Usually Sebastian Vettel’s race comprises of starting from pole position, leading almost every lap of the race and then cruising across the line at the end to take an untroubled victory. Admittedly this process is a little more hard-fought than that at times, however during last weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix the German was forced to adapt after an unusual opening lap.
For the first time since last year’s Brazilian Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel lost a position when the five red lights went out at the start of the race at Suzuka last weekend. As the reigning Champion tried desperately to attack his team-mate on pole position, he suffered a minor collision with the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton. Whilst the Briton suffered a race-ending puncture, the Lotus of Romain Grosjean was able to enjoy a masterful start as he silently glided into the lead of the race from 4th on the grid.
After the opening lap of the race, Sebastian Vettel found himself 3rd behind race leader Romain Grosjean and team-mate Mark Webber. With minor front-wing damage which had taken off roughly 20 points of downforce, the German now had to adapt to his unexpected race position and begin thinking ahead several laps. Whilst team-mate Mark Webber instantly began adding pressure to the black and gold Lotus of Romain Grosjean, Sebastian Vettel backed off slightly to open up a gap to his team-mate.
As Mark Webber suffered increased tyre wear behind the race leader, the Australian ace was forced to become the first of the trio to pit on Lap 11. Romain Grosjean was subsequently forced to react to Red Bull’s actions, and pitted several laps later to allow Sebastian Vettel to assume the lead of the race with a clear track in front of him. Because the reigning World Champion had opened up a gap of roughly two seconds to his team-mate, his tyre wear was not greatly affected by the turbulent air. This meant the German could remain out on track until Lap 19, when he made his first of two pit-stops and rejoined back on 3rd position behind Grosjean and Webber.
As the 53-lap race began to unfold, it became clear that Mark Webber would be forced to make three stops unlike Romain Grosjean and Sebastian Vettel. During the second round of pit-stops, Romain Grosjean slipped behind Mark Webber as Sebastian Vettel once again masterfully managed to find the clear space in front before his 2nd and final pit-stop on Lap 42. The German had tried to remain out on track to build up enough time to stay ahead of Romain Grosjean, but he was unable to do so.
By the time Mark Webber dove into the pits to make his third and final stop, Sebastian Vettel and managed to breeze past the Lotus of Romain Grosjean with little trouble whatsoever. For Mark Webber to win his first Japanese Grand Prix, the Australian would be forced to pass both Romain Grosjean and team-mate Sebastian Vettel. However, unlike his team-mate he was unable to pass Romain Grosjean for several laps, effectively gifting Sebastian Vettel his fifth successive race victory.
Although the reigning World Champion was unable to clinch his fourth successive Championship around the iconic Suzuka circuit, Red Bull team boss Christian Horner was extremely impressed by the way he managed to adapt after the scruffy opening lap to storm to victory.
“I think so.” Enthused Christian Horner, when asked by Sky Sports after the race whether Sebastian Vettel’s drive demonstrated his vast range of abilities. “He also picked up a bit of damage from the incident with Hamilton that took about probably 20 points of downforce off the front wing. So he had a damaged car and he just manages to adapt. He played the thinking game today. He watched, he waited in that first stint, he preserved the tyres. He knew he wasn’t going to get priority at that first stop because we’d discussed it before the race that the lead car would get the priority, so he was very smart in the way he handled the race.
“He created the options for him by having that range [on the tyres] in the first stint and then doing the same in the second stint by making those tyres go longer and further than any other driver. Then of course when he had the one opportunity he needed to nail Grosjean he did immediately.”
With Sebastian Vettel renowned for storming to pole position and the victory with almost every lap led in the process, many have slated his alleged inability to win races from behind. However, the German has once again silenced his many critics with yet another sensational drive, which unquestionably shows his indomitable race craft. Next time out in India, the 26-year-old will almost certainly join the greats of Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher by securing his fourth successive World Drivers’ Crown.
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