|Sebastian Vettel, winner of the Japanese GP|
When the qualifying finally got going, Lewis Hamilton knew that he could only manage 6th at best. This was due to an enforced gearbox change, which brought a five place grid penalty. Realistically though, Hamilton knew that starting the race in the top 10 would be an achievement.
It came down to a straight battle between Vettel and Webber in the end for top honours. But, Vettel was unbeatable. On his day Vettel can beat anyone and everyone, and this was it. He had Webber well and truly beaten, and posted two laps both worthy of pole position.
The race itself started at 3pm local time in Japan (6am GMT) in beautiful climatic conditions. But the race hadn't even started when the drama began. Lucas di Grassi en route to the grid bizarrely spun in the high speed 130R corner completely destroying the rear end of the car. Whilst the cause is still yet to be determined (some 11 hours later), the Virgin team will be trying to avoid such an embarrasment reoccuring in the future. The drama continued, when on the grid several of the championship contenders had dramas of their own. Mark Webber's front ducts had cracked and required some quick re-taping, whilst Fernando Alonso was warned over a potential start issue.
Both of the above worries paled into insignificance in the end, however, the start itself certainly raised some eyebrows up and down the pitlane.
Both Vettel and Webber got clean starts, but not as clean as Robert Kubica, who hooked his getaway up beautifully. The same could not be said though, for Nico Hulkenberg who didn't seem to get away at all. This, combined with a real moment of carelessness for Vitaly Petrov saw both out of the race immediately. Also out of the race were Felipe Massa and Vitantonio Liuzzi. Whilst both of the latter two were reprimanded after the race, Vitaly Petrov was handed a five place grid penalty for the Korean Grand Prix later this month.
The first corner incidents brought out safety car for its first, and subsequently only, stint at the head of the pack. Even with the safety car out, the action continued. Robert Kubica was very quickly alerted at the fact that he was very soon going to lose his right rear wheel, which he did. Thankfully the wheel rolled into the barrier causing no damage. When the safety car came in the order at the front was Vettel, Webber, Alonso, Button, Hamilton, Schumacher, Barrichello.
With the race at the front settling down and Sebastian Vettel in a comfortable lead, most of the action was further back thanks mainly to two people. Michael Schumacher seemed to be enjoying this race rather more than the last, and he was all over team mate Rosberg like a wasp to a sweaty man. Had it not been for a blunder in strategy he may have been able to get past and score more points. But Mercedes' stubbornness in refusing to show any signs of team orders quickly dismissed any of these suggestions. The other man lighting up the tv screens was Japan's very own - Kamui Kobayashi. Kobayashi clearly was clued in when he came up to pass Adrian Sutil. He'd already passed Alguersuari (rather reluctantly) as he arrived up to the turn 11 hairpin. Sutil game him just enough room and no more, as Kobayashi glided round the outside of the corner slotting in just with millimetres to spare between himself and Sutil's front wing. This stunning form continued after a contentious strategy call by his team to leave him out on the slower times as long as possible. But they needn't have worried in the end as Kobayashi caught back onto Alguersuari. Again coming into the hairpin the two collided with Alguersuari to blame. Martin Brundle in the BBC commentary described the incident as if "Alguersuari didn't want to give up a position that he had clearly lost." This preceded another turn 11 passing move, except on Barrichello this time for 10th position.
With all going seemingly well for Button, the same could not be said for Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton was informed via the team radio that his car had lost 3rd gear, and he would have to finish the race using only 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th gear. With Button not far behind, it was not long before the two had to swap positions. The inevitable happened on lap 38 at the hairpin (bit of a theme emerging here).
A few more strange incidents concluded the race. Adrian Sutil probably would have been wishing it was. He suffered a rather monumental engine failure heading into 130R, the fastest corner on the track. This spewed oil and flames out of the back of the car, sending himself into a spin right in the middle of the racing line. Whilst everyone managed to avoid the oil, Sutil was forced to retire from the race. Nico Rosberg then, who by this stage was still holding off Schumacher, had a similar wheel failure to that of Kubica, albeit with rather differing results. Whilst Kubica was able to slow down and pull sensibly of the racing line, Rosberg was in the middle of the daunting "Esses" section of the track. With no time to react to such an event, and at a reasonably high speed, Rosberg spun round tagging the barrier with the front of his car. It was decided that the safety car was not needed for this incident.
So as the final corner approached, it was Vettel who took the flag. He finished ahead of team-mate, and championship leader, Mark Webber. In third was Fernando Alonso, beating off Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton to the line.
With only three races remaining in the championship, it is still Mark Webber in command. He leads Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel by 14 points. In fourth and fifth are McLaren's Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button 28 and 31 points back respectively. With 75 points still to play for each of the top five are still very much in the hunt ahead of the inaugural South Korean Grand Prix.