Suzuka, 13 October – Earlier this weekend, Fernando Alonso said his main aim was to strengthen the Scuderia’s position in the Constructors’ championship and thanks to the Spaniards fourth place finish this afternoon, aided by an extra point from Felipe’s tenth place, that target was indeed reached: the Scuderia has extended its lead from 1 point to 10 over Mercedes. The Spaniard still has a theoretical chance of taking the Drivers’ crown but it requires levels of optimism not usually found even in the F1 paddock. After Sebastian Vettel won today, he now has a 90 point lead over the Ferrari man, with 100 still to play for in the remaining four rounds. The German’s Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber finished second, with Romain Grosjean completing the podium trio for Lotus. Having started on the Medium tyres from qualifying, the Ferrari duo ran a two stop strategy, taking on the Hard at each of the stops.
As the lights went out, at the back of the field, Van de Garde and Bianchi crashed out at the first turn, with Felipe still fifth, but Fernando moving up to sixth. Grosjean got the best start off the line from fourth place, running up along the barrier to lead in the Lotus. Behind him came Webber, Vettel and Rosberg ahead of Felipe, as Hamilton dropped down the order after the usual wheel to wheel action at Turn 1, which caused the Mercedes man to have to pit on lap 2.
In fifth place, Felipe was 7.8 behind the leader on lap 5, 1.3 behind fourth placed Rosberg in the Mercedes, with his Ferrari team-mate 0.6 behind him. Coming down the pit straight on lap 6, Fernando was already beginning to look for a way past the Brazilian. The early pit stops began around now, with Vergne bringing the Toro Rosso in on lap 7, followed next time by Button in the McLaren, Bottas in the Williams and Sutil in the Force India. Hamilton retired the Mercedes in the garage. On lap 9, Felipe had closed significantly on Rosberg and had Fernando stuck to his tail. Out in front, Grosjean had over two seconds in hand on Webber, who was 1.9 ahead of Red Bull team-mate Vettel. In fourth, Rosberg trailed the leading trio by 7.2. Hulkenberg in the Sauber and Di Resta in the Force India changed onto the Prime tyre on lap 10.
Webber made his pit stop on lap 11, coming in just before Felipe and Raikkonen. The race leader came in on lap 12, as did Rosberg and Perez, who nearly collided in pit lane, with the Mercedes driver getting a drive-through penalty. Fernando pitted for the Prime on lap 13, with Vettel first and Ricciardo, fifth the only front runners not to have changed tyres yet. The German was on Options but the Australian had started on the Prime. Vettel brought his Red Bull in on lap 14.
Next time round, the order was Grosjean, Webber, Vettel, Ricciardo, Rosberg, Hulkenberg, Felipe in seventh, followed by his team-mate, with Gutierrez and Raikkonen completing the top ten. At this point one of the best battles was for fourth, as Ricciardo, yet to change tyres tried to fend off Hulkenberg, which had allowed Felipe to close to within 0.8 of the Sauber, while Fernando had drifted to 1.8 behind his team-mate. By lap 19, with Ricciardo slower on old tyres, this quartet was in very close company and, as they came down the straight next time round, the Spaniard got ahead of the Brazilian and Gutierrez and Raikkonen also joined the train. Hulkenberg and Fernando both got past the Australian who came in for another set of Prime on lap 21. The Saubers had been on great form in recent races and Felipe was wheel to wheel with Gutierrez as the Mexican tried to pass and in the confusion, Raikkonen got his Lotus ahead of the Sauber.
Lap 22 and Fernando was right behind fourth placed Hulkenberg. Three laps later Webber came in for another set of Primes from second place, leaving Vettel second, 2.5 behind Grosjean. On lap 28, Felipe made his second pit stop, rejoining ninth and next time round Grosjean pitted, promoting Vettel to the lead and Hulkenberg also came in at this point, rejoining sixth. Fernando was yet to make his second stop and was up to fourth, but he came in on lap 30, as did Gutierrez and Perez. With Raikkonen changing tyres on lap 31, Vettel out in front was the only lead driver not to have made a second stop. Behind him were Webber, Grosjean, Hulkenberg, Fernando in fifth, but in sixth place Felipe was given a drive through penalty for speeding in the pit lane. He came in to take the penalty on lap 35, rejoining eleventh behind Gutierrez. Vettel finally made his second stop on lap 37, taking on another set of Primes, rejoining third behind Webber and Grosjean. Hulkenberg was 32 seconds adrift of the lead trio in fourth spot and in fifth, Fernando had his mirrors full of Raikkonen’s Lotus.
At the start of lap 41, Vettel dived past Grosjean going into Turn 1, so we now had a Red Bull one-two, but the order was reversed on lap 42 when Webber had to make a third stop, which put him in third place behind Vettel and Grosjean. Having steadily closed on Hulkenberg, Fernando swept past the Sauber to go fourth on lap 46. In the closing stages, Webber’s pursuit of Grosjean provided all the excitement as they battled through backmarkers, the Australian finally making the move on the penultimate lap. As for Felipe, he was back in the points on lap 38, and up to eighth, but on lap 46 he had to start fighting off Rosberg, the Mercedes man passing him a couple of laps later. Then with just one lap remaining, Button on fresher rubber managed to muscle his way past Felipe so that the Brazilian had to settle for the final point on offer.