With fear in my heart that I probably will not be able to watch the Japanese GP at all since aside from the interwebz our satellite tv is kinda borked here too, I consoled myself by breaking out the old collection of races and rewatched Suzuka 2010 to bring you the recap and open up the floor for predictions on this year’s race.
Red Bull owned this track last year, as they were in a league of their own locking out the front row and finishing 1-2 as they started. Particularly in sector 1 with the crazy esses where downforce is key, they just blew the field away. Webber shadowed Vettel’s every move in the race but never got in a position to challenge. Kubica somehow got the Renault into p3 on the grid, as the Mclarens had a strange quali session: Button opting to quail on the hard tire, and Lewis dropped 5 places down the grid for an overnight gearbox change. Despite this brand spanking new gearbox, Lewis would still suffer a failure as he lost 3rd gear with about quarter of the race remaining.
The start of the race was total mayhem with brainfarts from Massa and Petrov taking out other cars in the process. Petrov got a great launch and rocketed ahead, but then misjudged his position relative to Hulkenberg and as he moved over his right rear tagged the Hulk’s front, sending Vitaly into the wall and Hulk also out of the race. Going into turn one Massa pulls an outrageous move into T1 as he goes on the grass coming in way too hot and spears into Liuzzi..maybe that’s where he got his inspiration for his Monza antics. Meanwhile at the front Webber botched another start and saw Kubica leap into p2, but the pole was not to enjoy this for long.
During the safety car period triggered by the start pandemonium, Kubica suddenly lost his left rear wheel and was forced to retire. Hamilton had made a good start and was right behind Button stting p4 and p5, who was holding up his teammate as his strategy to start on the hard tire began to unravel; but no teamorders from Mclaren saw Hamilton boxed up behind the invisible wall of turbulent air, while the Red Bulls were streaking away and Alonso giving it his all to stay in touch but the Red Bulls were clearly just toying with him.
Kobayashi was the real star in an overall fairly entertaining race with some crazy passes at the hairpin. It seemed he was somehow able to brake 10 meters later than anyone else there. His first move on Buemi was a bit clumsy, but the rest of his passes there were things of beauty. Alguersuari did some pretty naughty stuff after getting passed, deliberate bumping into Kamui as he was already well past and exiting the corner, but despite the damage Kamui kept flying to come home in 7th. The mercs of Rosberg and Schumacher were also in a fun battle, which sadly ended after Rosberg also lost a rear wheel quite inexplicably and ended up in the barrier.
Hamilton might have challenged Alonso for third but then the gearbox gremlins struck, which saw him fall back and allowed Button to take 4th from him in the end as the Red Bulls headed home a 1-2 on cruise control, which allowed Alonso to finish closer, only about 2 seconds behind, than the race had actually been.
So what will this year’s GP have in store for us? Vettel has dominated this track since 2009, and only a fool would bet against him…which is exactly what I will do of course! He has to have one DNF this year, right? However, the tracks they were dominant on last year were tricky for them in 2011, like Hungary for instance. That said, the RBR will just nom up the esses and Vettel will find that magical half second in q3.
Button has been superb these past races and should the fickly Japanese weather play a part he’s on for the win. He’ll also beat a cautious Lewis who’ll try to save a set of tires in q3 and get caught out by it in quali. The Ferraris have given up on 2011 so I don’t expect much from them anymore yet mr eyebrows will always find a way to nab a podium. Lewis will drive another Monza like race after again a crash happy Singapore GP to finish somewhere around 4th after getting held up by Alonso for a long time. Kamui will again be on fire in the race and the Sauber’s kindness to its tires should pay dividends on this high degradation track where they will pull off at least one stop less than the others, so I put my money on him to finish best of the rest, perhaps even beating a Merc who will struggle with the tires as they have all season.
Renault will improve a lot compared to last race with a track that should be much more suited to their car, the front facing exhaust bringing a lot of benefit through the esses I am expecting a tight fight between them and the much improved and the Force Indias for the final WDC points. Lotus will have a hard time repeating their good pace of last race, as the new power steering is taken out and they don’t have the high, efficient downforce required on this track with its many sweeping bends. Virgin and HRT are even in danger of falling out of the 107 % zone.
Do share your mad predictions in the comments below, a Massa win anyone? 😉