JAPANESE GRAND PRIX
Venue: Suzuka Dates: 2-4 October 2009 Coverage: Comprehensive live coverage of Friday practice, Saturday qualifying and Sunday's race - which starts at 0600 BST - across BBC TV, radio and online platforms.
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Highlights - Vettel on pole after hectic qualifying
By Frank Keogh and Sarah Holt
Championship leader Jenson Button and title rival Rubens Barrichello have each been penalised five starting places for the Japanese Grand Prix.
The Brawn pair, along with Fernando Alonso and Adrian Sutil, failed to slow for yellow flags in a crash-strewn qualifying session at Suzuka.
Button is down to 10th and Barrichello is sixth on the provisional race grid.
Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel, who has a slim championship chance with two more grands prix after Japan, grabbed pole.
Sebastien Buemi was also demoted five places, and given a reprimand, for driving back to the pits in his damaged Toro Rosso after the crash that caused the yellow flags to come out.
Toyota's Jarno Trulli will start alongside German Vettel on the front row with McLaren's Lewis Hamilton in third position.
Button and Barrichello set times under yellow flags
But outside of the top three, positions gained on the track during qualifying were drastically altered after a series of penalties, which were dished out according to the order in which the cars passed the flags.
Button had qualified in seventh but was the last man to come through the flags and ended up in 10th.
Barrichello benefited by being the first to pass the accident as he was retrospectively punished first, with the grid then reshuffled behind him, and the Brazilian ended up dropping just one place on the grid from fifth to sixth.
Renault's Alonso qualified 12th but fell to 16th. Sutil was fourth for Force India but now lines up in eighth while Buemi, who qualified in 10th, will start in 13th.
The penalty is a blow for Englishman Button's hopes of clinching the title in Japan, where he will become champion if he finishes at least five points ahead of Brazilian veteran Barrichello.
On top of these penalties, Finn Heikki Kovalainen of McLaren incurred a five-place penalty for changing his gearbox and dropped from ninth to 11th.
Italian Tonio Liuzzi of Force India has already received a similar penalty as he changed his gearbox ahead of qualifying.
German Timo Glock, who crashed heavily in his Toyota, will sit out the race after suffering a cut to his left leg.
Race stewards turned down Toyota's request for Kamui Kobayashi to stand in for Glock because he had not taken part in third practice, which contravenes the rules on replacing drivers.
F1 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP MATHS
Button will win the title in Japan if...
He wins and Barrichello is lower than third
He is second and Barrichello is lower than fifth
He is third and Barrichello is lower than seventh
He is fourth and Barrichello is lower than eighth
The qualifying runs saw drivers struggle after limited practice in Friday's rain-hit sessions.
Buemi crashed coming out of turn 14 during the second qualifying period and scraped his car along the barrier on the long straight up to 130R, leaving the front wing of his car and other debris on the track.
Button conceded he had contravened the regulations, but felt driving around the debris was all he could do under the circumstances.
"We got a five-place penalty for not slowing down sufficiently after the yellow flag but from my point of view, I did the right thing," he said.
"I took avoiding action and when I saw the yellow flag, it was just before the front wing so I moved to one side."
He added: "The regulations say you have to slow down enough and you've got to lift off the throttle, which I didn't do so I got penalised.
"I respect their decision but for me, it was the best thing to do, I had one second to make a decision."
Team boss Ross Brawn had no complaints about the punishments, saying: "It doesn't make any difference to us to be honest.
With hindsight, we could have shouted to them on the radio but we don't do that as standard practice
Brawn GP team boss Ross Brawn
"It's disappointing because obviously it's going to be far more difficult to score enough points to try and do what we're trying to do, but it could have been worse.
"There have been examples of both sides, of leniency and much more draconian penalties for such a thing. We did commit an offence and it was a reasonable penalty for what we did.
"If we apply the principle that a driver has to lift (the throttle) every time he sees a yellow on a straight, that's going to get quite tricky. We often get yellows in the race on the straights and the drivers don't lift.
"With hindsight, we could have shouted to them on the radio but we don't do that as standard practice. Probably a momentary lift would have solved the problem."
Vettel, who trails Button by 25 points and Barrichello by 10, is mathematically in contention for the title.
"Three races to go, it's quite a big gap, but every race has to be a chance," he said.
Four crashes heavily interrupted a dramatic qualifying session with two of them heavy-impact accidents at high speed on a circuit where drivers had experienced little dry running after Friday's washout.
Glock was airlifted to hospital with what was later described as an "abrasion to the left upper leg", while Toro Rosso's Jaime Alguersuari was given the all-clear after a medical check-up.
Alguersuari's team-mate Buemi and Kovalainen were also involved in off-track incidents as they lost control over the fast, technically-challenging figure-of-eight track.
Afterwards Barrichello called for Suzuka, which has not been used for a Formula 1 race since 2006, to increase the size of its run-off areas.
Brawn had made a last-gasp change to the suspension on Button's car just before qualifying, but the events which followed overshadowed any technical detail.
For the first time in his nine-year career, Mark Webber sat out qualifying after crashing at the troublesome Degner Two [Turn Nine] during the final practice session on Saturday morning, which left Red Bull unable to repair his car in time.
Webber will begin Sunday's 53-lap race from the pit lane, and the incident represents a serious blow to Red Bull's hopes of keeping the constructors' title alive as they trail Brawn by 42.5 points.
"The hill was steep and it's just become a mountain," team boss Christian Horner told BBC Sport. "It's not great in that respect."
Alguersuari crashed at the same point where Webber lost control - the gravel trap again not doing its job fully - to trigger a red flag with 11 minutes remaining of qualifying session two.
Three minutes after resumption, it was halted again after Glock, who missed Friday practice through illness, ran wide at the final turn before careering head on into a tyre wall.
The red flag stayed up for 10 minutes as the 27-year-old German driver was stretchered to an ambulance before being airlifted to hospital.
When the action resumed, the remaining drivers were under real pressure to clock decent timed laps as just six minutes remained.
And the situation intensified when Buemi scraped along barriers as he exited Spoon before continuing his lap in a damaged car to spark a yellow flag for the final few seconds.
Kovalainen caused the final top-10 qualifying session to be briefly red-flagged after sliding off at Degner One.
The weights of the cars, including race fuel, were published after qualifying in Japan and showed that Sutil, who was demoted to ninth, carried the least fuel with Williams' Kazuki Nakajima the heaviest.
Pole-sitter Vettel had a heavier fuel-load than Trulli, starting alongside him on the front row, and Hamilton, who has the Kers power-boost on his McLaren.
The Red Bull's pace at Suzuka along with Vettel's pole position - even after fuel adjustments - should make him favourite for the flag as he looks for a third victory of the season.