The Japanese Grand Prix could yet prove to be the pivot on which the 2012 F1 world championship swung in Sebastian Vettel's favour, but does a crushing victory for the German make him the star of the race?
Granted, after Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button had led the way in FP1 and Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber had ended Friday on top of the pile, Vettel was largely unbeatable, eventually emerging with a fourth straight Suzuka pole and then romping to victory once Button took his penalty and Webber had been caught in the aftermath of the accident that took points leader Fernando Alonso out at turn one. It proved to be an easy afternoon for Vettel, who became the first driver to record back-to-back wins in 2012, and closed to within four points of Alonso at the head of the championship standings.
Some 20 seconds separated Vettel from his nearest rival at the chequered flag, but it wasn't a familiar name heading the pursuit as Felipe Massa made the most of the first corner shenanigans to vault from tenth to fourth, and then pass both Button and Kamui Kobayashi during the opening round of pit-stops as he made his Pirellis last longer than those ahead of him. Once installed in second, the Brazilian - who had not reached the podium since the Korean Grand Prix in 2010 - was able to pull a gap over Kobayashi, showing just what Alonso may have been capable of had he not been clipped by Kimi Raikkonen on the run to turn one.
Kobayashi, too, racked up a milestone as he became only the second Japanese driver to stand on an F1 podium - and in front of an appreciative home crowd to boot. Having qualified fourth fastest, the Sauber driver was promoted to the inside of row two by Button's penalty and then made a blinding start to be ahead of Webber - and the chaos that ensued - at the opening corner. Although he lost out to Massa during the stops, the under-fire ace drove well enough to keep a charging Button at bay through the closing stages.
Button also enjoyed a good start and, like Massa, made most of the melee to improve his position still further. Running third at the end of the opening lap, he too lost out during the stops, but remained close enough to be in contention for the final step of the podium at a race - and in a country - he loves. The Briton, who remains at McLaren next year, finished one spot ahead of team-mate Lewis Hamilton, who doesn't.
Webber's misfortune in being in the wrong place at the wrong time at turn one may not have done much for his chances of battling team-mate Vettel for the victory, or beinbg largely anonymnous in second place, and instead provoked a charge from the back that, despite effectively running a one-stop strategy and not being helped by the safety car, eventually yielded ninth place and a couple of useful points for RBR as they attempt to keep out of McLaren's clutches.
In a generally quiet race, defence merited as much as attack, and Daniel Ricciardo deserves recognition for his stout protection of the final scoring place under pressure form Michael Schumacher. This time there was no repeat of Monza, when the Australian's car let him down a couple of corners from home, or Singapore, when Schumacher used the other Toro Rosso as a brake, and Ricciardo prevailed by just under a second.
So, who was the star of Suzuka?
To have your say on who you think was the best driver in the Japanese Grand Prix, simply select your favourite from the list below....
F1 Driver of the Day: Japanese GP
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