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Surprising Suzuka

After the yawn-fest that was Korea, Nikki Grubb-Clarke had almost given up on F1. Then, along came Suzuka. And it is here, at the swirly, twisty, figure-8 classic circuit that she finally hoped! Because for the first time, in a long, long time, they raced…

Today is a day I never thought I’d see. It was a day that dawned with me unexcited by the prospect of a race and reluctant to get up early to watch it. Indeed I have to confess, I got up, started the Tivo recording and went back to bed.

I have been in love with F1 for as long as I can remember. In fact, I can’t remember a time before or after the Senna era, when I didn’t watch and thoroughly enjoy Formula 1. Yes, the Schumacher years were a bit of a blight, but my beloved McLaren always brought the fight to him with great drivers wringing all they could, out of some great and some not so great cars (it helped that I had the BIGGEST crush on David Coulthard!).

Red Bull and Seb. Bah! Image courtesy Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool (editorial use only)

Red Bull and Seb. Bah! Photo: Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool (editorial use only)

This year though, I confess, I’ve struggled. Red Bull Racing’s dominance, and the inability of any single team to mount a challenge and take it to them has been frustrating and at times thoroughly boring. And I’m not alone. I have seen many people disregard Sebastian Vettel, and concentrate instead on the rest of the race. A way to keep it a little interesting, but I think you’ll agree, hardly ideal.

The only thing I thought, that could save this race, was the fact that it was Suzuka – a track that has hosted more than its fair share of drama-filled championship deciding and upsetting races. This track knows how to shake things up, how to keep the best honest, and how to trip up anyone caught napping even a teeny bit. This was the track that gave me my ‘moment of the season’ last year when Japanese fans chanted Ka-Mu-I as their beloved countryman achieved a remarkable podium. So bring it on, Suzuka! Let’s see if you can relight my fire!

Romain Grosjean decides to take matters into his own hands and grabs the lead spot at race start. Photo: Andrew Ferraro/Lotus F1 Team (for editorial use only)

Romain Grosjean decides to take matters into his own hands and grabs the lead spot at race start. Photo: Andrew Ferraro/Lotus F1 Team (for editorial use only)

Now starts aren’t exactly Romain Grosjean’s strong point, so I’m sure I am not the only one watching through my fingers as the lights go out! My worries are unfounded as the Frenchman takes the lead into the first corner! Bravo Romain! Mark Webber is in 2nd and Sebastian Vettel goes 3rd.

All is not so good for Giedo van der Garde and Jules Bianchi who have a Suzuka 1990-style off at the very first corner, putting both of them out of the race.

As we get through the first corner – DISASTER! Lew-Lew is in trouble. He made contact with Vettel at the start and he has to pit to change a punctured tyre. Sadly, this didn’t help, and on lap 9 poor Lew-Lew retires. It’s his first retirement in a Mercedes, and a guaranteed way to ensure I have a sulk on me for the rest of the day.

Finger Boy reports back possible damage to the front wing, but is told it looks ok! I’m starting to wonder what they make those blessed things from, you know. Seriously, what do you have to do to an RBR front wing to kill it?

Lap 6 and Vettel is asked to ‘Drop back to save your tyres’. Six laps in and we are ALREADY denied a potential scrap! A lap later Webber gets the same message, ‘If you can’t catch Grosjean, drop back to a 2-second gap’. FIA need to sort this out! Three cars at the front of the race not racing? How on earth does that make F1 more interesting and more fun? I want to see them pushing. I want to see Mark be the filling in a sandwich that has Vet and RoGro for bread. I want to see action, right from the start and right to the end. Please, let’s make it so racing drivers can actually race. Is that really too much to ask?

With the first round of pitstops for the lead three, all held station, with Webber blinking first, Grosjean able to cover easily and Vettel waiting a while and going last. Nico Rosberg had it rough after being released unsafely into Sergio Perez’s path. An inevitable drive through penalty followed. Ross Brawn is REALLY gonna need a hug after all that. And yes, I’m happy to volunteer for the job!

Daniel Ricciardo decides it's time to give the fans some much-needed action. Photo: Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool (editorial use only)

Daniel Ricciardo decides it’s time to give the fans some much-needed action. Photo: Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool (editorial use only)

Come lap 19 Daniel Ricciardo became the intrepid Love Train – just like the song! And people were joining in thick and fast. Nico Hulkenberg, Felipe Massa, Fernando Alonso, Esteban Gutiérrez, Kimi Raikkenon all together on track. Might we FINALLY see some cracking racing?

A little bit of tango for Massa and Alonso. Photo:  © FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO X FERRARI (editorial use only)

A little bit of tango for Massa and Alonso. Photo: Ferrari (editorial use only)

On lap 20, Alonso takes Massa into the first corner with DRS (Fernando is faster than you!) and The Hulk has a look at Ricciardo, but Dan drives a wonderful defensive line and holds the position.

Lap 21 Hulk passes Ricciardo, and Alonso tries to follow through. He doesn’t make it stick. Meanwhile Massa nearly gets his place back and comes close to giving Rob Smedley a coronary after an almost-track smooch.

Massa barely recovers from that near miss when Gutiérrez decides to have a go at the Brazilian’s car. He draws alongside and the two drive – almost in synchrony for 2 corners, until Massa manages to maintain the position. The moment puts Gutiérrez all out of kilter and Kimi steps in at the start of lap 22, passing the Mexican. Meanwhile Perez having caught behind also tries to pass. Gutiérrez gets his bits and bats together and manages to hold the position.

Some WONDERFUL driving and racing by some wonderful drivers. THIS is what I want to see. These guys are pushing, extracting everything they can out of their cars, driving bravely and attacking whenever they can. Bravo Gents! You are the reason I watch and love Formula 1.

By lap 25 the leaders have managed to take advantage of the battle behind. RoGro still driving a stunning race in the lead with Webber 2nd and Vettel 3rd, and a whopping 17 seconds before we get to The Hulk down the road at 4th!

Surprisingly Webber pits… Early. The general consensus has been that a 2-stop is the fastest way to go. So what’s this all about? The cynic in me says that RBR will stop at nothing to get Vettel ahead…but they wouldn’t do that. Would they?

With Webber stopped, Finger Boy switches into another gear and closes the gap to under a second. RoGro responds by pitting, and comes out behind Webber – just behind! Now you might think this is awesome news for the Aussie, but remember, it’s highly likely he’s going to have to stop again. There’s every chance RBR have properly done Mark over here with the strategy!  This leaves Finger Boy in the lead. Ugh.

Vodafone Mclaren Mercedes mechanics prepare the race cars Photo: Vodafone McLaren Mercedes F1 team (editorial use only)

Vodafone McLaren Mercedes mechanics prepare the race cars Photo: Vodafone McLaren Mercedes F1 team (editorial use only)

McLaren meanwhile is busy trying to sort through its pitstop troubles. Again! It’s almost a replay of last year. Button pits and the team have a problem with the wheel nut on the right rear. Cheeky pits and guess what? Problem with the wheel nut on the right rear! They really don’t help themselves do they? Come on, Chaps. You’re McLaren! You’re the team that gave the world the MP4/4. YOU CAN TURN THIS AROUND!

So RoGro has pitted and is behind Webber leaving Vettel in the lead. When will he pit? And will he get the undercut? Lap 38 our questions are answered. Vettel pits, and doesn’t make the undercut! Cue whooping from people across the globe, thrilled that the Championship is staying interesting! ‘Go get him’ the RBR mechanics tell Vettel. Come on Gents, Let’s RACE!

Within the lap, they are together…and just when we think we are going to get some really great action, RBR reminds Seb to conserve some tyre, as he may be fighting Mark towards the end. Now we know Vettel has a certain deafness when it comes to his team telling him what to do in certain circumstances. Will he listen, or will temptation prove too much for him?

Yay, Finger Boy…goodness, did I actually just say that? He’s ignoring the team and fighting, and through the last corner makes a punt, but can’t make it stick. RoGro driving a great defensive line holds the position. Sadly (I know, I’m a walking contradiction!) he does manage to make it stick on the start/finish straight with the benefit of DRS. Darn it. That ended WAY too fast, and I’m gutted for RoGro. He’s driven AMAZINGLY and truly deserved a win today.

Meanwhile, Webber pits on lap 43 and rejoins in 3rd. Vettel has meanwhile pulled out a 3.8-second lead over RoGro, and Mark is 3.2 seconds behind RoGro. You have to say, its an IMMENSE ask for Mark from there, but I tell you what, with purple laps and sectors left right and centre, he’s certainly not shying away from having a ruddy good go!

Looking a little further down the field, Hulkenberg has been holding off Fernando Alonso for the majority of the race. Another stunning drive from the Hulk – the man widely tipped to be moving to Lotus for 2014. Until lap 47. When Alonso makes a beautiful move to take the position.

Hard-core action right there! Grosjean becomes super speedy! Photo: Glenn Dunbar/Lotus F1 Team (editorial use only)

Hard-core action right there! Grosjean becomes super speedy! Photo: Glenn Dunbar/Lotus F1 Team (editorial use only)

Meanwhile RoGro and Webber begin the battle for 2nd. Webber makes a move, but it’s covered easily by the Smiley Giraffe. Webber loses his momentum a bit, and it isn’t until DRS period that he gets his next shot, unable to make it stick, but pulling right up behind him again. The pair stay together, with Webber trying to make a move up the outside. He gets level with the Frenchman, but can’t hold it, and Grosjean maintains the position. Oh this is CRACKING stuff!

The final part of lap 51 sees Webber try a couple of cheeky punts, getting him close enough to the Lotus to take very full advantage of having the DRS on the start/finish straight, and Webber takes the position into turn 1 of lap 52. Such a shame for RoGro, but you have to say, there’s nothing more he could have done! A great tussle between an already proven great driver, and a chap who is really starting to shake off his ‘bashy’ reputation and show the potential that we all knew was there.

And so the final lap begins with Red Bull 1-2. Predictable? Maybe, but they’ve had to work for it this week! Would Webber have had the win with a 2 stop strategy? Yes I truly think he would. But sadly that was not to be. So it is that Finger Boy takes the victory, with Webber at 2nd and RoGro at 3rd.

Phew! After the bore fests we’ve had recently, Japan has shown that when you go to a REAL race track, and you give racing drivers the chance to ACTUALLY race, F1 is the best sport there is. It is a marriage of technical excellence and great driving. And there’s nothing like it in the world! Long Live ‘Old School’ Race Tracks and tyres that don’t restrict drivers ability to race 100%.

How They Crossed the Finish Line

1 Sebastian Vettel – Red Bull Racing

2 Mark Webber – Red Bull Racing

3 Romain Grosjean – Lotus

4 Fernando Alonso – Ferrari

5 Kimi Raikkenon – Lotus

6 Nico Hulkenberg – Sauber

7 Esteban Gutiérrez – Sauber

8 Nico Rosberg – Mercedes

9 Jenson Button – McLaren

10 Felipe Massa – Ferrari

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2 Responses

  1. It was a good race. Sebastian Vettel doesn’t get nearly the credit he deserves. I don’t think the red bull car is that much better than the others but the team is the real machine.

    • I think a lot of fans protest – and here I stand guilty as well – that people are so quick to label him a legend. There is a lot to Vettel, but I think statistics aren’t the only things that make a legend! Of course, Red Bull’s repeated success needs to act as a wake-up call for the other teams as well.

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