Jenson Button has claimed his third win of the 2011 Formula 1 season with a fine drive at Suzuka to claim the Japanese Grand Prix, while Sebastian Vettel’s third-placed finish was enough to secure him back-to-back World Championship crowns.
The win was Button and McLaren’s first dry-weather win of the season, with the Briton holding out a fast-closing Fernando Alonso by 1.1 seconds at the end of the 53-lap race.
The championship equation heading into this weekend was clear: Vettel simply needed to finish in the points and the championship was his, while Button needed to win each of the remaining races to keep his infinitely slim hopes of a second title alive.
But Vettel wasn’t about to play a percentage game en route to securing a near-certain championship crown, with he and his Red Bull team making it clear that he intended to claim the title with a win.
Certainly, his start-line tactics cemented that view. With second-placed Button making a better getaway as the lights went out, pole-sitter Vettel squirmed right off his grid slot and squeezed Button towards the inside verge in an attempt to keep the lead. It was shades of Michael Schumacher, and an upset Button was heard pleading over the radio for Vettel to be penalised. The matter was investigated by the stewards, and no further action was taken.
The start-line contretemps allowed Lewis Hamilton to nip through into second place at Turn 1, but his joy would be short-lived as he was forced to pit with a right-rear puncture at the end of the seventh lap, surrendering the position to Button.
Hamilton’s earlier-than-planned stop would see him wind up fourth behind Alonso, once the first round of pit stops had been completed.
As expected after yesterday’s qualifying session, tyre management would prove to be a crucial factor on race day, and the field’s 24 drivers opted for a host of different tyre strategies to make an interesting tactical race.
For the frontrunners, they opted for a three-stop strategy of three short stints on Pirelli’s soft tyre, followed by a longer final stint on the medium compound. Those starting further down the order took a less conventional approach: both Renault drivers opted to run a two-stop strategy running two stints on Pirelli’s harder compound, with varying degrees of success, for example.
Being one of the roughest drivers in the field when it comes to conserving tyres, Hamilton quickly found himself under attack from fifth-placed Felipe Massa as the pair resumed what was becoming an increasingly hostile relationship, in light of their previous wheel-to-wheel races.
Fate decided to test matters further when the pair staged their second collision in as many races: this time, a seemingly unsighted Hamilton squeezed Massa as the pair braked side-by-side for the Casio Triangle, with the contact breaking an endplate on Massa’s front wing. This time, no penalty was forthcoming, although Massa fanned the flames of their feud with another post-race rant about Hamilton’s driving.
Being a much gentler driver on his tyres, Button quickly closed down Vettel’s lead at the end of their second stint before Vettel peeled into the pits for his second tyre change at the end of the nineteenth lap.
Button stayed out a lap longer, driving a superb in-lap to leapfrog Vettel and take over the lead of the race.
A short safety car interruption followed to clear some track debris, and Vettel pitted sooner after to make his switch to the medium tyre compound on Lap 33.
Button stayed out three laps longer and extended his lead when he emerged after his tyre stop, while Alonso pitted a lap later and emerged ahead of Vettel, who had been stuck in traffic courtesy of his early pit stop.
Vettel briefly and fruitlessly harried Alonso, until he decided that discretion was the better part of valour, opting to settle for third place. This allowed Alonso to mount a late charge on Button’s lead, closing to within a second of the Briton before Button responded with the fastest race lap on the penultimate tour, putting his third win of the season beyond doubt.
Behind the leading trio, Mark Webber finished fourth after using an early second pit stop to leapfrog the battling Massa and Hamilton. Hamilton would later get by Massa with a neat move into Turn 1 on Lap 37.
Massa finished seventh behind Michael Schumacher, who ran a long third stint before his final pit stop – which included a few laps in the lead – which proved enough to slot him ahead of the Brazilian.
The remaining points places were claimed by the two-stopping drivers, with Sergio Pérez getting his tried-and-trusted fewer-pit-stops strategy to work to great effect, claiming a fine eighth place and four important points for Sauber in its battle for sixth place in the Constructors’ Championship standings. Equally impressive was the fact that his fastest race lap was just one-thousandth of a second slower than the outright fastest race lap, posted by Jenson Button.
Vitaly Petrov claimed two points for Renault with ninth place, with his decision to buck the trend in tyre usage paying off. Nico Rosberg mounted a solid recovery drive to claim tenth and the final point, atoning for his qualifying woes that saw him start from the last row on the grid.
The two Force Indias of Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta finished just outside the points, with the pair losing valuable places in the closing laps as their tyre grip fell away. It was the same story for local hero Kamui Kobayashi, who finished 13th, also suffering from a dreadful getaway when his Sauber’s anti-stall kicked in as the race got underway.
2011 Japanese Formula 1 Grand Prix – Final Classification (53 laps):
|1.||Jenson Button||Vodafone McLaren Mercedes MP4-26||53||1:30:53.427|
|2.||Fernando Alonso||Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro F150° Italia||53||+ 1.160|
|3.||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing – Renault RB7||53||+ 2.006|
|4.||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing – Renault RB7||53||+ 8.071|
|5.||Lewis Hamilton||Vodafone McLaren Mercedes MP4-26||53||+ 24.268|
|6.||Michael Schumacher||Mercedes GP Petronas F1 Team W02||53||+ 27.120|
|7.||Felipe Massa||Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro F150° Italia||53||+ 28.240|
|8.||Sergio Pérez||Sauber F1 Team – Ferrari C30||53||+ 39.377|
|9.||Vitaly Petrov||Lotus Renault GP R31||53||+ 42.607|
|10.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes GP Petronas F1 Team W02||53||+ 44.322|
|11.||Adrian Sutil||Force India F1 Team – Mercedes VJM04||53||+ 1:02.326|
|12.||Paul di Resta||Force India F1 Team – Mercedes VJM04||53||+ 1:02.326|
|13.||Kamui Kobayashi||Sauber F1 Team – Ferrari C30||53||+ 1:03.705|
|14.||Pastor Maldonado||AT&T Williams – Cosworth FW33||53||+ 1:04.194|
|15.||Jaime Alguersuari||Scuderia Toro Rosso – Ferrari STR6||53||+ 1:06.623|
|16.||Bruno Senna||Lotus Renault GP R31||53||+ 1:12.628|
|17.||Rubens Barrichello||AT&T Williams – Cosworth FW33||53||+ 1:14.191|
|18.||Heikki Kovalainen||Team Lotus – Renault T128||53||+ 1:27.824|
|19.||Jarno Trulli||Team Lotus – Renault T128||53||+ 1:36.140|
|20.||Timo Glock||Marussia Virgin Racing – Cosworth||51||2 laps behind|
|21.||Jérôme d’Ambrosio||Marussia Virgin Racing – Cosworth||51||2 laps behind|
|22.||Daniel Ricciardo||HRT F1 Team – Cosworth F111||51||2 laps behind|
|23.||Vitantonio Liuzzi||HRT F1 Team – Cosworth F111||50||3 laps behind|
|DNF.||Sébastien Buemi||Scuderia Toro Rosso – Ferrari STR6||11||Loose Wheel|
|Jenson Button||Vodafone McLaren Mercedes MP4-26||52||1:36.568|
Click here to view the current Drivers’ and Constructors’ championship standings.