• Japanese Grand Prix - The Final Stint

The track that bites back

Laurence Edmondson and Chris Medland
October 13, 2013

A round-up of the good, the bad and the downright ugly from the 2013 Japanese Grand Prix

Giedo van der Garde had a big accident at Turn 1 but was unharmed © Getty Images
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A true test
There are some key reasons that the drivers rate the Japanese Grand Prix as one of their favourite races, and aside from the atmosphere and enthusiasm from the fans it's the circuit that is central to it. Suzuka can be both rewarding and punishing in equal measure, just as any grand prix circuit should be; but unfortunately so many of the new tracks are not. While the run-off areas are limited, many are also gravel traps rather than the excessive swathes of tarmac seen elsewhere. The Degner curves remain a big challenge, with Degner 2 ready to punish those who fail to make the apex, and Sergio Perez's crash at Spoon in FP2 shows just how the track can bite back at drivers which get too greedy with the track limits on turn-in. After a number of big accidents - including Jules Bianchi at Degner 2 and Giedo van der Garde at the start of the race - the track has shown it is still safe but a great test at the same time. If only 130R wasn't easy flat…

Romain's redemption
One year ago some members of the F1 paddock were calling for Romain Grosjean to be booted out of the sport, now he's seen as the ideal man to lead Lotus into the post-Kimi era. It shows how fickle the sport can be, but it is also a sign of just how far Grosjean has come. The Frenchman's speed has rarely been in doubt but a string of first lap shunts, including a particularly clumsy one in Suzuka last year, raised serious questions about his future. In recent races, however, his confidence has come flowing back, and had it not been for an engine issue in Singapore he would have scored three consecutive podiums. His race on Sunday was faultless, as he took the fight to two faster cars that worked together with two different strategies to try to pin the Lotus pit wall in a corner. Ultimately he lost out, but the fight he showed in the intervening 53 laps on one of the most challenging circuits in Formula One was a sign that he has truly come of age. And, in terms of securing his and Lotus' future (potential investors from Infinity were at the track), it's coming not a moment too soon.

The Story of the Weekend

© Getty Images
  • Shock: Felipe Massa ignored team orders for the first time in his Ferrari career
  • Shocker: Nico Rosberg - Pre-empted the green light after a pit stop and earned himself a drive-through for an unsafe release in to the path of Sergio Perez
  • Best overtake: Kimi Raikkonen - Around the outside of Nico Hulkenberg at the chicane so late for P5 was crucial. A hat tip to Daniel Ricciardo for his move around the outside of Pastor Maldonado at Turn 1 too
  • Best lap: Sebastian Vettel - On lap 38 - the outlap after his final stop - he pumped in two fastest sectors to start reeling in Grosjean immediately
  • Worst lap: Lewis Hamilton - The initial launch at the start was awesome, but a puncture meant he spent the whole lap limping to the pits
  • Drive of the day: Romain Grosjean - Faultless in the face of pressure, even when losing positions to the two Red Bulls and made a clinical start at the scene of one of his worst in 2012

McLaren makes a statement
2013 has been a thoroughly miserable year for McLaren. Not only has it failed to score a podium for the first time since 1980, it kicked off the season with news that technical director Paddy Lowe would be leaving for rivals' Mercedes. Naturally the team is looking to the future, specifically 2015 when Honda rejoins the sport and Red Bull's head of aerodynamics Peter Prodromou is also set to return. The question now is what will happen next year as the team sees out its engine contract with Mercedes and a further reshuffle of the technical team beds in. It could be another tricky year, which in turn will put even more pressure on Honda's arrival 12 months later.

Vettel earns the victory
It may well be the same name in the headline, but Sebastian Vettel's victory was delivered from a different script. A poor start and dropping to third place left him unable to perform his usual trick of breaking the DRS gap, disappearing up the road and then managing his tyres to the end. Instead, after a ragged opening few laps Vettel showed great patience to bide his time behind the lead two, extend his opening stint to ensure a two-stop strategy was possible and then put in the quick laps when required to jump Romain Grosjean on track. The middle stint was the race-defining one, especially the quick laps after Grosjean had pit, and Vettel showed he can win the hard way when qualifying and the start has not gone his way. There was nothing boring about the way he won the race, even if those waking up to see the end result might have found the end result rather predictable.

Maria de Villota
The paddock was shocked by Maria de Villota's death on Friday. During her brief time in F1 she made a lot of friends and the news was completely unexpected after her seemingly successful recovery from her accident last year. The drivers showed support by wearing her signature star on their helmets and the GPDA organised a minute's silence, observed by the fans in the grandstand too, ahead of the drivers' parade. "She was an inspiration not just to women in this sport, but also to all those who suffered life-threatening injuries," read a Formula One Teams Association statement. "Her story, determination and subsequent inspiration flowed from F1 through sport as a whole, and to see the images of her in Barcelona on the grid earlier this year, surrounded by a throng of jubilant children, told a great story."