Sidepodcast // All for F1 and F1 for all

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.

Kamui comes up with big result with Swiss timing // The Japanese Grand Prix delivers stand out performances, if not epic racing

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It was another stereotypical Japanese Grand Prix. A huge build up of excitement leading up to the event because the track is both a driver and fan favourite but then three laps into the race, we realise that what makes it such a favourite is its very fast sweeping corners. Great to watch but useless for overtaking. Despite this, it was a good Grand Prix and I was on tenterhooks right until the very end.

Fan power blasts Kobayashi to first podium

There are simply no other contenders for top billing this week. Kamui Kobayashi was stunningly good all weekend and I’m so glad he has got his F1 podium as a reward. He may well have got away with one on Saturday, when he was seen flying past Kimi Räikkönen’s beached Lotus, dropping only half a tenth as a result, but if you look back over the year, he’s certainly had his fair share of bad luck. He made the most of qualifying fourth though. Having been moved to third after Jenson Button’s gearbox penalty, he got a good start and broke what could have easily been another Red Bull domination job.

An unfamiliar podium pairing
An unfamiliar podium pairingCredit: Sauber Motorsport AG

From there, he drove flat out throughout the race and held off Jenson Button’s McLaren all the way, despite losing out to the impressive Felipe Massa at the first round of stops. But Jenson stepped it up in the last ten laps...

Never have I wanted McLaren to lose out in a battle so much as Sunday. I was willing Kamui to hold through and the sound of the fans afterwards was something else. I have never heard anything like the chants of the fans as they waited for the podium ceremony. I would have been chuffed for Kamui had he just got a podium, but to do it at Suzuka was something else for the fans let alone the man himself. It was a very well deserved result for one of the characters of the paddock.

Vettel does it again

Here’s a stat for you: Sebastian Vettel has never started an F1 race in Suzuka from anywhere other than pole. He’s also won three of those four races and taken the fastest lap three times. He loves it in Japan. It will take something very special or a very slow Red Bull to beat him round this track.

This time round he may have been aided by his teammate being taken out at turn two and Kobayashi acting as a blocker for the first stint but there’s no doubt that Vettel won at a canter. The only problem he could have had was on Saturday. Firstly, he was lucky that he posted a good time early, otherwise he could have ended up back with the likes of Fernando Alonso and the invisible Lewis Hamilton. Not only that, but he could have got a three place penalty for blocking Fernando Alonso which would have put him right in the danger zone at the start. Other than that, I think it was beyond doubt that he would be victorious come Sunday afternoon. In fact, he was so dominant that there’s not much to say about his Sunday drive.

Webber recovers but loses ground

Webber's recovery drive
Webber's recovery driveCredit: Clive Rose/Getty Images

Mark Webber was this week’s unfortunate recipient of Romain Grosjean’s clumsy aggressiveness. If his title hopes weren’t already over, they are now, even though he closed the gap on the championship lead. He was already down to third by turn one and then the inevitable happened.

I have to say that, although the crash is 100% Grosjean’s fault, Webber was very slow into turn two for some unexplained reason - just watch Vettel and Kobayashi pull away from him - and this is what caught the Frenchman out. This forced a lap one safety check and left him at the back of the field. Which brings me to another point: if the stewards will wait five laps for the lapped ‘small’ teams to unlap themselves, why don’t they let a potential Championship leader catch up with the back of the pack before the safety car comes in? It was cruel on the Australian but he took it in his stride as he made two sets of prime tyres last the distance on his recovery to ninth.

It has to be said that if Mark Webber didn’t have bad luck he wouldn’t have any luck. However, his gritty recovery drive was enough to catch my eye and he may have earned the accolade of being the only man to get a mention on Class of the Field that had a fastest lap 1.4 seconds off his teammate's best; although his strategy and potential damage has a lot to do with this.

Maldonado at last!

Yes, the Venezuelan finally ended his nine race run without a point and you have to feel a bit of gratitude for the man who has turned it around in a manner in which Romain Grosjean needs to. It wasn’t spectacular, in fact I’m not sure if he was ever on the TV screen but it was exactly the race the guy needed to get himself back on the horse and protect his 2013 seat (wherever it is).

He benefitted at the start, moving up to ninth and just consolidated his position, finishing 36 seconds ahead of his teammate in a dominant display that was reminiscent of him early in the season. But more crucially, he scored points, which may just be the springboard he needs.

Massa steps up

He didn’t put a foot wrong, unlike teammate Alonso who was to blame for his early exit.

I know that I jump on the Felipe bandwagon after every improvement in form but you have to give the man credit. He didn’t put a foot wrong, unlike teammate Alonso who was to blame for his early exit. From there he made great use of a long first stint to jump Kobayashi and Button, and produced the kind of display that Ferrari have been looking for whenever Alonso falters.

Speaking of Alonso, his move across Kimi Räikkönen could well cost him the title. A 29-point lead was small but manageable. Now it has been cut to four, his championship hopes are in tatters. He may still lead the title, but he needs a huge step up in Ferrari’s performance for him to stop Sebastian Vettel (who looks to be back to his 2011 best) going three in row. Fernando Alonso’s best hope of a third crown this year is a generous payment to former employees Renault to ensure that the alternator problems rear their head again. Short of that, with five races to go, it appears to be Vettel’s title to lose as we head to Korea this weekend.