Detailed review right here:
Practice Session, FP1:
There was a typhoon which hit Japan before the race weekend but on Friday it was a different look to the city, sunny all the way. Most importantly, a dry run for all the teams and there was no complaint on weather front. McLaren took the honours with Button ending P1 and soon to be Mercedes driver Hamilton at P2, Webber rounded off at P3. It was decent start for Force India, looking to build up on Singapore as Di Resta ended P8 & Hulkenberg P9 both having done some good amount of laps. Their sector speeds looked good specially in S3. Karthikeyan was solid with his run as he finished P22, ahead of Pedro & one Caterham.
The weather continued to be good around Suzuka and fans were enjoying themselves like anything, they seem to be the best lot out of all. Webber took the honours this time around with Hamilton P2 & Vettel P3. SFI suffered an early jolt as Di Resta crashed out after which he admitted that he was too ambitious. That cut short his day but Hulkenberg looked super on his run as he ended P4. His sector times were great in both S2 & S3. He did mention that the team needs to do well on fuel as they looked good on low fuel. Karthikeyan ended P23 as he lost a bit of time from his competitors and Pedro.
It was time for one final run before qualifying and teams would have wanted to make the most of it to try and make all the changes before qualifying and for race. Vettel took the RBR to P1 with Webber making it to P2, Massa was on pace P3 looking good in the Ferrari. Di Resta made up for the last day’s crash as he ended P9 but this time Hulkenberg crashed with about 20minutes to go, didn’t suffer time wise much but his car was damaged badly. Karthikeyan once again looked good as he beat Pedro to end at P23.
Early signs showed that McLaren & Red Bull were the two teams in the mix to take pole. Ferrari, Lotus were off pace here. SFI generally haven’t done that well here but they were looking reasonably good but two crashes didn’t make their chances that easy, Q3 was still manageable for one car at least. Karthikeyan finally got to run in FP1 and he looked good there, could have beaten his team mate in qualifying.
After having watched 14 races anyone can guess who will bow out after Q1 apart from one driver. Yes, it was again Caterham, Marussia & HRT bowing out of Q1 along with Senna who was a tad unlucky to miss out. Both the SFI made it through, even Hulkenberg whose car was ready on time, a brilliant job done by the mechanics. Grosjean ended P1, home-hero Kobayashi at P2 & Perez at P3.
A serious session this one as it was all to play for and quite many big teams drivers went out of Q2. Vettel ended P1, Button P2 & Kimi at P3. The biggest losers were Massa, Rosberg & Schumacher all bowing out. Hulkenberg made it to Q3, a great drive after the early shunt in FP3. Di Resta unfortunately missed out as he ended P12, just about 0.4s off P10’s pace.
It was all down to one guy really, Vettel was unbeatable and his first lap was more than enough to give him the pole position. Webber came close but not enough to beat his teammate, Button ended P3. Hulkenberg went for one run but as he was going to get a gearbox penalty, the team went for strategy and save tyres, thus he ended P10.
Before qualifying, it was wildly guessed that Vettel & Hamilton will be the guys to watch out for but in the end it was only Vettel who took pole quite easily. His sheer pace was enough to get him pole and was favourite to win. SFI had a tough two days, fixing both the cars but Hulkenberg did a splendid job to get to Q3, shame he had penalty and will start P15. Di Resta just missed out for Q3 but was to start P11, points finish was very much in for both drivers. Karthikeyan lost a lot of time due to changed floor which he damaged in FP3.
A bright sunny day in Japan and a full house at the track with all sorts of fans, it was a super atmosphere. Surely, anyone would have loved to be there enjoying with them. We had an interesting grid lined up and I was like 50-50 with regard to a first lap carnage. Mind you in previous two races, I my prediction was 100% correct. Here, Vettel had a good start but it was somewhat mayhem behind him as Webber, Grosjean, Alonso all lost out in a big way. Massa, Button, Kobayashi gained a lot of positions in the melee. SFI had a mix start with Hulkenberg coming right through to P8 while Di Resta lost a lot of ground due to clutch problem. Karthikeyan made a good early start as well getting ahead of Pic & Pedro.
It was all silent then with not much of hoo haa, Vettel was leading with Massa & Kobayashi behind. Button was making some ground over Kobayashi. Meanwhile the current McLaren driver Hamilton was having a bit of fight with the future star Perez, with Hamilton coming out in front. At the back Webber & Schumacher were making ground and salvaging their races. Caterham, Marussia & HRT all were in a good fight among themselves.
Hulkenberg was having a great race as he was constantly in a fight, first with Hamilton and then in later part with Kimi. He was hot on heels of both but just didn’t had that extra pace to edge either of them out. While Di Resta was struggling of sorts as he couldn’t get past Ricciardo but lost a place to Schumacher instead pushing him to P12. The clutch problems surely held him back as he was some second slower than Hulkenberg. Karthikeyan the other hand was doing a great job fighting off with Pedro & Pic but he had to retire his car post mid race for precautionary measures, another bad weekend for him.
Vettel took a comfortable win taking him closer to Alonso who scored nothing. Massa finished P2, first podium in 2 years and surely helping him to save his Ferrari seat. Kobayashi came P3 after a gruelling fight with Button, it was a delight for him as his first podium in front of his home fans. Hulkenberg ended a well deserved P7, he had a compromised Saturday due to FP3 shunt and gearbox penalty but got the most on Sunday. Di Resta ended at P12, not the best of results after Singapore but the problems at start threw him a lot back. Karthikeyan once again suffered a retirement, his race form has taken a bit of dip which does affect his future drive.
The championship battle is still on and looks like will go down to the wire. SFI has taken some significant lead ahead of Williams but with another podium Sauber has taken a big lead. One good thing came out of Japan was SFI scoring their first points on the track breaking the jinx. On driver front, lots going on behind the scene which is better kept behind for now. It’s back to back races and so look forward to Korean GP than think about other things. Till then, keep safe.