We could be in store for a very close finish to the 2012 Formula One season, after a Japanese Grand Prix where Sebastian Vettel adopted a textbook two-stop strategy to win the race from pole and turn the championship on its head. The Red Bull Racing star is now just four points off the championship lead, with five more races to go.
The big surprise yesterday, however, was the performance of Felipe Massa. The Ferrari driver returned to the podium for the first time in almost two years with a great drive.
He shot off the line and showed brilliant pace throughout the race, ending in second place overall. Filling the third spot on the podium was local hero Kamui Kobayashi of Sauber.
Unfortunately for some of the top contenders, including current points leader Fernando Alonso of Ferrari, the day proved very unlucky. Just as we saw at the Belgian Grand Prix two races ago, mayhem in the run to the first corner led to a couple of mishaps, with Lotus drivers once again involved.
Alonso was nudged from behind by Kimi Räikkönen’s Lotus, which spun the Ferrari off the track with a left rear puncture and put the Spaniard out of the race. In the same initial moments, Red Bull Racing’s Mark Webber, starting second, was passed by Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi.
Webber then found himself alongside Lotus’s Romain Grosjean, who also collided into the back of his RB8. Despite having visited the pits for some repairs and a safety check, the Aussie managed to claw back a number of positions and finish 9th.
Another to suffer was Mercedes-AMG driver Nico Rosberg. Forced to brake due to the accident between Webber and Grosjean, Williams’ Bruno Senna then hit the rear of Rosberg’s car and forced the German to retire.
The next significant retirement came when Sergio Perez spun and retired his Sauber from seventh place, stuck in the gravel at Turn 11, after he tried to go round the outside of McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton.
Rounding out the top ten places were McLaren’s Jenson Button in fourth, followed by his teammate Lewis Hamilton in fifth, Kimi Räikkönen sixth, Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg seventh, Williams’ Pastor Maldonado eighth and STR’s Daniel Ricciardo in 10th place.
Thanks to his win, Sebastian Vettel is now just four points shy of Fernando Alonso’s lead of 194 points in the Drivers’ Championship. Kimi Räikkönen lies in third with 157 points.
In the Constructors’ Championship, Red Bull Racing has 324 points to McLaren’s 283 and Ferrari’s 263.
The next race is the Korean Grand Prix, which takes place in just one week.