My goodness I love Suzuka. Its a true old school track. A figure 8 track with some classic corners. The first curve that goes into those brilliant S’es. Not to mention the aweinspiring 130R that you take flat out today but still is a test of the drivers nerves. And no wimpy runoff areas with tarmac either. If you make a mistake its the sandpits for you and you are done. Or its the tyre barrier. Just the way we like them. Its not an easy track to overtake on. But it is possible.
Got up early Saturday morning only to find out that qualifying had been postponed to Sunday because of extreme downpour. Great. So its 3 AM instead of 7 AM for me. I did actually drag myself out of bed Sunday. But by the time I got to the living room Q3 was about to start. Lol. Oh well – I got to see the cream of the crop then.
Red Bull had been sure favorites for pole and especially Vettel. But come qualifying it was closer than expected. Vettel secured the pole, but only less than a tenth faster than Webber. 3 tenths behind him came Hamilton. It seems McLaren have almost got their downforce issues worked out. Unfortunately for Lewis, a gearbox change sent him down 5 spots to 8th.
Kubica managed to lift some eyebrows again by putting the bumblebee Renault in 4th. A tenth ahead of Alonso. In comparison Massa disappointed with only 12th on the grid. Jenson Button nearly edged out Alonso but 26 thousands of a second put him in 6th.
Nico Rosberg in the Mercedes outqualified Schumacher again. They were split by the Williams boys in 8th and 9th.
Nick Heidfeld surprisingly got the better of his teammate in qualifying after only a short time in the Sauber. The likeable Kamui only managed 14th. That he was to become the real star of the race was something no one could have predicted.
Light are out and its go time! Vettel doesnt botch his start and stays in the lead. Kubica jumps Webber and is second. But there is mayhem. Petrov gets a cracking start but gets too close to Hulkenbergs nose and crashes into the barrier retiring them both. Ahead Massa gets in a bad spot and goes across the grass. Unable to brake he strays across the line of cars and Liuzzi got the short end of the stick of that gamble. They are out as well.
Safety car is deployed and its looking to be an exciting fight at the front with Kubica in the mix. But whats this? He is slowing? Engine? No, his right rear is missing! What a shame. Now the Red Bulls are in front followed by a Ferrari and the two McLarens. All 5 championship contenders.
They restart and there is drama almost immidiately. Nico Rosberg tries to pass Buemi on the outside at 130R! I held my breath at that point. In fact he starts to lose the car and the genius producer decides to cut to something far less interesting before we see if he saves the car or not. Incredibly and thankfully he did. I dont think getting unstable at 300 kph is a pleasant feeling. Especially not at Suzuka.
That he later had something break at the rear of his car to make him spin out from the race cant be something that gives a lot of confidence. And yet they go racing weekend after weekend.
Schumacher on the other hand executes a nice pass on Barrichello. Payback for Hungary? Barrichello knew better than to make any extreme blocking moves to prevent any pot calling the kettle black issues. Actually it was a brilliant overtake carried out at the chicane:
I decided to dedicate this next section to my favorite driver on the grid. If he wasnt before this race, he certainly is now. I have put some focus on him before but he really outdid himself this time. I followed him a lot in GP2. Lots of gutsy overtakes in that class. But so many drivers that come from GP2 seem to lose some of that nerve once they get to F1. The one driver that has kept some of it is Lewis Hamilton. Until Kamui came along that is. This is a guy that knows what it takes to race. It takes a lot of heart and it takes a lot of guts. Koba has had his share of incidents this year but it hasnt deterred him or made him hold back in fear of making more mistakes. And that deserves a lot of credit.
Lap 14 we see something we saw no other driver pull off in the entire race. A pass at the hairpin. Only Kamui made those stick. We see him make a daring dive on the inside of a Toro Rosso. Live Timing says it was Alguersuari but I was sure it was Buemi when I watched the race. Still, it doesnt matter. I couldnt believe my eyes. The bravery and timing of the braking point of this guy. Unbelievable.
He follows suit with another pass at the hairpin. This time on the inside of Sutil: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cVdMjpbcLLA
Looking at it onboard was poetry. Such late braking and he just went for the small gap on the inside and voila. Perfect.
His pace is good throughout the race. He wisely doesnt put up too big a fight with the much faster Hamilton and lets him by. Enabling him to focus on his race pace and catching his competitors ahead of him.
Lap 45 and its time for the best overtake of the race. Perhaps the entire season. He gets up real close to Alguersuari who defends the inside at the hairpin. Does that stop Krazy Koba? No, he just makes his move on the outside. Come on! He leaves the Spaniard plenty of room but Alguersuari still does his best Mark Webber impression and first bangs the Saubers sidepod and then the rear wheel. Kobayashi lifts his hand calmly as if to ask, “what the F dude, I left you plenty of room”:
From the outside:
A few laps later and it is Barrichellos turn to get passed. Take a look: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cyqily-OTwc
Look at how far back he was from Rubens. Brakes incredibly late and just goes for the gap. It was so beautifully carried out it almost made my eyes well up. I dont understand how he made that stick and not drift wide. Kobayashi, I salute you. The saviour of F1. All hail King Koba!
Remember Valencia this year? How he overtook Alonso in the very last lap? Utter brilliance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPIFZ2oxPRs
And we have to consider that all of this is done in a Sauber. For goodness sake, someone give that man a competitive car!
Listen to the nice words Eddie Jordan said to him after the race: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHsyDzMGhbo
A bit much you say? Soren went a little overboard here? Maybe. But there is no denying that he is exactly what this sport needs. If I was a Red Bull/Ferrari/McLaren team principal, I would start planning to get him into my team in 2012/13. After a couple of seasons in F1 – put him in a race winning car and watch the sparks fly. As a Kimi fan I have asked myself from time to time: Is there life in F1 after Kimi? Yes. Yes, there is. I have seen the future. Dont ever change Kamui-san. Dont you dare ;)
Oh right, the championship battle and that stuff.. Vettel won the race undramatically. Second year in a row. This ties him in points with Alonso – 14 points behind leader Webber. 3 races to go. What to do Red Bull, what to do. Webber leads, but Vettel is clearly the fastest. It should have been the other way around for you. This may just play into Alonsos hands. Im sure that Vettel absolutely have to win the next race in Korea as well. If he doesnt, Red Bull will probably have to go strategic and bet on Webber for the championship. One thing is certain though. Its going to be a killer of a fight to the finish.
SORENS RACE RATING
Its an 8 out of 10 for me. Bumped up a couple of notches by Kobayashis performance alone.
DOUCHE OF THE DAY
Lucas DiGrassi for crashing his car on the way around the track to the grid. I mean it wasnt even the warm-up lap..
DRIVER OF THE DAY
I think you know this one. The most promising driver I have seen in his rookie season since Kimi Raikkonen. And I mean that. Interestingly in a Sauber too. Dont fail me Kamui. Just keep getting better ;)
Vettel deserves a mention too of course. This was his weekend. Controlled the race. Never really pressured. Balanced his pace well while waiting for Button to pit. Great win for him.
Are you ready for Korea? I am. The question is – is Korea ready for F1?
Justin Bieber says: Im in pieces, baby fix me.
Images © Ercole Colombo, Mark Thompson, Clive Mason/Getty Images