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Motorsport | Formula 1

Jenson Button - McLaren © MNI

Japanese GP: Exclusive Race Report



Jenson Button (McLaren-Mercedes) took the lead on lap 23 of the Japanese GP and won ahead of third-placed Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull-Renault) who took the 2011 title.

Button won by 1.1 seconds from Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) who was two seconds clear of Vettel. They were followed by Mark Webber (Red Bull) +6.0, Lewis Hamilton (McLaren) +24.2, Michael Schumacher (Mercedes) +27.1, Felipe Massa (Ferrari) +28.2, Sergio Perez (Sauber) +39.3, Vitaly Petrov (Renault) +42.6 and Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) +44.3.

Vettel needed only one more point to win the championship, and his third place was enough to make him the youngest-ever double F1 world champion. Vettel's 324 points give him an unassailable lead, but with four races remaining the fight is not yet won for second place between Button (210), Alonso (202), Webber (194) and Hamilton (178).

The constructors' championship is still undecided with Red Bull (518) leading from McLaren (388) and Ferrari (292).

Button made the better start and got alongside Vettel, but the German pushed him onto the grass, allowing Hamilton to get past into second place.

"He's got to get a penalty for that," said Button over his radio as the incident came under the attention of the race stewards, but they decided to take no action.

Vettel led over the line at the end of the first lap, followed by Hamilton, Button, Massa, Alonso, Webber, Schumacher and Paul di Resta (Force India-Mercedes).

The race started under sunny skies with the air at 24ºC and the track at 35ºC at a circuit that is universally liked by the drivers, but which causes rapid tyre wear as a result of the high proportion of high-speed corners.

McLaren dominated the practice sessions and was on top right up to the last minute of qualifying, promising to deliver a strong challenge on race day.

Rosberg started the race from the back of the grid after problems in qualifying and made his way up to 19th place in the opening but then started to lose performance from his worn tyres used during qualifying.

On lap 5, Alonso drafted Massa down the downhill main straight and got past into the first corner to take fourth place as Vettel set a lap of 1'39.783 to open up a 3.1 sec lead over Hamilton.

Button closed up on Hamilton who had a slow puncture on his left rear tyre and surged past on lap 8 as Hamilton slowed and pitted on lap 8 for fresh soft-compound tyres, dropping to fifth.

Vettel pitted from the lead on lap 9, taking on the softer option tyre and releasing Button into the lead, but the Briton pitted a lap later, followed by Alonso, with Massa taking the lead before pitting on the next lap.

Leading Positions on Lap 12

1 Vettel
2 Button +2.5
3 Alonso +3.9
4 Hamilton +5.4
5 Massa +8.4
6 Webber +9.2
7 Petrov +12.9
8 Schumacher +16.7
9 Barrichello +18.2
10 Perez +19.5

Sébastien Buemi (Toro Rosso-Ferrari) crashed out on lap 12 as Button set a new fastest lap of 1'39.187, reducing the gap between himself and race leader Vettel.

There was a lot of strategising in the race as a result of the high rate of tyre wear. The long succession of high-speed corners generate high heat which degrades the tyres quickly, so drivers were holding back to save their tyres and avoid making too many pit stops, a legacy of the rapidly-wearing Pirelli tyres which in some instances deliver their best performance over a single lap.

Hamilton, who had pitted two laps earlier than the others because of his puncture, had less grip on lap 18 and was being caught by Massa and Webber. The pursuers were within a second and close enough to deploy their DRS against Hamilton who was an easy target.

Race leader Vettel pitted on lap 19 as he also came to the end of the usefulness of his tyres, and was followed into the pits by sixth-placed team mate Webber as Button once again took the lead before pitting himself on the next lap - but crucially the 2009 world champion emerged ahead of Vettel and with his lead intact.

Massa tried to overtake Hamilton into the final chicane and there was contact between the two cars as Hamilton moved across onto the racing line where Massa was trying to coming through. There was another incident as Schumacher clashed with Webber, causing damage to the latter's front wing.

Alonso and Hamilton pitted on lap 24 before the safety car was deployed to clear some debris from the track as a result of the Hamilton/Massa incident. Racing got back under way on lap 27, halfway through the 53-lap race.

On fresh tyres, Button immediately set a new fastest lap of the race - 1'37.576 - as he opened up a 1.2 sec lead over Vettel in just two laps. He bettered that to 1'37.527 on the next lap.

Fourth-placed Webber was catching Alonso and was just 0.7 sec behind on lap 30 as Button set yet another fastest lap. Hamilton was catching fifth-placed Massa and was 0.6 sec behind the Brazilian. 

Rosberg was continuing to fight his way forward through the pack, taking 11th place and looking likely to get points from this race.

Leading Positions on Lap 33

1 Button
2 Vettel +2.8
3 Alonso +4.8
4 Webber +5.1
5 Massa +7.3
6 Hamilton +8.0
7 Schumacher +12.4
8 Perez +15.4
9 Di Resta +18.5
10 Sutil +20.6

Interestingly, Vettel pitted on lap 33, taking on the harder, longer-lasting but slower medium compound tyres with 20 laps remaining. He rejoined in tenth place.

Hamilton pitted on lap 35 as Vettel took Sutil for eighth place. Race leader Button pitted on the next lap and rejoined comfortably ahead of Vettel as Alonso took the lead for one lap.

Hamilton took Massa on lap 37 for ninth as Alonso took Vettel for fourth.

Schumacher was in the lead but had made one less pit stop and was a second a lap a slower than his pursuer Button, three seconds behind.

Vettel, now down in fourth place, set a new fastest lap of 1'36.931 on lap 38, half a second behind Alonso.

Hamilton and Massa had caught Rosberg but were battling to get past, losing crucial time to the leading group.

On lap 40, Vettel was right on Alonso's tail and darting around looking for a way past as Hamilton surged past Rosberg into sixth and team mate Button closed up on leader Schumacher, who pitted on lap 41.

Positions with 10 laps remaining

1 Button
2 Alonso +4.9
3 Vettel +5.5
4 Webber +10.7
5 Hamilton +18.6
6 Schumacher +20.0
7 Massa +20.9
8 Perez +28.6
9 Kobayashi +35.0
10 Di Resta +36.5

Webber was the fastest of the top ten cars as he set about closing the gap to team mate Vettel in the final podium position.

There was an exciting four-way battle for 10th place between Kobayashi, Di Resta, Petrov and Rosberg, the four covered by just one second.

Second-placed Alonso was lapping faster than race leader Button 3.7 sec ahead with seven laps remaining, as further back Massa closed up on sixth-placed Schumacher.

Alonso took another second out of Button's lead on lap 47, reducing it to 1.6 on lap 49 and one second on the next lap.

Eighth-placed Formula One rookie Perez set the fastest lap of the race - 1'36.569 - on lap 50.

Alonso was now within the one-second DRS zone and Button opened the taps, setting the fastest time of the race in the middle sector, pegging the gap at 1.2 sec. Button set a new fastest lap of 1'36.568 on lap 52 as he opened up the lead over Alonso again and cruised to the line.

Alonso finished second ahead of Sebastian Vettel who became the new world champion with his third place, with five world champions finishing in the top six.

2011 Japanese F1 Grand Prix Results
Pos Driver Nat Team Time
1 Jenson Button GBR McLaren
2 Fernando Alonso ESP Ferrari +1.1
3 Sebastian Vettel GER Red Bull +2.0
4 Mark Webber AUS Red Bull +6.0
5 Lewis Hamilton GBR McLaren +24.2
6 Michael Schumacher GER Mercedes +27.1
7 Felipe Massa BRA Ferrari +28.2
8 Sergio Perez MEX Sauber +39.3
9 Vitaly Petrov RUS Renault +42.6
10 Nico Rosberg GER Mercedes +44.3
11 Adrian Sutil GER Force India +54.4
12 Paul di Resta GBR Force India +62.3
13 Kamui Kobayashi JAP Sauber +63.7
14 Pastor Maldonado VEN Williams +64.1
15 Jaime Alguersuari ESP Toro Rosso +66.6
16 Bruno Senna BRA Renault +72.6
17 Rubens Barrichello BRA Williams +74.1
18 Heikki Kovalainen FIN Lotus +87.8
19 Jarno Trulli ITA Lotus +96.1
20 Timo Glock GER Virgin +2 laps
21 Jerome d'Ambrosio BEL Virgin +2 laps
22 Daniel Ricciardo AUS Hispania +2 laps
23 Vitantonio Liuzzi ITA Hispania +3 laps
DNF Sébastien Buemi SUI Toro Rosso DNF

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