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Class of the Field
Adam Barton

A Formula One fan since he was six, back while Häkkinen and Schumacher were having many an epic battle, Adam has seen a great deal. From German domination (twice), to British determination (once) and a Spanish invasion. A near compulsive fan who one day hopes to write about the sport for a living, outside of F1 Adam also authors his own blog One Guy's Opinion.

Bianchi injury overshadows Japanese GP // Jules Bianchi’s horror crash ends chaotic weekend in Japan

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It was a bizarre weekend in the land of the Rising Sun - not that you could see the Sun on Sunday - with shock driver moves as Sebastian Vettel fled to Ferrari, triggering Daniil Kvyat's early promotion to the Red Bull senior team, and warnings of extreme weather affecting the race as Typhoon Phanphone hit the coast of Japan. And mixed in was the inevitable politics of F1 as arguments raged over why the race was not brought forward to avoid the worst of the storm. 

But in the end, all of this paled in insignificance as Jules Bianchi followed Adrian Sutil off at the Dunlop curve and spun sideways into the tractor collecting the Sauber. The whole F1 community is pulling for Jules Bianchi to make a full recovery. 

It’s easy to forget there was a fascinating race on Sunday with 21 drivers (after Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari faltered under the safety car) showing their extreme skill at the wheel of a car.

Vergne gets reprieve?

Jean-Éric Vergne, Scuderia Toro Rosso: Started 20th, Finished 9th

Vergne had jumped up into the points by the time the race was stopped
Vergne had jumped up into the points by the time the race was stoppedCredit: Peter Fox/Getty Images

Jean-Éric Vergne may not have had a reprieve at Toro Rosso yet, and with such a packed stable of young drivers, he’s still unlikely to. But Vettel’s shock departure of Red Bull and the subsequent promotion of Kvyat gives him a chance and the Frenchman very much looked like a man on a mission in Japan, trying to earn back his drive. Vergne was fast all weekend. In qualifying, he was the fastest of all four Red Bull drivers in Q1, and was just edged out in Q2, qualifying 11th, two places ahead of Kvyat and just a couple of tenths off the pace of the senior Red Bull team.

But luck was clearly not on his side as his power unit failed after qualifying and necessitated a change, which in turn brought the traditional 10 place penalty.

The safety car start prevented Vergne from vaulting up the field past the slower cars quite so quickly. He pitted for intermediates with most of the field on lap 11 once everyone had realised the benefit of the inters as exhibited by Jenson Button and Pastor Maldonado. Vergne came out of the pits in 17th, critically just beating out Maldonado’s Lotus. He made up a couple of places before an early stop for a second set of intermediates having spent just 8 laps on his first set.

The bizarre strategy worked a treat as Vergne felt more comfortable on the newer set

The bizarre strategy worked a treat as Vergne felt more comfortable on the newer set and the better grip allowed him to storm through the field with the benefit of clean air. By the time everyone had made their second stops, Vergne had vaulted up to 11th. And after Kvyat had burnt out his inters far quicker than Vergne, forcing an earlier stop, the Frenchman had jumped up into the points by the time the race was stopped.

While conditions may have aided him, and the race stopped at an ideal time, Vergne was brilliant in Japan, showing searing speed and conserving his tyres equally well. By the end of the race, he had done a mammoth 25 laps on a set of tyres, five more than anyone else could manage. What’s more he was just 14 seconds behind Nico Hülkenberg and the Williams pair of Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa who had started on the second row.

It may only have been worth two points, but it was a sterling afternoon for Jean-Éric Vergne in a drive that proved he is worthy of a seat in F1 next year, regardless of the colour of his car.

Cliché drive from Jenson pays off

Jenson Button, McLaren Mercedes: Started 8th, Finished 5th

How many times have we seen Jenson Button find grip where others can’t in wet conditions? He is so good at timing when to change compounds of tyre in damp conditions. He was brave enough to explore the track on intermediates as soon as the Safety Car came in, knowing that Race Control had left it out too long on a drying track,. While it was treacherous to start off with, the payoff was huge as the time he gained in the two laps more he had on the intermediates saw him jump from seventh to third, ahead of teammate Kevin Magnussen, the Red Bulls and even the Williams.

Button built a solid gap of around eight seconds
Button built a solid gap of around eight secondsCredit: McLaren Mercedes

It even allowed him to build a solid gap of around eight seconds to the chasing pack, giving him a buffer to attack. Unfortunately, while Red Bull struggled in qualifying, their pure wet weather setup meant that they were lightning in the race and they hunted down the McLaren as a pair. Ricciardo undercut Button by pitting on lap 29 but an electrical issue meant that the Brit had little chance against either Red Bull.

The final few laps were an unfair reflection of Button’s race, pitting for wets just before the end knowing he had a minute to spare on the competition. In reality he was a couple of seconds behind the Red Bulls over the course of the race and had he not had to change his steering wheel at the pitstop, I think he would have a second podium of the season.

Hülkenberg on road to recovery

Nico Hülkenberg, Sahara Force India F1 Team: Started 13th, Finished 8th

Hülkenberg put in some stunning laps on the extreme wets to jump up to eighth and put him in position to challenge for points

Force India didn’t have their finest weekend, lacking the downforce required to compete at the high speed Suzuka, let alone in the wet. But Nico Hülkenberg appeared to get the best out of the situation. Despite having a had an edge over Pérez all weekend, including a four tenth gap in Q1, but a deficit of .01 left him 14th, two places behind Pérez.

Somehow having stayed out later than most of the pack, Hülkenberg put in some stunning laps on the extreme wets to jump up to eighth and put him in position to challenge for points. From then, his main competition were the Williams, with a healthy gap to Daniil Kvyat. After a racelong battle where Hülkenberg looked to have come out on top, he lost out to both Williams on the final of the 44 laps, pitting at the worst possible time just a lap before the end. It was unfortunate but shouldn’t take anything away from a strong drive in terrible conditions with a struggling car.