Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Pit Strategy Nets Vettel Victory in Thrilling Japanese Grand Prix

Photo Credit: Nissan/Infiniti

Since 1987, the Suzuka Circuit has served as the host of the Japanese Grand Prix for all but two years in between the 2013 event. Over that time, the Honda owned race track has produced some storied fights for Formula 1 supremacy. The Alain Prost/Aryton Senna championship battles in 1989 and 1990 remains as the most memorable. Though there was not going to be a tight drivers' point battle heading towards the 5.807-kilometer track, there was a slim chance the race could result in the crowning of the 2013 championship. Heading into the Japanese Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel needed just 24 points on Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso to seal his Fourth consecutive championship.

Aside from the champion, the Suzuka Circuit is known for producing some hard-fought races along all competitors. The 53-lap, 2013 edition of the Japanese Grand Prix would perhaps rank as one of the finest of the season.

With Mark Webber sitting on pole for the first time in 2013, the Australian is counting down his tenure at Red Bull Racing as Sunday's race was staged. With Webber's teammate Sebastian Vettel starting alongside, the Red Bull-Renaults seemingly appeared to be on easy street for leading into the first corner. What was not foreseen as the lights went out to commence the 2013 Japanese Grand Prix was a faltering by both Red Bull-Renault race cars on the start. Instantly on the race's start Romain Grosjean shot by Vettel and Webber for the lead.

Photo Credit: Andrew Ferraro/Lotus F1 Team

With the leaders running smoothly into turn 1, the cars driven by Jules Bianchi and Giedo van der Garde wrecked. No safety car was deployed since both cars were well off into the turn one run-off area but activation of the DRS system was delayed. Another early retirement from the Japanese Grand Prix was Lewis Hamilton who suffered a cut tire due to contact. The damage to Hamilton's Mercedes AMG proved quite severe resulting in parking the race machine after seven laps.

From fourth to first into the turn corner, the Lotus-Renault of Romain Grosjean's breathtaking pass was one of the Frenchman's trademark daring maneuvers. While his aggression is renowned, the Frenchman's foil has been his inexperience and poor sense in the past Formula 1 seasons. Last year, Grosjean's driving also resulted in the Lotus F1 Team driver being parked by the Formula 1 sanctioning body for making too many mistakes. In 2013, Romain Grosjean has been showing a more level-headed approach that has kept him out of trouble but has not exactly equated the driver registering better performances. The start of the Japanese Grand Prix could be a turning point for Grosjean. Setting several fastest laps, Grosjean pulled out a 3.3-second lead over second place Mark Webber by lap 11. Turning over the lead on a lap 12 pit stop, Romain Grosjean's Lotus-Renault would remain at the front of the Japanese Grand Prix becoming a source of excitement throughout the Formula 1 event.

With Romain Grosjean, Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel trading the lead among themselves through pit stops, one of those drivers operated on a three-stop strategy for Pirelli racing slicks. Red Bull Racing's Mark Webber ran shorter stints on his tires harnessing the performance of newer compound rubber rolling on the Suzuka Circuit. Running an awkward third for much of the Japanese Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel elected to bring his Red Bull-Renault to pit road on only two occasions. Banking on the increased track position outweighing the advantage on fresher tires, Sebastian Vettel would proceed with his gamble on lap 37.

Mark Webber pitted for the final time in lap 42 taking faster medium compound tires back out on track for the final 11 laps of the 2013 Japanese Grand Prix. Quickly catching than-second place Romain Grosjean on harder compound rubber, the task of passing the formidable Lotus-Renault proved difficult for Webber's Red Bull-Renault. A battle taking place roughly 9 seconds behind Sebastian Vettel, the second place fight between Grosjean and Webber would benefit the championship points leader every lap it waged. In fact, when Mark Webber was finally able to snatch the runner-up position from the Lotus-Renault, there would be only two laps for the Australian driver to catch Vettel. Proving far too much of a gap, Sebastian Vettel crossed the line 7.1 seconds ahead of his Red Bull Racing teammate for a fifth-straight victory on the 2013 Formula 1 racing calendar.

Photo Credit: Pirelli Photo Service

The triumph was Vettel's fourth Japanese Grand Prix win in five seasons. As a result of a fourth place finish by Fernando Alonso's Ferrari, the 2013 World Drivers' championship will remain in play for at least one more race. Vettel needs only to finish fifth place or better to fend off even the best efforts of Alonso for the season's title. Describing the race as a "very rewarding win", Vettel added, "The Championship is the big target of course, but the season is very long still and the best way to wrap it up is not to think about it. I’m happy to go home for a bit now and to relax before we go out to India. That’s an impressive country and I’m looking forward to racing there in a couple of weeks.”

The second-place finish for Mark Webber was not the desired victory the Australian wanted but was his first podium since the Italian Grand Prix. "I did my best and in the end it was a good result.”, said Webber after 53 laps at Suzuka. As for third place Romain Grosjean, he talked at length about what could be a career-defining run. "It was superb to go past both the Red Bulls like that and it’ll be one of my best memories of the year. The car was fantastic on the first set of tyres and we managed to pull away, but then the Red Bulls were able to reel us in later on. Ultimately, we were the only car to almost catch the bull. It’s been a great home race for my engineer; it’s always good to come to Japan and it’s really good to be back on the podium again.”, said Grosjean.

The next event for the 2013 Formula 1 season will take place October 27th with the running of the Indian Grand Prix.

2013 Formula 1
Japanese Grand Prix
Race Results

Pos # Car # Driver Team Engine

1 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Renault
2 2 Mark Webber Red Bull Renault
3 10 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes AMG Mercedes-Benz
3 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus Renault
4 3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari Ferrari
5 7 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus Renault
6 11 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber Ferrari
7 12 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber Ferrari
8 9 Nico Rosberg Mercedes AMG Mercedes-Benz
9 5 Jenson Button McLaren Mercedes-Benz
10 4 Felipe Massa Ferrari Ferrari
11 14 Paul di Resta Force India Mercedes-Benz
12 18 Jean-Eric Vergne Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari
13 19 Daniel Ricciardo Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari
14 15 Adrian Sutil Force India Mercedes-Benz
15 6 Sergio Perez McLaren Mercedes-Benz
16 16 Pastor Maldonado Williams F1 Renault
17 17 Valtteri Bottas Williams F1 Renault
18 20 Charles Pic Caterham Renault
19 23 Max Chilton Marussia Cosworth
21 21 Giedo van der Garde Caterham Renault
22 22 Jules Bianchi Marussia Cosworth

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