The Fast Lane – Vettel loses the battle, but wins the war in Suzuka

After a dominant season, Sebastien Vettel came to to Japan needing only one point to secure the 2011 Formula One World Championship. But he was determined that he was not playing the percentages game and instead wanted the glory of another race victory. That became obvious when he stormed to pole position despite the Red Bull’s being consistently slower than the McLaren’s throughout practice.

So this morning we were a situation we’re all very familiar with, Vettel on pole ready to win another race easily from the front. But things didn’t exactly go to plan.

A poor getaway saw Vettel on the backfoot from the start with second place man Jenson Button (the only one who could still take the title from Seb) drawing alongside the Red Bull. Vettel did the only thing he could and squeezed Button’s McLaren to the edge of the track.

This is an incident I’m sure will be debated long into tonight. Button was clearly still angry after the race, confronting Vettel before the podium. The move was very aggressive and Vettel did take every inch of room he could, but in my opinion was just within his rights at a race start. By the time Vettel had moved fully over, Button had lost momentum and had only his front wheels alongside the German. Button moved onto the grass, but I think there was still just enough room on track. Button’s move was a precaution and ultimately cost him second place, but I do think he could have just stayed on track. Vettel was extremely aggressive, but just stayed within the rules of the FIA. It was right that no penalty was issued.

This move allowed Vettel to open up and early lead, with his competitors all rearranging themselves behind. Massa let the fast Alonso through (for about the twentieth time!) and Hamilton moved out of the way of Button after a puncture. With the faster cars now chasing him, Vettel was forced to pit due to tyre degredation on lap 9.

The race entered a stage of status quo at this point, Button was getting slightly closer to Vettel and Alonso continued to push. The gaps were coming down, but with still plenty of time between each car there was no real on track action to be had up front.

Things changed again on laps 19 and 20 when a combination of an average pit stop and outlap for Vettel and a supreme one for Button reversed the positions in the pits. Button took the lead of the race – now things got interesting. Vettel was on the backfoot again, if Button won and he failed to score due to an accident, the championship would remain open for another week.

Rather than stay out of trouble and protect his point, Vettel decided that he was still going for glory and harried Button for several laps. I do think it is great to see a racer so dedicated that they still put this effort in, even when it’s not necessary. Vettel helped to give us a very exciting battle – even if most of the world were willing him to make a mistake!

Further back, two more drivers were getting into trouble. Hamilton and Massa seem to like getting so close they touch this season and the same thing happened again today. Massa few down the outside of Hamilton coming into the final chicane. Lewis – not noticing the Ferrari – took his usual line and the two collided, all be it in a rather minor way. It’s tough to place blame here, Lewis clearly didn’t see Felipe and drove straight into him, but despite racing, perhaps Felipe should have known it was never going to work around the outiside. I personally would say Hamilton again was sadly more in the wrong the Stewards decided not to give a penalty today to the most penalised driver of the season!

This incident caused a small amount of debris and the safety car was deployed. After a four lap period, Jenson backed the pack up (to the extreme) and restarted the race. He was able to absorb some more pressure from Vettel who was now suffering with his tryes again and dropped back from the Brit.

Vettel pitted again, but must have been surprised a few laps later when Fernando Alonso emerged out of the pit lane in front of him. Unseen by most, Alonso had been on quite a charge and has mustered enough time to leapfrog the reigning world champion.

This battle would continue until near the end of the race. Vettel pressured Alonso for several laps, but was asked by the team to stop racing and  back off for the final five. This of course was the only sensible thing to do, win the championship rather than risk it with Alonso.

But Fernando wasn’t quite finished yet as he was able to close to just under a second behind race leader Button. Jenson however stamped his authority on the race by setting some new fastest laps to keep the Ferrari at bay.

And so Jenson Button came through to take his third victory of the season, but all eyes were on a very emotional Sebastien Vettel who has driven a Schumacher-esque season to win his second world title. If we’re honest, we’ve known this for a very long time, but that makes it none the less incredible – a class act right from the Australian GP.

Interestingly, for all the anoraks out there, we had quite an interesting top six with all five of the grids world champions in it (That’s right, Schumacher was best of the rest today!) and of course, Mark Webber in 4th…

So the drivers championship is over, but not the season. I predict a very close and hard fought fight for second place – Button, Alonso and Hamilton really have very little to choose between them and whose to say that Webber and Massa won’t mix things up as well. And now Vettel has nothing to lose, he could be even more daring and racier than ever before… oh great!

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