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Page last updated at 13:02 GMT, Saturday, 3 October 2009 14:02 UK

Thrills and spills at Suzuka

Sebastian Vettel

Highlights - Vettel on pole after hectic qualifying

David Couthard
By David Coulthard
BBC Sport in Japan

It was a dramatic qualifying session for the Japanese Grand Prix, with several crashes, some questions over the Suzuka circuit, and a Red Bull car on pole position.

More drama followed when several drivers were handed five-place penalties for infringing rules.


There were three red flags during qualifying; three crashes and Sebastian Buemi had two excursions, one of which saw him driving with bits hanging off his car.

To have that amount of incident in a dry qualifying session is very unusual. It's not such a big surprise to see people going off the track in the wet. So why is that?

A combination of wet practice, when people haven't got their eye in practice and one dry session on Saturday morning meant drivers were just not prepared for the pace of qualifying.

They were typically making mistakes, particularly in the first Degner. It's a 130/140 mph corner at the apex - at that speed things pass very quickly.

Timo Glock hits the tyre wall

Glock crashes in Japan

Timo Glock's crash was very peculiar because there just isn't a corner at the exit of the chicane where he crashed.

It's just not a challenging corner so he either had a car issue which meant he wasn't able to steer or more likely he just took his eye off the dashboard and took his eye off the road and by the time he was looking up suddenly he was on the dust and gravel.

If you are doing 100mph in that situation it just sucks you in.

If you walked round the crash you'd say "no I don't believe that someone crashed at this particular part" of the track as it's the least obvious place - the only less obvious place to crash is on a straight.

His crash was a bit bizarre and looked like a huge shunt but thankfully the car stood up the crash well and there is some possibility he could race on Sunday.


This is a really challenging circuit.

If you tuned in to watch the Monaco GP then you wouldn't be surprised to see Lewis Hamilton crashed in qualifying and that's not something you see very often. Why? Because Monaco is very unforgiving. Suzuzka is exactly the same.

BBC Sport's Suzuka circuit guide

The reason you make it to the barriers here - even though it's not a street circuit - is because of the speed you are going at.

The average speed here is 140mph - that is really, really fast. We get so blasé about F1 cars doing 200mph but when you drive the car at high speeds I always say that you don't realise how fast you're going until you crash.

Suzuka is narrower than some of the other tracks - it was actually designed for motorbikes rather than cars.

The run-off areas are grass and gravel so if you run wide you are at high speed and if you have another corner arriving 50m down the road, you just can't recover the car in time. Modern tracks tend to be point and squirt, lots of run-off and individual corners.

There is nothing like this first sector in Suzuka on any of the other tracks we race on.

The first sector in Suzuka is a sequence of seven or eight corners which is broken at Turn 11's hairpin.

There is a fast left, followed by a fast right, up over the rise a fast right, down the hill into a fast right and flat out into Dunlop.

It's all over 100mph and at that sort of speed you cover a lot of distance - and you have to be very very precise.

It's an immense sequence of corners and you have to push because the faster you go the more downforce you get and the more downforce you go the faster you go, so drivers are trying to stay in that zone.

If you make a decision that gets you off line at over 100mph and then you have to correct for another corner, you end up getting out of sequence.

You can really gain a lot here by pushing the car.

At Degner you have to make a snap decision and he is committed so if you are committed on the wrong line you can hit the kerb which is what happened to Heikki Kovalainen - or you miss it and slide wide.


A lot of the drivers don't know the track that well and on Friday it is a completely different race track.

You go so much slower and you have more time to see things coming. They only had one hour to get their eye in and up to speed before qualifying. All the rubber has been washed off too so the track's grip would be changing all the time.


There were mixed fortunes for Red Bull as at the end of qualifying you had Sebastian Vettel at the top of the timesheets and Mark Webber at the bottom.

Mark went off at that first Degner - he was getting pushed into the ground and kept bottoming out - in third practice.

He didn't have as big an impact there as Alguersuari or Kovalainen there but it damaged part of his bulkhead that bolts the steering rack so they had to change the chassis and he had to sit it out.

On a weekend when the car is working well, he would almost certainly have been in the hunt for pole position and then the race win. He must have run over a few black cats or walked under a few ladders with the luck he is having.

The only thing that Sebastian can do - and should do this weekend - is win the race. If he does that he still has an outside chance of the championship.

He has enough fuel and this should be a straightforward lights-to-flag victory.

Jenson Button

Brawn trio pleased with qualifying effort

Brawn will deservedly win the constructors' title at some stage. With the greatest respect to Red Bull, if the drivers hadn't been involved in so many incidents and accidents this season it could have been different.

They have had arguably one of the quickest cars but you have to deliver and they just haven't done enough to deserve the championship.

It's been a fantastic season for Red Bull in spite of that. All that hard work, all those good decisions that I made in the previous three years are now reaping rewards for others!

David Coulthard won 13 grands prix in a 15-year F1 career. He is a BBC Sport pundit and a consultant for Red Bull. He was talking to BBC Sport's Sarah Holt.

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see also
Glock crashes in Japan
03 Oct 09 |  Formula 1
Button demoted as Vettel shines
04 Oct 09 |  Formula 1
Glock misses Japan GP after crash
04 Oct 09 |  Formula 1
Japanese GP qualifying photos
03 Oct 09 |  Formula 1

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