Jenson Button overcame a choppy start to his Japanese Grand Prix
and withstood late pressure from a hard-charging Fernando Alonso
to win at Suzuka - but it still wasn't enough to hold off the inevitable second world championship title from going to Sebastian Vettel.
Button and Vettel nearly ended their races at the green flag when Sebastian Vettel
responded to a flying start from Button by veering across Button's path, forcing the McLaren
to put a tyre on the grass going down into turn 1. Button had to back off and lost second place to Lewis Hamilton
who was sweeping around the outside line from third on the grid.
That seemed to put Button well and truly on the backfoot, but if there's any driver who is able to take a calm long-term view of proceedings it's Jenson, and he duly collected himself and waited for the race to unfold. He was soon rewarded by finding Hamilton slowing up in front of him on lap 9, as Lewis reported a slow puncture and had to come in for an even earlier pit stop than McLaren
had been intending.
Pit stops soon followed for the rest of the leaders as well. Vettel had already stretched out a big lead by this point, so much so that even an unusually casual stop from Red Bull
did no harm to Vettel's comfortable cushion at the front. Jenson Button
came in next with Fernando Alonso
right behind, and McLaren
had no such luxury of an easy stop if they wanted to prevent Ferrari
jumping Button for position.
Felipa Massa was the last of the leaders to pit on lap 12, handing back to the lead to Vettel. Button and Alonso followed in second and third, with Massa dropping back into line behind Hamilton but still ahead of Mark Webber
who was struggling to do anything more than hold position in sixth place.
All the teams were worried with the tyre wear at this point, with Michael Schumacher informed by the Mercedes pit crew that his front tyres had been very badly blistered in that first run. Lewis Hamilton
soon wore out his new set of tyres and after recovering from his early slow puncture with a series of overtaking moves he soon started to struggle to maintain his fifth position from Massa was who was bearing down on his old enemy.
But the surprise loser in the game of rubber roulette turned out to be the race leader, Sebastian Vettel, who never looked comfortable on this set of tyres and who saw his lead being eaten into at an alarming rate by Button. Vettel ended up pitting again on lap 20, with Mark Webber
coming in behind him just seconds later in a risky but well-executed double-stop strategy for the Red Bull
Button responded next time around - and exited pit lane right ahead of Vettel, who had lost out badly to the Briton in the sequence of in- and out-laps. Vettel looked like he almost had the momentum to sweep round Button through the first turn, but Button held on and claimed the position. Almost at once Button started to pull out a lead over Vettel, who certainly wasn't letting him go without a fight as he locked up his brakes in pursuit before having to concede that the lead was gone. Button was soon falling over back markers such as Daniel Ricciardo which allowed Vettel to close back up again, but Button coped with the crisis and soon started to pull away again.
Button's team mate Lewis Hamilton
was having a less successful time of things, coming under increasing pressure from Massa to the point where the two clashed after running nearly side-by-side into the chicane on lap 22. Hamilton escaped the contact without any visible damage, but Massa's front wing got relieved of an end plate that flew off.