This is the F1 Advent Calendar 2012, thank you for joining me as we recount the F1 season that’s just finished in bite size moments. We’re well into the second half of the calendar, as the Asian leg kicked in, and today it is back to the action as we look at another race. This is Day Eighteen - Japanese delight.
Going into the Japanese race weekend, the championship was still pretty close. Fernando Alonso kept his grip on the lead by almost thirty points, but Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen were both keen to chase him down and close the gap.
Unfortunately for two of those, they were involved in a first lap collision that hindered their efforts at the Suzuka circuit. Fernando Alonso qualified seventh, continuing to struggle bringing out pace in the Ferrari on a Saturday. Kimi Räikkönen was behind him in eighth, whilst Red Bull secured a front row lockout, with Sebastian Vettel ahead of Mark Webber. The McLaren drivers were split, with Jenson Button third behind the Red Bulls, but Lewis Hamilton down in ninth - the Brit describing it as one of the most disappointing qualifying sessions of the year. Button ended up having a five place penalty for changing the gearbox, however, which put the two McLarens next to each other.
Behind them, the two Mercedes cars were lacking speed, with Schumacher qualifying 13th and Rosberg two places behind. Bruno Senna was the driver knocked out in the first session alongside the new teams, finding himself held up by the Toro Rosso of Jean-Éric Vergne - who was later given a three place grid drop for the infringement.
Race day dawned in glorious sunshine, which in itself is quite unusual for the Japanese GP, but there was still plenty of chaos into the first corner. Vettel had a great start, Webber did not. Kamui Kobayashi, who had benefited from Button’s penalty to start third on the grid, managed to sneak past the Australian and chase after Vettel in second place.
There were three separate incidents witnessed. Räikkönen and Alonso were battling for track space into the first corner, with the Lotus clipping the Ferrari and tipping Alonso into a spin that sent him off into the gravel and then back on track, facing the wrong way. In front of that collision, the other Lotus driver, Romain Grosjean, ran into the back of Mark Webber, which put the Red Bull into a spin and broke the front wing on the Lotus. Grosjean was given a 10 second stop/go penalty for causing the collision, which put him at the back of the pack. He finished the race last and two laps down.
Finally, back on that first lap, Bruno Senna and Nico Rosberg collided, with Senna picking up a penalty for his trouble. Thankfully, everyone involved was unharmed, but, crucially for the championship fight, Alonso was out of the race, and, less crucially, Nico Rosberg too.
Senna went on to finish 14th, Räikkönen up in 6th, and Webber 9th. Up in front, Sebastian Vettel was looking unchallenged, and easily secured victory - becoming the first driver to manage back to back wins in the unpredictable 2012 season. Felipe Massa had found some speed, put in some great laps and had a quick pit stop to allow him to leapfrog several drivers, moving him up to second in the race. He crossed the line for a podium position, and behind him came home driver Kamui Kobayashi.
The entire Sauber team were visibly emotional, with teary hugs on the pitwall, as they secured their fourth podium of the season, Kobayashi’s first and achieved in front of the Japanese fans as well. Afterwards, Kamui spoke of the trophy position, saying: “The team has built a great car this year. You can tell this from the podium finishes my team-mate has had. At times I was close to that as well but I never had the luck. It means so much to me that it finally worked out. Maybe from now on things will be easier.”
That’s all for this episode of the F1 Advent Calendar 2012, thanks for sticking with me through eighteen days so far. We’ve got just one week left to cram in the rest of the season, so come back again and we’ll see what event is next!