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Japanese Grand Prix: Vettel leads Red Bull 1-2 despite early setbacks

A hint of team orders preceded a nice DRS move by Alonso on Massa through turn 1 on lap 20. With Ricciardo's tyres finally giving up the ghost, Alonso was soon able to follow Hulkenberg past the waning Toro Rosso on lap 21, and Massa tried to do likewise only to end up being repulsed and dropping back into the determined clutches of Gutierrez at the hairpin that he was only just able to fend off in a thrilling sequence of corners.

Ricciardo was finally in on lap 21 for his first stop, and three laps later Button was also on pit lane for his second stop of the day after reporting a vibration, although a slow right-rear wheel change cost him three seconds before he was able to resume. Two laps later and Webber - unable to make any significant inroads into Grosjean's stable lead - was in for his second stop in the hope of making something happen through strategy. The Lotus team made no immediate attempt to cover the move, Grosjean staying out despite tyres with more that 20 laps on them as he continued to strive for a two-stopper. He ultimately came in at the end of lap 29, handing the lead back to Sebastian Vettel in the meantime in a fascinating battle of race strategies as the Red Bull started to focus on using the clear air to make as much ground as possible in the meantime.

Promising days for Ricciardo and Massa came to a frustrating halt with drive-thru penalties for both men, Ricciardo's for exceeding track limits at 130R while overtaking Paul di Resta and Massa for speeding on pit lane which dropped both of them out of the top ten.

Vettel's middle stint finally concluded with a pit stop at the end of lap 37 with a change to a new set of primes to make it to the finish. He emerged back out on track in third behind Webber and Grosjean, but on tyres eight laps fresher than the Lotus and with the knowledge that Webber would have to make another stop before the finish. The new tyres proved crucial as Vettel hunted down and passed Grosjean down the front straight at the start of lap 41 in what was effectively the decisive move for the race win, and Webber officially turned over the race lead with his final stop at the end of the following lap and a Hail Mary choice of taking on a set of options for the final 12 laps remaining of the race which allowed him to close right up to the back of Grosjean in the final part of the race.

Behind the lead trio, Hulkenberg was once again managing to hold off Alonso's challenge for fourth while Raikkonen was right behind the Ferrari in sixth, with Gutierrez holding off Rosberg, Massa and Button after Sergio Perez was forced into making an unscheduled extra stop after getting his left rear tyre sliced open by the front wing of Rosberg's Mercedes on lap 43.

The final laps of the race saw Vettel carefully holding a six second lead at the front ahead of the best scrap on track between Grosjean and Webber for second. Although Webber had ben able to pull right up to the back of the Lotus on his fresher set of options he hadn't been able to make the pass, and the dirty air and shorter life of the medium tyres was slowly swinging the advantage back to Grosjean in the battle for the runner-up position. Finally some lapped traffic added the extra spice Webber needed to seal the deal, and the Australian applied a dab of DRS to pass Grosjean at the start of the penultimate lap.

Having lost so much time behind the Lotus, there was nothing Webber could do about Vettel's comfortable (if smaller than previous races) margin at the front, and Vettel duly claimed the chequered flag ahead of his team mate as Red Bull pulled off their first one-two finish since Malaysia with Grosjean having to settle for third after victory had looked so tantalisingly close for so very long in Japan.

Even though Vettel had done his part, the championship battle would not be sealed this weekend after all, with Alonso managing to get past Hulkenberg for fourth place to keep the title mathematically within reach, even if common sense dictates that it will only be a couple of weeks before t becomes a reality in India.

Raikkonen also managed a late pass on Hulkenberg at the chicane to secure fifth place with the Sauber man having to settle for sixth ahead of his team mate Gutierrez, with Rosberg rallying from his mid-race penalty to claim eighth ahead of Button and Massa and Paul di Resta ending up just outside the points in 11th place and the last man on the lead lap following a disappointing day for Force India which saw Adrian Sutil in 14th place after finding it impossible to recover from his Saturday setbacks.

Much to celebrate for Red Bull, then, even if the title remains elusive for one more race. It was still an emphatic demonstration of dominance by Sebastian Vettel, who just seems unstoppable the longer the season goes on. Will anyone else stand on the top step of the podium for the rest of 2013?

On this evidence it's getting increasingly hard to imagine.

Full results available.




Related Pictures

Click on relevant pic to enlarge
12.10.2013- Qualifying, Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing RB9 pole position
12.10.2013- Qualifying, Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing RB9 pole position
06.10.2013- Celebration in parc fermee Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing RB9
Podium: Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing RB9 (race winner)
13.10.2013- Race, 1st position Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing RB9, 2nd position Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing RB9 and 3rd position Romain Grosjean (FRA) Lotus F1 Team E21
Daniel Ricciardo - Red Bull Racing
27.07.2014- Race, Fernando Alonso (ESP) Scuderia Ferrari F14-T
27.07.2014- Race, Valtteri Bottas (FIN) Williams F1 Team FW36 and Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing RB10
27.07.2014- Race, Nico Rosberg (GER) Mercedes AMG F1 W05 and Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing RB10
27.07.2014- Race, Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) Red Bull Racing RB10
27.07.2014- Race, Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Scuderia Ferrari F14-T and Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W05
27.07.2014- Race, Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing RB10 leads Fernando Alonso (ESP) Scuderia Ferrari F14-T
27.07.2014- Race, Valtteri Bottas (FIN) Williams F1 Team FW36 and Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing RB10
27.07.2014- Race, Fernando Alonso (ESP) Scuderia Ferrari F14-T leads Nico Rosberg (GER) Mercedes AMG F1 W05
27.07.2014- Race, Pastor Maldonado (VEN) Lotus F1 Team E22, crashed
27.07.2014- Race, Valtteri Bottas (FIN) Williams F1 Team FW36 leads Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing RB10
27.07.2014- Race, Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W05
27.07.2014- Race, Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) Red Bull Racing RB10

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Webbertron

October 13, 2013 8:50 AM

What a great start by Grosjean, I would have really loved to see him win today! I hope Webber gets a win before his final season in Formula 1 comes to an end. Once again Vettel shows the field how it’s done, he just has a way of getting pace out of a car without using up the tyres. Great job by the top 3 I loved watching it all!

Clifton Richards

October 13, 2013 1:47 PM

Great strategy to pit Webber while he was still on fresh tires. Even the commentators had a wtf moment. They said if Webber wanted to win that race he would have to do it himself. Called in for a pit stop when they didn't even have tires ready, then a 3.2sec stop vs a 2.6 for Vettel. I would have thought Vettel would be the first one in considering he's the one who suffered contact at the start of the race.



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