The first lap mayhem at the start of the 2012 F1 Japanese Grand Prix gave some of the backmarker teams a chance to feature in some genuine midfield battles during this weekend's race at Suzuka.

Caterham's Heikki Kovalainen finished 15th and even ran as high up as 11th after the early safety car that followed Fernando Alonso's premature exit from the race, after a spin through the first corner that had scattered the field.

The Finn was able to hold off Jean-Eric Vergne for much of the first stint, but then couldn't prevent himself slipping backwards to 15th. "I had a fantastic start, avoided all the problems in turn 1 and passed Glock as soon as the safety car came out," he said after the race. "I was running really well in 11th until the first set of stops.

"In that first stint the car felt great ... We were even thinking about doing a one-stop race," he revealed. "But towards the end of the [second] stint they started to go off so we came in with ten laps left and from there it was all about making sure we got to the flag without any problems."

His team-mate Vitaly Petrov was not as lucky, suffering first a KERS failure and then a radio failure - which was why the team wasn't able to alert him to the blue flags being waved at him to make way for faster traffic coming up behind. As a result of ignoring the flags, Petrov got handed a penalty by race control.

"My first stop was fine, but after that we lost KERS and that obviously lost me time," he said. "I also had a problem with the radio and could not hear the blue flag calls and that ended up with the drive-through penalty."

It was a shame for Petrov, who'd got off to a positive start to the race: "At the start I had to avoid the problems in front, but got through that okay and pretty quickly settled into a good rhythm."

Both Caterhams finished the race albeit a lap off the lead, and sandwiched the car of Timo Glock who was the last Marussia left standing after Charles Pic retired 14 laps from the end with engine issues.

"I'm very happy to say it was a good race for us today," said Glock. "Heikki came through it quite well but I was right behind him and I was able to overtake him in the Esses. I was up to P11 but I knew that would be short-lived because we were struggling a bit with traction out of the last corner and obviously they have KERS and we don't."

Glock went on to say that Marussia "continue to have better pace in the race, so we will keep working hard on our overall performance and enjoying this very positive final stage of the season."

Pic, meanwhile, was disappointed with being forced out of the race early: "The start was difficult as we had to avoid the trouble at the first corner, then on the first stint I was struggling for grip with the hard tyre," he said afterwards. "This improved when I switched to the soft tyre for the second stint.

"Unfortunately I misjudged the pit box on my second stop, going quite long, and lost a lot of time," he said, adding: "Shortly afterwards I had to stop due to a problem with my engine."

HRT's Pedro de la Rosa was the final classified finisher on Sunday in 18th place. His team mate Narain Karthikeyan was forced to retire on lap 34 as a precautionary measure with a suspected engine problem.

"Overall, it was a positive weekend because we progressed, conserved our tyres better and improved our times," said HRT team principal Luis P?rez-Sala. "We hope for this progress to continue."

by Cameron Paterson

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