed to give him a gap ahead of Grosjean almost large enough to cover the pit stop delta.



After the race Webber said he didn't understand why his strategy was changed, when he was originally slated to do two stops (only four other drivers did three-stops, the next-highest-placed was Rosberg in ninth). Apparently his lap timing showed that he was losing time to Grosjean ahead and Vettel behind, but Webber said that when he was called in he was still able to put time into Grosjean when he wanted. Commentators wondered if Red Bull was trying to goad Lotus into having to cover two different strategies. Admittedly, Weber did have a narrower rear wing than his teammate, that hampered his top speed, but whatever the case, he would have to chase Grosjean down and pass the Frenchman on Lap 46 to get second place, because as soon as he came in on Lap 25 first place belonged to Vettel.

The German didn't run away with it, and was a little sloppy compared to his usual standards, locking up and running wide into the dirt more than once. Still, he made his strategy work: he was a close second to Grosjean after the Frenchman's second stop on Lap 38, then passed him three laps later for the lead.



Behind that triumvirate in front, there were a few excellent passes in the pack, but due to tire management for the bulk of the middle, the race was only a little more exciting than a tea ceremony. Jules Bianchi in a Marussia collided with the Caterham of Giedo van der Garde at Turn 1, sending both of them into the gravel trap and out of the race. Massa ignored the call when Ferrari ordered him to let Alonso past, so Alonso had to do it on his own on Lap 20. Late in the race Hülkenberg was trying to secure a second consecutive fourth place finish for Sauber, but couldn't keep Alonso and Räikkönen from getting by him, the Finn making his move on the outside of the chicane at the end of the lap. Nevertheless, Hülkenberg and Gutiérrez both scored for the Swiss outfit; they were Gutiérrez's first points in F1, and the positions mean that Sauber has scored points in Japan all 23 years the race has been held at Suzuka.



The final order was Vettel, Webber, Grosjean, Alonso, Räikkönen, Hülkenberg, Gutiérrez – who made his way up from 14th on the grid, Rosberg – who would have finished higher if not for a drive-through penalty for unsafe release after a pit stop that saw him almost collide with Sergio Perez and run into Lotus pit crew members, Button, and Massa – who fell so far back after serving a drive-through penalty for speeding in the pit lane.

The win puts Vettel atop the standings with 297 points, Alonso in second with 207. If Vettel finishes fifth or higher in the next race in India, he's a four-time Driver's World Champion. Red Bull's constructor's haul takes them to 445 points, Ferrari in second with 297. Mercedes dropped to third with 287, and they'll be looking to regain that second place. Another measure of how strange the season has been: McLaren has 83 points.



The next race is in India in two weeks. Anything is possible, but there's been too much use of the phrase "mathematical" already, so unless Red Bull decides to sit the race out we expect Vettel to take the Driver's Championship, and if his team can score 24 points they'll take the Constructor's.

No matter what happens, we'll see you then.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 18 Comments
      Shawn Meagher
      • 1 Year Ago
      It's quite obvious that Red Bull sacrificed Webber to guarantee the win for Vettel. When one looks at the time delta data between Grosjean, Webber, and Vettel at and around lap 25 when Webber pitted, it is clear that his times were equal to Vettel and he was gaining on Grosjean (less than 1 second at the end of lap 24). It becomes very difficult to see Red Bull's 3 stop strategy as anything but guaranteeing a Vettel win. Webber could have easily stayed on the 2 stop strategy as his pit window should have been at lap 33 or 34 based on the length of Vettel's 2nd stint. With this he would have easily made the final set of hard tires last the final 20 laps. But ultimately this had the possibility of causing a battle for the win between both Red Bull drivers and this was the last thing that they wanted.
      VL00
      • 1 Year Ago
      This is the most boring F1 season in years, I can only hope next year's rule changes shake things up, otherwise I can drop the sports package and save some money.
        no1bondfan
        • 1 Year Ago
        @VL00
        I'm with you. I root for anybody but Vettel now. It's just boring to watch him and RB stomp the competition every race.
          HH112233
          • 1 Year Ago
          @no1bondfan
          Its not Vettels or RBs falt. Its Mercedes, Ferrari etc who cant get their act together!
      HH112233
      • 1 Year Ago
      I have to admit I felt that yesterday’s race was a little dull. It is unfortunate because Suzuka is such an amazing track. Drivers holding back to preserve tires is not what F1 should be about. I guess races like Schumachers win at the 1998 Hungarian Grand Prix are a thing of the past. BTW, what are your favorite races from the past and why?
        Jarda
        • 1 Year Ago
        @HH112233
        yes
        JanP
        • 1 Year Ago
        @HH112233
        I disagree that tires are holding back the racing right now. The original early 2013 spec tires indeed held the competition back. I remember the race where Hamilton's Mercedes was running at the pace of Caterhams. That was farcical. Tires got a lot better after the redesign following the disaster at Silverstone. You also need to keep in mind that tire wear is the only thing that was holding RedBull back (if that's even possible). Give RedBull tires like they had in 2011, and there would have been very little to stop them from taking 1-2 in almost every race. It would be like 2011 or 2004 all over again. Granted, this year RedBull may still shatter their own domination records of 2011. Regarding the best races, I think there were too many good ones to be able to remember them all or to even pick the favorites. Two stick in my mind right now. First is Button's incredible win in Canada in 2011 effectively from the last position, after all the pit stops and the penalty he served. The other is 1993 South African GP: brutal attrition, even though there were no mega crashes or major rain. Out of 26 cars, 7 finished. I think it showed how much harder it was to drive the F1 cars back them. Razor sharp precision required to keep the car on the track, and once the car was off the track it was pretty much the end of race. Mechanical reliability was also an issue. The races of severe attrition resulted sometimes in unexpected back-marker teams scoring points (top 6 positions) and even podiums.
        VL00
        • 1 Year Ago
        @HH112233
        Totally agree, this tire preservation nonsense is making the races awful.
      TrippulG3
      • 1 Year Ago
      I actually thought it was a very exciting race, if for no other reason than the thought that someone other than Vettel might *actually* win for a change. So much for that idea. :-\
      HAAS599
      • 1 Year Ago
      Vettel has a 90 point lead on 2nd place Alonso with 4 races left. Thats 200 possible points. If he wins the next race and Alonso scores 0 he will have a 115 point lead with 150 possible points left. There is no way he can win the championship in the next race. I believe Vettel will secure it in Abu Dhabi
        Narom
        • 1 Year Ago
        @HAAS599
        So ill informed and so wrong. It's 25 points for the win, therefore its 100 possible points with a 90 point lead meaning Vettel only needs to finish 4th or above to win the title in two weeks. You do watch F1 don't you?
      A A
      • 1 Year Ago
      reminder that vettel qualified 2nd for this race even with no KERs f1 is dead
      calstag
      • 1 Year Ago
      "the positions mean that Sauber has scored points in Japan all 23 years the race has been held at Suzuka" Hate to break it to you, but Sauber hasn't been in F1 for 23 years.
        HH112233
        • 1 Year Ago
        @calstag
        Sauber debuted in 1993 and has scored in all Japanese races it participated in. "Only 21" but still impressive! Good job on your part, backing up your statement with any numbers.
      Jordan Bellamy
      • 1 Year Ago
      If only the Pirelli tires used at the beginning of the season had worked out. Since the steel belted tires came back RBR has completely dominated.
      wafflesnfalafel
      • 1 Year Ago
      Everybody but Grosjean looked a little tired... It is cool Webber was able to grab pole.
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