I think the 2010 Japanese Grand Prix was one of those races you could report either way. You could say that with multiple cars out by turn two, a close battle for the top five places, and a storming performance from Kobayashi, the race was great. However, it could also be said that the race was largely processional and a forgone conclusion.
It really does depend what spin you choose to put on it. Whilst I think both evaluations are pretty good, I think I will lean towards the first one. The race was pretty slick, but arguably there were enough talking points in the right places to make the race as interesting as any other…just not as exciting.
I suppose I should tackle the qualifying first! After all of the rain yesterday, qualifying was moved to 10:00 am (local time) on Sunday.
Unsurprisingly, the new teams all dropped out in Q1, and were joined by Sebastian Buemi. Q2’s big shocker came in the form of Filipe Massa failing to make it through and ending up in P12! Terrible for the Ferrari driver, but otherwise most of the cars you’d expect to see in Q3 made it.
Of course the Red Bulls dominated Q3 and although it was ridiculously close, Mark Webber was clearly upset to be beaten by his team mate. Lewis Hamilton did an excellent damage limitation job by qualifying best of the rest (his P3 was actually a P8 as the McLaren man took a penalty for changing his gear box).
Robert Kubica also did an excellent job to beat Fernando Alonso to P4, and Jenson Button took what many at the time thought was a risk by qualifying on the hard tyres and gaining P6.
So here was the grid:
Vettel, Webber, Kubica, Alonso, Button, Rosberg, Barrichello, Hamilton, Hulkenberg, Schumacher, Heidfeld, Massa, Petrov, Kobayashi, Sutil, Alguersuari, Liuzzi, Buemi, Trulli, Kovalainen, di Grassi, Glock, Senna, Yamamoto.
On to the race now and we got our first spectacular retirement before the lights even went out! Lucas di Grassi simply sped off the track at the 130R section with a mechanical failure on his way to the grid (this was before the procession lap even!).
One car down, but four more would follow before turn two.
The getaway at the front was very clean, Kubica got the jump on Webber, and Hamilton managed to get up to Button’s gearbox. However, further back a Renault spun off into the barriers at the straight and a Force India was smashed off by Massa’s Ferrari. It seemed as if Vitaly Petrov’s Renault had been forced into the path of Nico Hulkenberg’s Williams causing both drivers to crash out on the pit straight.
As for the Ferrari crash? Well it looked as if Felipe Massa was a little over aggressive into turn one and took Vitantonio Liuzzi off into the barriers.
This madness brought the safety car out and as the cars crossed the line to complete their first lap the positions were as follows:
Vettel, Kubica, Webber, Alonso, Button, Hamilton, Barrichello, Schumacher, Heidfeld, Sutil, Alguersuari, Kobayashi, Buemi, Rosberg, Kovalainen, Yamamoto, Trulli, Glock, Senna.
A few cars stopped to get rid of their soft tyres but the most significant news was unfolding on the track.
It came as a terrible shock to see Kubica limping around and pulling off. His Renault had strangely lost its right rear wheel whilst approaching the hairpin at turn 11.
This was awful news for the skilful Kubica, but in many ways worse news for F1 fans. Kubica had been an interesting bee in a Red Bull sandwich and his exit practically killed a chance of excitement on the front row.
The safety car returned to the pits at the end of lap 6 and service resumed pretty much as normal. Michael Schumacher was able to cleanly overtake Rubens Barrichello and Nico Rosberg tried a daring manoeuvre that ultimately failed on Sebastian Buemi. However, other than that it was simply a case of it being "tight" at the front (which we all know means close cars…but no real sniffs of overtaking).
Around lap 10 Kamui Kobayashi gave the fans his first of many characteristic overtakes when he passed Jamie Alguersuari for P10 at the turn 11 hairpin. In fact, I would argue that if it wasn’t for Kobayashi the race would have been a lot duller! The Sauber man gave us another great overtake eight laps later at the same corner, this time on Sutil.
The race then calmed for a while whilst we all waited for the stops. These came after Barrichello triggered them after pitting on lap 21.
Hamilton pitted one lap later and rejoined in P7. The troubled McLaren driver had been doing excellent lap times and his hard work had paid off as he would find himself in front of Jenson Button when he stopped and potentially challenging Alonso for third!
Schumacher pitted on lap 23 but was probably furious to find himself behind his team mate when he rejoined. Rosberg had stopped early after a disappointing start and although it was good for him to be in front, it was anything but for Mercedes as Schumacher was miles faster.
The two Mercedes fought it out for a couple of laps, and despite a blatant team order, (Nico will not fight for it if you dart up the inside), Schumacher just couldn’t pass.
Alonso and Vettel pitted one lap later but rejoined in P3 and P4 (basically it looked as if yet again these wonderful new pit stops changed nothing! Somebody bring re-fuelling back!).
Webber stopped on lap 25 and predictably rejoined in P3. This all meant that when leading man Jenson Button stopped, nothing would have changed…or did it?
Lewis Hamilton, initially slowed by Kobayashi, overtook the Sauber man and was easily the fastest driver on the track. It was certain that Hamilton would leap frog Button, but could he get to Alonso?
Button pitted on lap 38 and rejoined in P5. Bad news for Jenson right? Well, not exactly. Lewis Hamilton’s disastrous weekend went from bad to worse when he lost crucial gear three. This was a brand new gear box remember and it doesn’t look good for Korea. Jenson Button quickly caught up to his team mate and cleanly passed him at turn 11 to re-take P4.
On lap 44 Adrian Sutil was seen with smoke pouring from his car. The Force India driver made it to the pits but laid down some slippery oil on his way (Mario kart style!)
The last few laps were pleasantly surprising! Nico Rosberg sped off at turn five after his left rear wheel failed and Kobayashi began a bonzai stint overtaking Alguersuari, Barrichello, and Heidfeld all at his favourite turn 11!
The five Championship drivers all put in great performances, but the driver of the day has to be Kobayashi who kept the show alive going from P14 to P7 by the end of the race.
It was pretty cool to see Webber significantly put in the fastest lap right at the end (which will really bug his league table obsessed team mate), but other than that the race at the front was pretty uneventful.
As I said at the start, the Japanese GP could really be described in two different ways. The ‘battle’ of the top five was dull, but it has certainly kept that fascinating title fight alive and whilst there were periods of bland racing, exciting overtakes at just the right moments maintained that pace and gave the race a much needed adrenaline boost.
Not a classic one then, but still a great race and with Hamilton looking to take another five-place drop at a track McLaren should be good at, things can only look up for a great show in Korea!
Drivers’ Championship Top 5
Constructors’ Top 3
Red Bull 426
1 Sebastian Vettel RBR-Renault
2 Mark Webber RBR-Renault
3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari
4 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes
5 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes
6 Michael Schumacher Mercedes GP
7 Kamui Kobayashi BMW Sauber-Ferrari
8 Nick Heidfeld BMW Sauber-Ferrari
9 Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth
10 Sebastien Buemi STR-Ferrari
11 Jaime Alguersuari STR-Ferrari
12 Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth
13 Jarno Trulli Lotus-Cosworth
14 Timo Glock Virgin-Cosworth
15 Bruno Senna HRT-Cosworth
16 Sakon Yamamoto HRT-Cosworth
17 Nico Rosberg Mercedes GP
Ret Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes
Ret Robert Kubica Renault
Ret Nico Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth
Ret Felipe Massa Ferrari
Ret Vitaly Petrov Renault
Ret Vitantonio Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes
Ret Lucas di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth