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SEBASTIAN VETTEL of Red Bull strengthened his championship hopes last Sunday (10 October) by taking pole position and victory at the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka…

...But Webber still hovers over Vettel in the Standings.

Qualifying had been washed out on Saturday because of heavy rain and took place at 10:00 local time (02:00 British time).

Vettel took pole with a Q3 time of 1:30.785 (143.072 mph). His Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber was second fastest, with Renault’s Robert Kubica taking third on the grid. The rest of the top ten from fourth to tenth were: Fernando Alonso (Ferrari), Jenson Button (McLaren), Nico Rosberg (Mercedes), Rubens Barrichello (Williams), Lewis Hamilton (McLaren) – who set the third fastest time but had his gearbox changed encoring a five-place grid drop. Nico Hülkenberg (Williams) and Michael Schumacher (Mercedes) completed the top ten.

Felipe Massa (Ferrari) had another qualifying to forget, as he could only manage 12th on the grid.

I then got just under three hours sleep before the race itself. But it was well worth getting up for.

Lucas di Grassi (Virgin) destroyed his car at 130R on the going to the grid lap of all things. Don’t ask me how he managed it. I don’t even think he knows.

The start of the race saw two separate accidents before the drivers had even gotten to the ‘S’ bends. Vitaly Petrov (Renault) cut across Hülkenberg’s path and ended up breaking both of their cars. Massa then went off the road at the first corner and bounced across the track, wiping out Vitantonio Liuzzi’s Force India. This naturally brought out the Safety Car, with Vettel leading from Kubica who has passed Webber at the start.

In Soviet Russia, car drives YOU!

We have to swap insurance details!

But we were robbed of the chance of seeing Kubica giving the Red Bulls a hard time just minutes later. On lap three (while still behind the SC) Kubica’s right-rear wheel came off of his car and he was out of the race. Thank God that this didn’t happen at oh…let’s see…130R at racing speed.

The SC came in at the end of lap six with Vettel leading from: Webber, Alonso, Button and Hamilton.

Mercedes had an eventual first racing lap. Nico Rosberg tried to pass Jamie Alguersuari (Toro Rosso) around the outside of 130R but he ran wide and lost the place. Meanwhile just a little way up the road, Michael Schumacher overtook his old Ferrari team-mate, Rubens Barrichello at Turn 15.

On lap 18, Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi (who was driving in his home Grand Prix for the first time) launched himself up the inside of Adrian Sutil’s Force India at the ‘Hairpin’ for ninth place.

Race leader Vettel and third placed man Alonso pitted at the end of lap 24. They came out of the pits as they came in, but behind them Hamilton (who had pitted earlier) slipstreamed Kobayashi on the front straight and took fifth place off him. Webber – who inherited the lead from Vettel – pitted a lap later handing the lead over to Button.

The reigning World Champion pitted from the lead at the end of lap 38, and Vettel was back in front. On the next lap Hamilton radioed the McLaren pit wall to tell them that he had lost third gear. His lightning pace from 15 or so laps ago had gone, and it would only be a matter of time before his team-mate would pass him. This happened on lap 44. Button followed Hamilton around to the ‘Hairpin’ and eased by without Hamilton putting up a fight.

Kobayashi was at it again on lap 45, this time passing Alguersuari around the outside of the ‘Hairpin’. Alguersuari didn’t give up without a struggle however and made contact with the Sauber. But it was the Spaniard’s car which came off second best. Kobayashi was then greeted with the sight of Sutil’s Force India dumping oil all over the track. Sutil tried to take 130R too quickly and only just saved the car from a violent spin, his backside taking a huge backside out of his seat in the process. He did manage to get the car back to the pits however.

Three laps later it was Nico Rosberg’s turn to lose a wheel (his left-rear). It came off as he went up the hill to Dunlop corner after the ‘S’ bends. He had been holding off a strong challenge from his resurgent team-mate Michael Schumacher for most of the second half of the race, and he really deserved a good finish.

Schumacher (red helmet) could only pass Rosberg (yellow helmet) when his wheel came off.

The cameras then picked up the fact that Kobayashi was now ahead of Barrichello, and was right up behind his Sauber team-mate Nick Heidfeld on the start/finish straight in front of his delighted home fans. The Japanese driver then overtook his team-mate at the ‘Hairpin’ (where else?) and was now up into seventh place.

But it was Sebastian Vettel who won the 53 lap race in a time of 1:30:27.323, an average speed of 126.841 mph. His team-mate Webber came second just under a second behind him and also set the fastest lap of the race (1:33.474, 138.956 mph). Alonso came third, with Button fourth, Hamilton fifth and Schumacher sixth. Lotus managed their best result of the season with Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli finishing 12th and 13th respectively.

For his first lap actions, Petrov has been given a five-place grid penalty for the next race. This will be the first ever (South) Korean Grand Prix. McLaren must win it to save both their title challenges.

DRIVERS’ STANDINGS (16/19 GPs)

Pos

Driver

Constructor(s)

Points

Gap From 1st

1

Mark WEBBER (AUS)

Red Bull

220

2

Fernando ALONSO (ESP)

Ferrari

206

14

3

Sebastian VETTEL (GER)

Red Bull

206

14

4

Lewis HAMILTON (ENG)

McLaren

192

28

5

Jenson BUTTON (ENG)

McLaren

189

31

6

Felipe MASSA (BRA)

Ferrari

128

92*

7

Nico ROSBERG (GER)

Mercedes

122

98*

8

Robert KUBICA (POL)

Renault

114

106*

9

Michael SCHUMACHER (GER)

Mercedes

54

166*

10

Adrian SUTIL (GER)

Force India

47

173*

*Can’t win title.

There are 75 points still available

CONSTRUCTORS’ STANDINGS (16/19 GPs)

Pos

Constructor

Engine

Points

Gap From 1st

1

RED BULL (AUT)

Renault

426

2

MCLAREN (ENG)

Mercedes

381

45

3

FERRARI (ITA)

Ferrari

334

92

4

MERCEDES (GER)

Mercedes

176

250

5

RENAULT (FRA)

Renault

133

293

6

FORCE INDIA (IND)

Mercedes

60

366

7

WILLIAMS (ENG)

Cosworth

58

368

8

SAUBER (SUI)

Ferrari

37

389

9

TORO ROSSO (ITA)

Ferrari

11

415

Yet to Score

LOTUS (MAL), HRT (ESP), VIRGIN (ENG)

Cosworth (All)

0

426

*Can’t win title.

There are 129 points still available

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