Damage limitation for Alonso as Vettel looks strong

2012 Japanese Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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Sebastian Vettel is in an enviable position ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix.

Starting from pole position he is well placed to inflict serious damage on Fernando Alonso in the championship. The Ferrari driver starts sixth.

But Alonso’s been in this position before. In 2006 he started fifth and had to make up places on the track to catch championship rival Michael Schumacher. But he made it up to second – and then Schumacher’s engine failed, handing Alonso the win.

Are we set for another surprise in Suzuka? Or will Vettel finally become the first driver to score back-to-back wins this year? Here’s a look ahead to the Japanese Grand Prix.

The start

The Japanese Grand Prix got off to a controversial start last year as Vettel firmly resisted an attack from Jenson Button. He edged the McLaren onto the grass as they ran towards the first corner.

The stewards did not penalise Vettel for the move but since then we’ve had the rules clarification which prevents drivers from moving across on their rivals on straights if a “significant portion of the car attempting to pass is alongside”. Vettel fell foul of this rule at Monza.

This year Mark Webber lines up next to Vettel on the front row. It’s unlikely Red Bull will allow their drivers to be as rough with each other as Vettel was with Button.

Kamui Kobayashi has achieved the highest ever starting position for a Japanese driver in their home race with third on the grid. “From where I am starting I should have a chance to fight for a podium finish,” he said.

“It would be a dream come true if I could achieve my first podium in Formula One in front of my home crowd.” For that to happen he will have to make a much better start than he did last year. From seventh on the grid he was 12th by the end of lap one.

Nor did things work out for him on the other two occasions he started inside the top three this year. He was involved in the Romain Grosjean accident when he started second at Spa. In China he lined up third but was mugged left, right and centre at the start and came at the end of the first lap in seventh place.

With Kobayashi’s place at Sauber for next year rumoured to be under threat, it’s essential he makes a clean start and converts his strong starting position into a good result.


As mentioned in the practice analysis yesterday, two-stop strategies are expected to be the preferred option for most drivers in the race. However rain at the circuit after qualifying may have diminished the build-up of rubber on the track and altered grip levels, which could give teams some surprises in the race. No rain is expected during the Grand Prix.

The top nine drivers will all start on softs. Felipe Massa is the first driver on the grid with a free choice of which tyre he starts on.

Red Bull have their first front row lockout of the year and will be very pleased to have three cars between them and their major championship rivals: Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and the McLarens.

This cluster of cars is likely to provide the major interest in the race. Red Bull’s rivals will be anxious to clear the cars in front of them but they know it won’t be easy.

“Overtaking has never been easy around here,” said Jenson Button, “even with the introduction of DRS. That being the case, it’s quite a surprise that the DRS zone has been shortened for this year.”

Alonso in particular has some serious damage limitation to do. Were the drivers to finish where they start he would leave Japan with his points lead over Vettel trimmed to 12. Every position he can gain, while repelling the advances of the McLarens, will be a bonus.

Further back the Marussias have got in among the Caterhams. But despite having lost out to them in Singapore, Heikki Kovalainen isn’t concerned: “The car’s pace on Sundays has been pretty good all year so the aim now is to have a strong race and be in the right place to take advantage of anything that happens ahead. Really, for me, I’m not worried about the cars behind me.”

However Kovalainen will need some cars to drop out in front of him if he’s to have a chance of claiming the 12th place Caterham need to re-pass Marussia in the constructors’ championship. Last year only one car failed to go the distance.

Finally, keep an eye on Michael Schumacher’s progress from 23rd. He’s saved two sets each of new soft and hard tyres to aid his progress. Last year team mate Nico Rosberg started from the same position and finished tenth.

Qualifying times in full

Driver Car Q1

Q2 (vs Q1)

Q3 (vs Q2)
1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1’32.608 1’31.501 (-1.107) 1’30.839 (-0.662)
2 Mark Webber Red Bull 1’32.951 1’31.950 (-1.001) 1’31.090 (-0.860)
3 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1’32.042 1’31.886 (-0.156) 1’31.700 (-0.186)
4 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1’32.029 1’31.988 (-0.041) 1’31.898 (-0.090)
5 Sergio Perez Sauber 1’32.147 1’32.169 (+0.022) 1’32.022 (-0.147)
6 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1’32.459 1’31.833 (-0.626) 1’32.114 (+0.281)
7 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1’32.221 1’31.826 (-0.395) 1’32.208 (+0.382)
8 Jenson Button McLaren 1’33.077 1’31.772 (-1.305) 1’31.290 (-0.482)
9 Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1’33.061 1’32.121 (-0.940) 1’32.327 (+0.206)
10 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1’32.946 1’32.293 (-0.653)
11 Paul di Resta Force India 1’32.898 1’32.327 (-0.571)
12 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1’32.834 1’32.512 (-0.322)
13 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1’33.015 1’32.625 (-0.390)
14 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1’33.059 1’32.954 (-0.105)
15 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1’32.828 1’32.272 (-0.556)
16 Bruno Senna Williams 1’33.405
17 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1’34.657
18 Timo Glock Marussia 1’35.213
19 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1’33.370 1’33.368 (-0.002)
20 Pedro de la Rosa HRT 1’35.385
21 Charles Pic Marussia 1’35.429
22 Vitaly Petrov Caterham 1’35.432
23 Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1’33.349 1’32.469 (-0.880)
24 Narain Karthikeyan HRT 1’36.734

Vettel was in fine form in qualifying, producing the lap time he needed with his first effort every time.

“Yesterday evening I wasn’t too happy as I was losing time in the first sector,” he said. “But I found my mistake and in today’s practice session it worked straight away. I don’t know why I didn’t do it in previous years and it shows you never stop learning.”

He avoided a penalty for holding up Alonso at the chicane. Another driver who escaped a penalty was Kobayashi, after passing by the scene of Raikkonen’s spin: “On my last lap I lost a bit of time because of the yellow flag when I backed off and switched off the DRS,” he said.

Raikkonen’s spin left him behind Grosjean on the grid for the ninth time in 14 races: “I was on a good lap and I was pushing – maybe a little too hard – and lost the rear,” explained Raikkonen. “It’s a shame as the car feels the best it has all weekend.”

It was a poor qualifying session for Lewis Hamilton, particularly in Q3. Had he been able to match his Q2 time he would be two places higher on the grid. He blamed set-up problems for his struggle.

Sector times

Driver Sector 1 Sector 2 Sector 3
Sebastian Vettel 32.498 (1) 40.580 (1) 17.602 (1)
Mark Webber 32.565 (2) 40.832 (3) 17.693 (2)
Kamui Kobayashi 32.807 (5) 41.090 (6) 17.776 (9)
Romain Grosjean 33.007 (9) 40.852 (4) 17.754 (7)
Sergio Perez 32.842 (6) 41.212 (10) 17.850 (14)
Fernando Alonso 32.795 (4) 41.129 (7) 17.767 (8)
Kimi Raikkonen 32.853 (7) 41.003 (5) 17.791 (11)
Jenson Button 32.719 (3) 40.782 (2) 17.701 (3)
Lewis Hamilton 32.960 (8) 41.208 (9) 17.708 (4)
Felipe Massa 33.258 (14) 41.296 (12) 17.739 (5)
Paul di Resta 33.149 (11) 41.396 (14) 17.782 (10)
Pastor Maldonado 33.136 (10) 41.490 (16) 17.886 (17)
Nico Rosberg 33.599 (17) 41.187 (8) 17.813 (12)
Daniel Ricciardo 33.590 (16) 41.485 (15) 17.842 (13)
Nico Hulkenberg 33.153 (12) 41.263 (11) 17.856 (15)
Bruno Senna 33.164 (13) 41.646 (17) 18.010 (18)
Heikki Kovalainen 34.452 (22) 42.142 (19) 18.063 (19)
Timo Glock 34.348 (19) 42.605 (21) 18.260 (21)
Jean-Eric Vergne 33.704 (18) 41.729 (18) 17.873 (16)
Pedro de la Rosa 34.457 (23) 42.626 (22) 18.186 (20)
Charles Pic 34.387 (20) 42.722 (23) 18.320 (22)
Vitaly Petrov 34.398 (21) 42.316 (20) 18.361 (23)
Michael Schumacher 33.383 (15) 41.335 (13) 17.751 (6)
Narain Karthikeyan 34.721 (24) 43.090 (24) 18.381 (24)

Massa was ahead of Alonso early in qualifying. But when it came to the crunch in Q2 it all went wrong for him.

Ferrari technical director Pat Fry said: “Felipe was fast all day, but at the moment when he should have made the most of his second set of soft tyres, he was unable to exploit all their potential: we now need to understand why this set of tyres did not live up to expectations.”

Speed trap

Pos Driver Car Speed (kph/mph) Gap
1 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 311.7 (193.7)
2 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 311.6 (193.6) -0.1
3 Romain Grosjean Lotus 311.3 (193.4) -0.4
4 Jenson Button McLaren 310.7 (193.1) -1.0
5 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 310.5 (192.9) -1.2
6 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 310.2 (192.7) -1.5
7 Michael Schumacher Mercedes 309.8 (192.5) -1.9
8 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 309.6 (192.4) -2.1
9 Mark Webber Red Bull 309.5 (192.3) -2.2
10 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 309.3 (192.2) -2.4
11 Felipe Massa Ferrari 309.1 (192.1) -2.6
12 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 308.9 (191.9) -2.8
13 Pastor Maldonado Williams 308.3 (191.6) -3.4
14 Sergio Perez Sauber 307.7 (191.2) -4.0
15 Paul di Resta Force India 306.9 (190.7) -4.8
16 Lewis Hamilton McLaren 306.7 (190.6) -5.0
17 Timo Glock Marussia 306.3 (190.3) -5.4
18 Bruno Senna Williams 306.2 (190.3) -5.5
19 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 305.3 (189.7) -6.4
20 Pedro de la Rosa HRT 305.0 (189.5) -6.7
21 Charles Pic Marussia 304.9 (189.5) -6.8
22 Vitaly Petrov Caterham 303.3 (188.5) -8.4
23 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 303.0 (188.3) -8.7
24 Narain Karthikeyan HRT 301.2 (187.2) -10.5

Over to you

Will Vettel get his third win at Suzuka? Can Alonso get onto the podium from sixth? And where will the Saubers finish?

Share your views on the Japanese Grand Prix in the comments.

2012 Japanese Grand Prix

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    Image © Ferrari spa/Ercole Colombo, Sauber F1 Team, McLaren/Hoch Zwei

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    39 comments on “Damage limitation for Alonso as Vettel looks strong”

    1. I wish best luck for Alonso but it seems very tough for him. even if he gets on the podium, as far as Vettel wins and Ferrari doesn’t deliver winning car, Alonso will fall away quickly from the championship lead.

      1. @eggry With so little time between the races as well Ferrari need to react quickly. On the other hand if what happened to Hamilton in Singapore happens to Vettel in Suzuka then the situation will look very different.

        1. It’s more likely happen to Alonso, as that’s the reason he is leading.

    2. I think Vettel will win

    3. I think the only thing that can stop Vettel now is the alternator. However given the lack of slow corners here I’m positive that it will not be an issue. Not enough to cause a DNF anyways.

      Here’s to hoping Kamui has a good start – I’d love to see him get a home podium!

      1. That’s the thing i dream of too. KK on the podium, whatever the rest of the result is, would make my day !

    4. I can see Alonso getting his car in 4th place before the first run of pit stops. And then maybe a podium.

      Sadly, I get the feeling that whatever the result, we’re not going to leave Suzuka with a championship that much closer.

      1. I have feeling the 29 point lead is going to get to 19. That’s quite a difference

    5. I see Vettel winning it. But I am equally sure of Alonso finishing 2nd. He will be able to get past the others soon and Webber during the pit stops.

      I am very interested to see how Perez does here. All his previous podiums and giant-killing performances have come courtesy of qualifying outside the top 10, starting on the harder tyres and blitzing the opposition with the softer tyres later on. Tomorrow, he doesn’t have that luxury. And this will be a good indicator of how 2013 will be for him too as he will be starting from Q3 every race then.

    6. With Vettel fastest in all three sectors, a high top speed by Red Bull’s standards and Red Bulls recent race pace I can’t imagine anyone other than Vettel taking the win (unless some other factor has anything to say about it). I think Alonso also will struggle to gain places, and he has the McLarens close behind (who looked very quick on the long runs in Friday practice).
      This could very well be a crucial weekend in the championship!

    7. Usually when Alonso plans to do damage limitation, he ends up damaging his rivals’ title hopes.

      1. Alonso is a human( i think …:)…), and like all the humans have his limitations. He can’t beat a 1 sec fastest car. Alonso (and hamilton) are the only driver in my opinon that gives 2,3,4 tenths of a second more than a car can deliver…how much depends on circuit.
        I hope and i remain confident that Ferrari is pushing hard in development… the objective of Fernando is to leave the Korean gp by leading the championship. The two reaces in India and Abu Dhabi will be very crucial and i think in this two races we will know who will win.

        I notic that is the first time that Ferrari ( form 97 ) in a year when they are fighting for the championship are performing worst in the second part of the championship that in the first…this is very stange with all the money that they put they should perform better and develop a better car…but we will se still 5 races and two month of developing

    8. I hate to admit it, but Alonso is slowly but surely losing the battle now…

    9. the point is Alonso now is an expert in damage limitation, i’m expecting a first lap of fire (alla monza) a podium finish will be the target for this race , tyre management will be crucial so i’m expecting Jenson to come up after the first pit, this is a race to lose for Vettel he will disappear after 10 or 15 laps only a car failure could prevent him from winning

    10. Sviatoslav Andrushko (@)
      6th October 2012, 16:57

      Damage limitation for Alonso as Vettel looks strong____
      Something I have already heard) Maybe, all this year is a “damage limitation” for Fernando? It is plain that he hasn’t fastest car (though he has fast-enough-car for winning at some races) through the 2012-championship. And I don’t reckon Alonso can win the WDC.

      1. OmarR-Pepper (@)
        6th October 2012, 17:29

        @bis specially because the Saubers have already shown how effective they can be to overtake Ferraris. I don’t see how Alonso can get a podium tonight, unless Romain or another crashkid do their thing and he survives the crash

      2. Are you not all forgetting that Alonso reckons his car was good for 3rd. on the grid ? It can’t be too bad if it could do that.

    11. TheGreatWanderer
      6th October 2012, 17:12

      Schumacher’s engine failed, handing Alonso the win.

      Ain’t that the norm, if not the rule, in how Alonso wins races?? Look, already this season he has been gifted two wins, three podiums and one miserly bad-luck incident(if u consider that he was outside top5 in qualy, that was further ‘bad luck damage limitation’)

      …And now’s the time to duck – surely, Alonso fanatics are just around the bend with their brickbats, or is it bricktyres!! ;-)

      1. When Ferrari signed with Fernando he didn’t ask for the fastest car, he just demanded winning with his luck. O_O

        1. TheGreatWanderer
          6th October 2012, 17:28

          good one! :-)

          In that case, what did luck demand when it signed up with Alonso? – “No Petrov or Hamilton!!”

      2. ‘bad luck damage limitation’

        hahaha This too has also become the norm, and not an exception!

    12. Kob has screw every front row start, can’t see why will be different now, but this time he could say is a team player and No. 2 to PER, actually will be interesting a new era preview Mano a Mano GRO – PER for that podium, btw most likely will be without at least one Redbull they pushing to much that gearbox, asking half second faster is not going to hold all race probably.
      Sad about Mclaren same “almost there story” all season !

      1. Oh yep forgot Fernando gets the scraps which is a podium ….

      2. Kobayashi has screwed every front row start? Hmm, let me see how many he’s had…

        quit bashing just to bash

      3. Why should Kobayashi play Number 2 to Perez? Perez isn’t going to be world champion this year.

    13. Alonso is in trouble if the little German wins….Still too much season left…As much as I would feel good about a drivers title for FA, his soft results won’t hold up.

    14. I believe that as usual Alonso will be faster in the race than in qualifying. Common Nando!

    15. I honestly hope Vettel has a trouble free race, and takes the win tomorrow. He’s done a great job so far this weekend, and i think it’s kind of sad that people don’t seem to appriciate him, and instead want Alonso to do well. So personally, im fine if Vettel and Webber take of and leave the field way behind them, while Alonso battles it out with Button and Hamilton and gets us some racing action. All people cheering on Alonso all the time kind of makes me wish he’ll have a bad race and loose his lead in the championship.

      1. And your post make me wish that vettel has an engine failure, or brake failure or an alternator failure. Alonso hasn’t had the best or second best car this season. The fastest car he has had is probably 3rd although his car is going backwards. I hope alonso wins tomorrow

        1. Alonso’s car has usually been right up there. Even if it is 3rd, Ferrari haven’t been far off Mclaren and RB over the season.

    16. Gagnon (@johnniewalker)
      6th October 2012, 22:12

      Everyone keep talking about the luck Alonso have in his victory. First I dont see any luck in Malaysia win, he had a good car and he did a very good drive to the win, Perez had a back luck, not alonso being lucky. And in Valencia most poeple forgot that he made up from 10 to 3 on track, fighting everyone + a very good pass on MSC, It would have been a very good comeback, but because the 2 car in front of him crash, its all up to luck. I like how Alonso basher keep saying hes lucky and bla bla. Keep bashing, you lose your time btw

      1. Perez had a back luck, not alonso being lucky

        Perez didn’t have bad luck… he lost control of his car while chasing Fernando.

        And in Valencia most poeple forgot that he made up from 10 to 3 on track

        Valencia he moved from 11th to 2nd.

        1. Gagnon (@johnniewalker)
          7th October 2012, 22:25

          Maybe my mind are wrong, but I think its 11 to 3 then, or Romain was next to Alonso when his alternator failed, but thnx for clarification

      2. No one doubts his driving abilities. Most people refer to amount of points he was able to accumulate due to that kind of situations. He was victory fast at what? Three tracks this year?

        As for his lead I wouldn’t call it damage limitation, it’s more like hanging on a rope.

    17. Come on Kamui!!

    18. This is the most confusing and baffling F1 season that I can remember. I think only Donald Rumsfeld could have summed up my feelings about 2012..

      Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

      1. I don’t know what I have just read.

      2. @alex-bkk Classic quote that.

    19. Great fun to see Vettel pet his car after the race. Happy for Koba.

    Comments are closed.