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Page last updated at 10:15 GMT, Monday, 11 October 2010 11:15 UK

Sebastian Vettel in pole position to win drivers' title

Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel

Japanese Grand Prix in 90 seconds (UK users only)

By Martin Brundle
BBC F1 analyst

Sebastian Vettel said "it was a nice Sunday" and that Suzuka could have been "drawn" especially for his car. Fernando Alonso said that the track was "purpose-built to show off the strengths of the Red Bull". And so it proved with a front-row lockout, fastest lap, and a one-two finish.

The Japanese Grand Prix was incident-packed and the first casualty was Lucas di Grassi, who crashed at the high-speed 130R corner on the way to the grid.

Watch Martin Brundle's Japan GP grid walk

I may be able to help Virgin explain this unusual incident.

After the race I took a helicopter to Tokyo with Ferrari's Felipe Massa (which for the avoidance of doubt didn't cost the BBC a penny) and he said that the wind was destabilising the cars into this corner, especially on full tanks.

Lucas di Grassi's wrecked Virgin Racing car

Di Grassi crashes on way to grid

With the Virgin Racing car having less downforce, Massa could understand how it may have happened.

Massa himself only made the first corner of the race. This was a case of him having to attack from a lowly grid position after traffic compromised his qualifying, and the fact that Nicos Hulkenberg and Rosberg were slow away from the start which compressed the pack.

Massa ran out of space, bounced across the inside kerb, and wrote off the luckless Vitantonio Liuzzi's Force India, which had made a great start.

Before that, a fast-starting Vitaly Petrov was trying to navigate his Renault through the wheel-spinners off the grid and simply didn't clear Hulkenberg's Williams before slicing across the front of him and spinning into the start-line barrier, finishing both their races.

The race was much the poorer for the mightily impressive Kubica three-wheeling to a halt

Behind the subsequent safety car, Robert Kubica lost a rear wheel off his Renault and so we already had five retirements and racing had barely begun.

Rosberg would also lose a rear wheel late in the race from his Mercedes.

The end of refuelling this season has meant that pit stops are entirely limited by the time taken to change the wheels.

During the hurried stops, the mechanics have to allow the high-performance air guns to hammer the nuts back on just the right amount under extreme time pressure. If the wheel nuts are too tight, then this delays the process while the guns hammer off the single centre nut. It's no surprise we've seen a lot of wheels falling off this year.

The race was much the poorer for the mightily impressive Kubica three-wheeling to a halt.

McLaren's Lewis Hamilton

Hamilton thankful to finish

The Pole had split the Red Bulls off the line and was going to be a major thorn in the side of championship contenders Mark Webber, Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button.

Instead, we saw a total domination by Red Bull. They even had the confidence, with Alonso not far behind, to cruise behind Button's McLaren from laps 26 to 38 while he was out of pit-stop sequence having gone the opposite way on tyre strategy.

Vettel, ever mindful of the league tables which numerically record the brilliance of the likes of Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher, delivered the fastest race lap on the penultimate tour to add to his pole position and victory.

Webber duly beat that on the final lap to finish a mere 0.9 seconds behind Vettel. "I couldn't let him have a full house," remarked Webber in mild satisfaction.

The team must have great angst with the risks of this unnecessary mind-game late in the race.

Alonso's next career will be as a motivational speaker. He can see positives everywhere and this time focused on the fact that he lost only three points to championship leader Webber on a track Ferrari feel is their worst of the remaining few.

Ferrari's Fernando Alonso

Three podiums will win title - Alonso

Alonso remains insistent that consistently finishing anywhere on the podium will be enough to take the title. I'm not so sure.

Driver of the day was Sauber's Kamui Kobyashi. He passed no fewer than five cars in the tricky hairpin approached through a blind right-hand kink.

I called him Kobay-bashi when he literally pushed a Toro Rosso out of the way. He was Ko-wasabi (a particularly hot Japanese version of horseradish sauce if you didn't know) as he then sliced cleanly past Adrian Sutil, Jaime Alguersuari, Rubens Barrichello, and team-mate Nick Heidfeld.

Kobayashi can call me Trundle or Bundle or whatever he wants; I like his fiery style.

The McLaren zone was rather glum after the race. They slipped uncomfortably far away from the championship lead with three races remaining.

Button's concept of running hard tyres at the start of the race compromised his qualifying and did not pay him back because the soft compound did not fall apart on the competition in the early laps as he had hoped.

I said during the race that I was surprised they did not react earlier to that and give Button a good 20 laps on his soft tyres at the end although would likely only have put pressure on the sister car of Hamilton.


Red Bull read this as McLaren using Button to back up the leaders hoping to benefit Hamilton. Button said after the race that he felt he should have pitted earlier. Hamilton had a miserable weekend.

A mistake in first practice damaged his car badly. It was in the infamous Degner corners where he seemed to have collected up the initial problem bouncing along the outside kerb only to understeer wide into Degner Two and slide into the gravel and then barrier.

All a bit strange, really.

After his non-finish in Singapore, the team could have changed his gearbox without penalty but they are sealed for four races and they didn't want a gearbox in its fourth race in Abu Dhabi.

They only spotted the problem when the box was refitted for Saturday in Suzuka, and an exploratory lap in the wet of free practice three meant changing the gearbox with a five-place grid drop. But at least they found the problem.

Unfortunately the replacement gearbox would lose third gear meaning Lewis had to finish the final laps of the race using only fourth to seventh gears.

This would mean very poor acceleration out of the slow corners and he was easy meat for the fast-recovering Button now on fresh soft tyres.

The regulations dictate that if a grid penalty is taken then a new 'four-race' gearbox can be fitted from the next event, meaning that Hamilton will not take further pain in Korea for a new gearbox. Sorry, I called that wrong in the race.

Vettel has looked a very fast class act these past two races. He can win this championship now.

It's all within his hands, and Webber really needs to beat him in Korea in two weeks' time to arrest that relentless progress now that Red Bull is back on full form.

Webber has admitted as much.

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see also
Title a tough task now - Hamilton
10 Oct 10 |  Formula 1
Vettel wins as McLaren slip back
10 Oct 10 |  Formula 1
I must win to take title - Webber
10 Oct 10 |  Formula 1

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