Sebastian Vettel wins in Korea, Kimi Raikkonen with a good drive to second place and Romain Grosjean claims the final place on the podium after a good drive. McLaren yet again have made small improvements to their car in order to gain their way back to the front and score some much needed points. And people are still wishing that Sebastian Vettel and the Mercedes’ drivers still do not have the pace with their cars in qualifying…
Prior to the Grand Prix, the biggest talking point is the new rumours circulating in the paddock is who is going to take Kimi’s place in the Lotus team for next year. The two contenders gunning for this place is Nico Hulkenberg and Felipe Massa. But if you believe the rumours Hulkenberg is linked very highly to Lotus. You cannot also discount Paul Di Resta for the drive either. But we shall see in the next few weeks who Lotus will choose for next year.
I should also mention that Sebastian Vettel could secure his fourth consecutive drivers title this weekend if Fernando Alonso scores 9th place or worse or the gap to Alonso is 99 points or else for the fight to continue to India.
The Japanese Grand Prix is one of the favourite destinations for the teams and the drivers and they love the circuit! The circuit is technically one of the best of the season. The circuit has a high percentage of medium and high speed corners. The track has very high tyre energy and has one of the highest tyre demands of the season. The track is also very easy on brakes. The drivers and teams need to get the set up perfect or the track will expose and highlight the weakness in the car.
This Grand Prix will be one full of questions of who again can go longer on their tyres, who can save the most tyres for the race on Sunday, which car has got their car set up the most competitive and race ready? Have McLaren and Williams made a significant step forward with their upgrades in their fight to get back to the front?
Alongside these questions, questions if Red Bull, Lotus or Mercedes will be able this weekend to help their own fight in the championships, can McLaren small improvements on their cars help them this weekend before Hungary where more upgrades are planned to take place on the car, who will be competitive from the off, who has the quickest car and who will win this race on Sunday?
The race weekend begins now….
Strap yourselves in. The new season begins now…
Practices 1, 2 and 3
The main headline from the Practice sessions is Red Bull look to have the driver-car package to beat this weekend as weather conditions and tyre management test the drivers, teams and the cars throughout Friday and Saturday practice sessions.
Practice 1 saw Lewis Hamilton top the timesheet with a time of 1.34.157 followed closely by Rosberg with a gap of 0.330 seconds, Vettel in third with a gap of 0.611 seconds, Webber in fourth with a gap of 0.630 seconds and Massa in fifth with a gap of 0.585 seconds.
Within Practice 1, Bianchi spins his Marussia towards the end of the Degner corner. Felipe Massa experiences a fire on his Ferrari in the garage. Pastor Maldonado spins his Williams at Spoon corner and experiences a wheel nut failure which displaces the rear wheel. The team have to pay a hefty fine for this. Gideo Van Der Garde spins his Caterham at the Second Degner from touching the kerb and locking up. Max Chilton drifts and slides his Marussia.
Practice 2 saw Fernando Alonso topping the timesheets with a time of 1.33.852 followed by Webber with a gap of 0.168 seconds, Rosberg in third with a gap of 0.262 seconds, Raikkonen in fourth with a gap of 0.350 seconds behind and Grosjean in fifth with a gap of 0.559 seconds behind Vettel. Jenson Button managed to achieve a top 10 finishes with a 9th place. The early pace is showing that McLaren may have the pace to get some good championship points this weekend. Alonso managed to get tenth place in the session.
Within Practice 2, Pastor Maldonado has another off at the Degner corner followed by his team mate Bottas at the Spoon chicane leaving the Williams team a busy job overnight. Sergio Perez experienced an off at the Spoon curve on entry and had a side on impact with the barriers. Luckily Sergio was okay and did not do any damage to himself.
Also Fernando Alonso and Paul Di Resta experienced spins in the session. Kimi Raikkonen also breeched his Lotus at Dunlop Curve from losing the rear.
Practice 3 saw Mark Webber tops the timesheet again with a time of 1.32.053 followed by Hamilton with a time of gap of 0.134 seconds behind, Rosberg in third with a gap of 0.302 seconds behind, Grosjean in fourth with a gap of 0.654 seconds behind and Alonso in a fifth with a gap of 0.747 seconds behind. The surprise of the session is Nico Hulkenberg managing to grab 10th place showing that Sauber may have good pace within their cars. Button looks to be having a good weekend so far with claiming 7th place which show that McLaren might be able to get into Q3 with a fight and to gain some championship points on Sunday.
Within Practice 3, Romain Grosjean went wide in his Lotus. Adrian Sutil in his Force India suffered front wing damage and suspension from losing the rear. It was announced that Maria De Villota had sadly passed away at a hotel room in Seville. This is a sad loss for the sport. Maria was well liked and respected in the paddock and even though she suffered diversity, she was a true inspiration to everyone around her. I will be writing a tribute to Maria in the week.
You would be stupid not to bet against the Mercedes drivers of Hamilton and Rosberg and also Vettel to gain pole position again this weekend. As all three drivers seem to be excelling in qualifying at the moment and the momentum is with them from claiming Pole Positions in four rounds of the championship so far. Alonso, Massa, Webber and Raikkonen also cannot be discounted for the pole also as they are consistently within the top five places at the moment.
Button and Perez even with their upgrades and making good and solid progress with points finishes in previous races, seem to have made an improvement. It seems from looking at their performances that the pace is coming slowly and steadily and both drivers I will admit will struggle to even make Qualifying 2 or maybe even the points in the race and it will take a lot of skill and talent to do that in a car that is not capable, unless a bit of unexpected rain happens (which is very unlikely). However, I think that Toro Rosso, Force India or Sauber have shown that they could throw themselves into the mix and could qualify well here to be in the hunt for some decent points this weekend. We all look forward to the qualifying session of the Grand Prix with excitement…
It looks like Red Bull, Mercedes or even the Lotus’s are looking like the teams to beat heading into the session look set to challenge Ferrari, McLaren and the rest of the field for pole position today due to current form that they have shown. But Force India or Sauber may spring a surprise and throw a spanner into the works based on their early pace and promise within the Practice sessions. And it is looking likely that it will be a challenge for the Williams drivers of Bottas and Maldonado to clear Q1 and also the McLaren drivers of Button and Perez to clear Q2 as both teams do not have the pace within their cars to challenge the top teams this weekend.
Prior to qualifying, Adrian Sutil has a five place grid penalty. This will only spur Adrian on to qualify the best he can for tomorrow.
Let the battle for Pole Position begin…
In Q1, Grosjean tops the timesheets with a time of 1.31.824, Massa was second with a gap of 0.170 seconds, Rosberg was third with a gap of 0.420 seconds, Webber was fourth with a gap of 0.447 seconds and Di Resta was fifth with a gap of 0.462 seconds. Hamilton, Alonso, Raikkonen, Vettel and Hulkenberg managed to get 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th places for their teams. At the end of Q1, we lose Sutil, Vergne, Chilton, Pic, Van Der Garde and Bianchi.
During Q1, Esteban Guiterrez had a fire in the Sauber garage but luckily the fire did not do any significant damage to his car. Jean-Eric Vergne experienced during the session his rear brakes on fire.
In Q2, Vettel tops the timesheets with a time of 1.31.290, Webber is second with a gap of 0.223 seconds behind, Grosjean is third with a gap of 0.275 seconds behind, Hamilton is fourth with a gap of 0.346 seconds behind and Raikkonen is fifth with a gap of 0.372 seconds behind. The big surprise of the session was Hulkenberg finished the session in 10th place. At the end of Q2, we lose Perez, Di Resta, Bottas, Guiterrez, Maldonado and Riccardo.
The battle for pole position is on…
In Q3, Webber tops the timesheet and gets pole with a amazingly fast lap time of 1.30.915 ,Vettel was second fastest with a gap of 0.174 seconds behind, Hamilton was third fastest with a gap of 0.338 seconds behind, Grosjean was fourth fastest with a gap of 0.450 seconds behind, Massa was fifth fastest with a gap of 0.463 seconds behind, Rosberg was sixth fastest with a gap of 0.482 seconds behind, Hulkenberg was a credible seventh fastest with a gap of 0.729 seconds behind, Alonso was eighth fastest with a gap of 0.750 seconds behind, Raikkonen was ninth fastest and Button was tenth fastest.
It would seem that Red Bull genuinely has the pace to challenge for the race win again this weekend which I am absolutely not thrilled about. However, both sets of drivers seem to have the cars underneath them to do this. You cannot discount Hamilton, Webber or Rosberg to be challenging also for the race win in order to keep their seasons off to a flying start. Alonso or Raikkonen could also be the dark horses to take the win away from Mercedes and Red Bull and Ferrari and Lotus to gain some points on his rivals for the championship.
Button, Perez, Vergne, Hulkenberg and Riccardo could also have a decent race tomorrow and pick up some much needed points for McLaren, Sauber and Toro Rosso before heading to the next race in Singapore. Will it rain tomorrow? Maybe. Who will win the Grand Prix tomorrow? I really don’t know (hoping for a Button win!). Who will lead the championship after this race? Will it be Vettel, Alonso, Raikkonen, Alonso or Hamilton? I don’t know. The Grand Prix has been set up nicely, just like the last race. Let’s see what happens…
The F1 world is watching and waiting to see if the 2013 Japanese Grand Prix will live up to expectations and who will be the winner? Here we go…
All 22 drivers are lined up on their grid positions, five red lights and its GO!!!!!!!!
Grosjean gets off the line quite well and leads Vettel into Turn 1. Hamilton is moving towards Vettel. There are three drivers going abreast into Turn 1. Van Der Garde and Bianchi have gone off at Turn 1. Vettel now finds himself in third place. Hamilton is now in trouble and he finds himself having a right rear puncture after having contact with Vettel.
Lap 2 and Grosjean leads Webber by 0.6 seconds. The next lap sees the stewards investigating the incident between Van Der Garde and Bianchi from the first lap at the first corner. Lap 5 sees Grosjean leading by 0.9 seconds. The battle for fourth place between Rosberg, Massa, Alonso, Hulkenberg and Perez. The next lap sees Button and Raikkonen battling for tenth. Raikkonen tries a move on Button but cannot pass him.
Lap 7 and the gap is still at 0.9 seconds. Raikkonen is then able to pass Button. Riccardo also passes Bottas on track. Massa and Alonso are battling each other for fifth place. The next lap sees Hamilton retire from the race. Button and Bottas pit at the end of the lap.
Grosjean leads the field on Lap 9 by 1.6 seconds. The battle for fourth place is still ongoing. At the end of the lap Guiterrez and Maldonado pit. At the end of Lap 10 Hulkenberg pits with a stop time of 3.2 seconds and rejoins the race in tenth place. Lap 11 and the gap to Vettel is 2.7 seconds. At the end of the lap, Webber, Raikkonen and Massa pit.
At the end of Lap 12 Grosjean makes his pitstop with a time of 2.6 seconds and rejoins the race in third place handing the lead to Vettel. Lap 13 sees Vettel leading Alonso. In the pit lane, there was an unsafe release from the Mercedes team while Perez was exiting the pit lane. At the end of the lap, Alonso makes his pit stop with a time of 2.3 seconds and rejoins the race in 8th place.
Lap 14 sees Vettel leading the race by 11.8 seconds to Alonso. Perez is able to pass his team mate Button for 11th place. At the end of the lap, Vettel makes his pit stop with a time of 2.5 seconds and rejoins the race in third place. Lap 15 sees Grosjean retake the lead of the race again. Rosberg also receives a drive through penalty for the unsafe release from his pit stop that very nearly saw him collide with Perez in the pit lane.
Lap 18 sees Grosjean leading by 1.7 seconds. Riccardo and Hulkenberg find themselves battling for fourth on track. The next lap sees Hulkenberg looking for a way past Riccardo and Alonso trying to get past Massa. By Lap 20, Alonso and Hulkenberg find their way past Massa and Riccardo.
Lap 21 sees Grosjean leading Vettel by 2.3 seconds. Alonso is able to pass Riccardo. Lap 22 sees Guiterrez making a move on Massa but Massa is able to hold on for now. Raikkonen is able to pass Guiterrez. Perez then tries to pass Guiterrez but cannot do so. At the end of the lap, Riccardo pits.
Lap 25 sees Grosjean leading the field by half a second. At the end of the lap, Webber pits with a stop time of 2.5 seconds and rejoins the race in 3rd place. The next lap sees Massa and Raikkonen battling on track for sixth place. By the end of Lap 29, Grosjean pits.
Lap 30 sees Vettel once again retaking the lead of the race. But at the end of the lap, he pits with a stop time of 2.9 seconds and rejoins the race in 3rd. Also Alonso and Hulkenberg make their pit stops and rejoin the race in 5th (Alonso) and 8th (Hulkenberg).
Lap 31 sees Vettel leading the field by 12.5 seconds. Riccardo receives a penalty for the incident with a Force India car. At the end of the lap, Raikkonen makes his pit stop with a time of 3.1 seconds and rejoins the race in seventh place. The next lap sees a battle for seventh between Riccardo and Rosberg and a battle for seventh between Raikkonen, Riccardo and Rosberg.
Lap 33 sees Vettel leading by 10.9 seconds. While in the pit lane, it is believed that Massa may have been speeding in the pit lane. The next lap this is confirmed and Massa receives a drive through penalty for speeding in the pit lane. By the end of Lap 37, Vettel who is still leading the race pits with a time of 2.4 seconds and rejoins the race in third place.
On Lap 38, Webber is leading the race with a 13.5 second gap to Grosjean. A battle for second between Grosjean and Vettel. Also Guiterrez manages to pass Vergne for ninth place on track. The next lap sees Alonso and Raikkonen battling for 5th place. Lap 40 sees the battle between Vettel and Grosjean intensify and Vettel tries to make a move on Grosjean but cannot do so.
Lap 41 sees Webber leading by 15 seconds to Vettel who was able to pass Grosjean for second place in the race. At the end of the next lap, Webber pits for new tyres with a stop time of 2.7 seconds and rejoins the race in 3rd place.
Lap 43 sees Vettel retake the lead of the Grand Prix again and has a 3.1 gap lead to Grosjean. On track, Button passes Sutil for 13th place. The next lap sees Vettel, Grosjean and Webber battling for the lead of the race. By Lap 45, Webber is gaining quickly on Grosjean.
Lap 46 sees Vettel leading by 5.1 seconds. Grosjean and Webber are battling each other on track by second place of the race. Alonso is able to pass Hulkenberg for fourth place. The next lap sees Mark putting pressure on Romain and trying to get past him but cannot do so. By Lap 48, Webber is still not able to pass Grosjean.
Lap 49 and Vettel extends his lead to 6.6 seconds. Grosjean is defending with all his might to keep Webber behind him and is doing a solid job so far. By Lap 51, Webber is still unable to pass Grosjean and it looks like that time is running out for him. Raikkonen is able to pass Hulkenberg for fifth place.
Lap 52 and Vettel has a 9.2 second gap to Webber who has finally been able to pass Grosjean for second place. The battle for seventh place between Guiterrez and Rosberg is still ongoing. The final lap sees Vettel holding an 8.7 second gap to his team mate Webber. Sebastian Vettel completes the final lap and takes the win in Japan, Mark Webber takes second place 7.1 seconds behind Vettel, Romain Grosjean gets the final place on the podium 9.9 seconds behind Vettel, Alonso takes fourth place 45.6 seconds behind Vettel, Raikkonen takes fifth place 47.3 seconds behind Vettel, Hulkenberg takes a credible sixth place 51.6 seconds behind Vettel, Guiterrez takes a credible seventh place 1.11.6 seconds behind Vettel, Rosberg takes eighth place 1.12 seconds behind Vettel, Button takes ninth place 1.20.8 seconds behind Vettel and Massa takes the final point in tenth place 35.1 seconds behind Vettel.
Sebastian Vettel leads the Driver’s championship with 297 points, Alonso is second with 207 points, Raikkonen is third with 177 points, Hamilton is fourth with 161 points, Webber is fifth with 148 points, Rosberg is sixth with 126 points, Massa is seventh with 90 points, Grosjean is eighth with 87 points, Button is ninth with 60 points and Di Resta is tenth with 39 points.
Red Bull lead the Constructor’s championship with 445 points, Ferrari is second with 297 points, Mercedes is third with 287 points, Lotus is fourth with 264 points, McLaren is fifth with 83 points, Force India in sixth with 62 points, Sauber in seventh with 45 points, Toro Rosso are eighth with 31 points and Williams are ninth with 1 point.
The Grand Prix tested the drivers throughout the race with the high level of tyre degradation, just like the many races we have had this season. However, I am glad that the small changes that Pirelli made to the tyres have worked this weekend and they have not compromised safety or the racing.
I was happy that Jenson did have some pace to challenge today and did score some points for the team. Jenson had a battle to get some points for the team and I am sure the team are thankful for his efforts. This just shows how much they are making improvements at the moment. But it shows that McLaren are taking slow and steady progress to try and get to the front of the field once again. But I am happy that Jenson managed to do his best this weekend for the team and they were rewarded with some good points. But they need to try and make the car competitive and understand the issues surrounding their problems and learn the lessons from this year’s car and focus on 2014.
The team this weekend I believe have made small steps into looking at solutions to help and cure this problem before the championships, race wins, podiums and even point finishes are no longer within their reach. As I said last race, I know McLaren will bounce back to the performance they and their fans crave and when that happens, it will make it all the more special.
Lotus this weekend may not have gained another victory this weekend but they have scored some good points from Kimi and Romain this weekend that will help their fight in the Constructors Championship. I was impressed with Grosjean this weekend. Romain has been in top 10 form all weekend and thoroughly deserves his place on the podium. He has showed that he has the potential and the maturity to lead a race from the front and he handled the pressure very well indeed.
I was a bit surprised that Lotus was not able to challenge for the win this weekend, but consistency and points scoring keeps you in the hunt for the title, as Alonso proved last season. Despite the problems of this weekend, the Lotus team have managed to get again score some points, even though they are now fourth in the Constructor’s Championship.
The biggest surprises this weekend for me was the 6th and 7th places of Nico Hulkenberg and Esteban Guiterrez. Firstly, Hulkenberg has had an impressive weekend but he has impressed me a lot this weekend yet again as in Singapore and Korea.
He drove a cracking race to bring home some much needed point for the team. I believe that Nico this year has learnt his lessons from his last and this season from the sport and is working harder than ever to impress with his performances in the sport this year and trying to get some much needed points for Sauber. I really believe that Nico when is good is a high quality driver that he is and I was happy to him get a point today after a great drive. But the question is, when will the top teams give this man a chance? Nico deserves in my view to be in a competitive car! Come on Lotus, give him a chance!
Also Guiterrez scored his first points in Formula One this weekend and he did it the hard way keeping drivers such as Rosberg behind him. I think that Guiterrez is finally able to place all the pieces together that are required to have a successful weekend. And I think that his performance will remind everyone of his ability and qualities that made Sauber sign him up for his year.
Alonso also drove solidly this weekend to claim fourth place. Even though he qualified in eighth place on Saturday, I believe that he did not the potential to challenge Vettel, Webber or both of the Mercedes drivers for the win even if he qualified further up the grid. Alonso and Ferrari need to keep working on their qualifying pace as they have a really good car this year (especially in the race) and could challenge Vettel if this problem was rectified.
Rosberg and Massa do deserve a mention. Firstly, Mercedes seem to have a car that is undoubtedly better than their car last year. They seem to be able to make sure that their qualifying performance is also consistent and reliable, while it seems they have improved their race pace today. And yet again Rosberg extends his and his team’s points into the championships today.
While both of the Mercedes driver undoubtedly have the car to challenge Red Bull at qualifying on Saturdays but still need to work on the pace on Sundays. But I believe that Mercedes seem to have a car that is undoubtedly better than their car last year and will get there eventually. And I think that Nico drove solidly despite battling what felt like every driver today and deserved to take some points for their efforts.
Massa drove a solid race this weekend. He has been on top 10 form all weekend and despite receiving a drive through penalty in the race managed to gain the final point of the race. Massa is now fighting to stay in the sport after Ferrari announcing that Raikkonen would be teaming up with Alonso for next season. Felipe I believe is now showing the passion he has always had in order to gain a seat for next year.
I would also like to say that Webber drove to my mind a really good race today and deserved to take some good points home today. Mark drove through the field with the grit and determination that all fans and the paddock admire, respect and love about him and his battle with Grosjean had us all hooked. I really will miss Mark next year and I really hope that he can win a race before the end of the season. As Mark deserves to leave the sport with a bang and I am sure the Red Bull team would like to reward him with a win.
All that is left to say about this race is that Vettel sadly deserved to win today. His driving was brilliant and controlled throughout the race. They seem to be able to make sure that their qualifying performance is also consistent and reliable, while it seems they have improved their race pace today. And yet again Vettel extends his and his team’s points into the championships today and people are now starting to believe that unless Vettel and Red Bull are challenged, the title is theirs for the taking.
Will Sebastian be able to win in India? Can Hamilton, Webber, Raikkonen, Grosjean or Alonso be able to challenge? We shall see in a few weeks time!
My next post will be my tribute to Maria De Villota who sadly passed away on Friday morning.