Rencken: Button's 'eff-you, Seb'
Sebastian Vettel proved his grit in Monza by beating Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso in the Italian team’s heartland. Vettel’s championship lead was such that he could have settled for second, waited for yet another win, secure in the knowledge that a second consecutive title was his.
Vettel instinctively sat it out against arguably the most robust driver of this generation. At 300km/h. On grass. Without flinching, boyishly smiling about his win afterwards. A racer’s move against another born racer; real eff-you stuff.
Suzuka and the 2011 Japenese GP brought an equally impressive encore as Vettel needed one point from 10th, regardless of Jenson Button’s score, to become F1’s youngest-yett double World champion. Jenson shared the front row with him, posting a grid time just 0.009sec shy of his Red Bull rival, but Vettel could afford to let him disappear into the distance.
CRUISE AND COLLECT
Vettel couldn't help himself, though: he squeezed Button so viciously that he yielded to avoid taking to the grass at 250km/h, allowing McLaren team mate Lewis Hamilton to gain the advantage.
One down; an (easier) one to go…
Button came back impressively to win by shrugging aside Vettel’s ruthlessness, better tyre management and yet another dose of his trademark doggedness. The win truly was Button’s own eff-you moment and the champion, standing on the lowest step on the podium, knew it.
Red Bull uses its tyres more aggressively than virtually any other car, permitting Vettel and Mark Webber to be "on it" from the off, be it qualifying or race. However, this characteristic means its drivers need to preserve rubber more than the rest, particularly under extreme conditions.
Regulations and productions lead times force Pirelli to nominate compounds at least a month in ahead of any given race and, with the weather at this coastal city generally sodden in October, the Italian supplier specified "softs" and "mediums". However, the sun shone throughout, with clear skies pushing track temperatures ever higher – resulting in higher-than-expected wear, particularly for Red Bull.
Vettel said: "I think we weren't as quick on the soft tyres as we hoped to be, and then it was difficult."
He finished third behind the Ferrari after 53 laps on one of the most demanding circuits on the F1 trail, one which loads both side of the car due to its unique figure-of-eight layout.
“We lost two positions. In the end, I think we had a very good car. It was difficult to get past Fernando. I think I got my move of the year in Monza, so I don't think he is letting me through this way twice,” he said.
Webber finished next up, being another whose strategy was scuppered by the pace car. However, to be fair, the Australian did Hamilton, himself and Michael Schumacher no favours when they tripped over each other in Q3, failing to set a representative lap time in that crucial session. Each the three paid the price some way or another during the race.
HAMILTON, MASSA TIFF
Hamilton’s rashness triggered the silver Mercedes in Suzuka, this time when he and Felipe Massa’s Ferrari collided, again alleging "I didn't see him" - for at least the sixth time in 2011, which must surely worry his peers.
The 2008 World champion’s race was compromised by an early puncture, at which juncture Jenson took second off his own team mate, but thereafter was master of his own fate as he drove into Massa and on to an eventual fifth. Lewis has been strangely monosyllabic of late, and this incident suggests a bout of serious soul-searching is well overdue.
Schumacher led in the middle, but only due to delaying his tyre stop. Sixth is about where he and Mercedes are on a good day, so a solid job from the former multiple champion, whose star is being shaded by a younger German, who has now broken every record Michael set by age 24.
Massa, whose Ferrari lost part of its front left wing endplate and suffered a dislodged floor in the Hamilton incident, was livid afterwards, repeating the call made in Singapore 2008, that the FIA investigate Hamilton’s driving. Seventh was a poor reward for Masaa who had again out-qualified team mate Alonso.
Sergio Perez used his racing style to minimise tyre wear, running a two-stopper to eighth. The Sauber driver kept his head down to pick them off one by one after hydraulic failure in Q2 left him 17th on the grid. Also on a two-stopper was Vitaly Petrov, whose Renault is known for its benign treatment of rubber on flowing circuits such as Spa and Suzuka.
The "Racer of the Day Award" should go to Nico Rosberg, whose Mercedes was also blighted by hydraulic issues, forcing him to sit out qualifying and start from the back row. Rosberg pulled off some great moves on a track not known for overtaking and forced his way into the points. This proves all he needs is a good car to achieve podiums.
F1 now heads to Korea (October 16) where the Constructors’ and Drivers’ championship runners-up will continue. The Constructors title will inevitably go to Red Bull but Button, Alonso, Hamilton and Webber all have the consolation prize very much in their sights.