Vettel took the title, Button claimed an emotional win and Hamilton clashed with Massa again. Here's my thoughts on that and more after a brilliant weekend of Formula 1 in Japan...
Supreme Seb seals title success at Suzuka: I had never been a huge fan of Sebastian Vettel until this year. Not that i disliked him, he always had my respect as a quick guy but he was never a favourite, someone i really willed on. When Robert Kubica came through the ranks at BMW i had my eye on him so i suppose the next man along which was Vettel was never going to capture my attention as much. I knew he was fast though and he soon showed it. Debut weekend in America and he scored a point and topped a practice session. Fast forward a year and at a drenched Monza he gets his first opportunity to win a race and takes it. However taking out Kubica at the start of 2009 didn't help my vibes towards him! But the next 2 seasons would see Vettel go from someone with raw speed into more of an all round package. He snatched the title at the death in 2010 but even then i thought the German had more room for improvement.
2011 has been sensational for Vettel. His brilliant qualifying laps, his racecraft and control of a Grand Prix, the coolness under pressure, the fabulous overtakes which some have wondered whether he could produce. It has been a world class display of sheer brilliance and a pleasure to watch unfold (Even if it means the championship not going to the wire) And off the track he's a funny, likeable guy who regularly makes you laugh. He's just annoyingly good! Of course the serious side of Vettel exists and his utter will to win and snap up every prize available is incredible. The appetite hasn't been quenched by 2 world titles and we are set for a few more years of great battles and rivalry between the likes of Vettel, Alonso, Hamilton and Button.
Button victory laids down marker for 2012: It was a glorious Sunday in Suzuka. The sun shining down, the choir singing the national anthem with such beauty on the grid and a race which was close throughout and went down to the wire. First point of contention was the start. I think Vettel pushed his luck with Button but the decision not to penalise him was the correct one. Button ends up in the pit exit and then the track tightens so i think technically the road closed up on him when it got to the point he was on the grass. Don't blame him for feeling aggrieved. The stewards reasoning was strange however as they made the point that Hamilton had taken a similar line to Vettel from the start. Don't see how that really plays an influence in what happens. Good that the FIA are giving reasons at least! Button eventually retook the lead, a pit time 8 tenths quicker than Vettel allowing the McLaren to get the 'overcut'.
Then we had a safety car after debris at Turn 7 (Webber/Schumacher collision) and Turn 16 (Hamilton/Massa) I thought this was a bit of an overreaction at the time because the pieces were small but i understand safety is paramount and the biggest gap on track at the time was 15 seconds between D'Ambrosio and Trulli so it would have been tight for a marshall to get out there. Just feels strange seeing a safety car for pieces of debris and only yellow flags when a burning Renault was exploding at the Budapest pit exit. Hamilton seem to not realise Massa was there in their collision. The stewards explanation on this was also odd taking into consideration that Massa was on trying to overtake on the left into a right hander. Hamilton may have been taking the normal line but you can't just do that when another car is already there! I'm always amazed how aware the drivers are of what's around and behind them being so low in the cars with small mirrors but Hamilton's recent incidents do make you wonder about his awareness around other cars, he has made some clumsy and unneeded moves. He is still a very quick driver and on his day the best and this slump of form will pass by and i feel he will bounce back.
Amongst the joy of Button and Vettel was another tremendous drive from Fernando Alonso. This guy is just relentless, getting everything out of what he has. I actually think Massa is driving better recently as well but it doesn't show up that well because of the form of the Spaniard. He wants a third title badly and will want to get it before Vettel does! Another driver showing good race pace is Michael Schumacher who came in 6th and led a lap of a Grand Prix for the first time since the same race 5 years ago. Another stat from Sunday was that the race had the most finishers on the lead lap in F1 history. 19 cars completed all 53 laps. Cheers to Sean Kelly (@virtualstatman on Twitter) for confirming that one!
Sauber duo impress on and off the track: After 2010 we knew that plenty of attention would be on Kamui Kobayashi and it certainly was as the crowds went wild for anything their home hero did. Unfortunately anti-stall kicked in at the start and a lack of fresh rubber saw him fall back in the closing stages. It was still a positive weekend after all he had done for his country in the wake of the tsunami disaster. Sergio Perez had a stunning race. Starting 17th and suffering from the flu, the Mexican found himself behind Jarno Trulli early on yet managed to come through and take a fantastic 8th, beating the Renault and Force India cars. I didn't know much about him before this season but he is really showing good speed and some feisty combat when wheel to wheel with other cars. He is being touted as a Ferrari driver for 2013 and it wouldn't surprise me to see him there (Sorry Massa fans!) Vitaly Petrov did well to get 9th after 2 stints on the prime tyre and Force India need something special to get 5th from them in the championship now. Another weekend with a crash for Bruno Senna who isn't really doing enough to keep that seat for next year in my opinion. Will the team look towards someone like Rubens Barrichello if Kubica can't return or perhaps stick in Romain Grosjean. We'll have to see how the muddled situation at Renault turns out.
A few words make all the difference: A story doing the rounds before the Japanese Grand Prix was Mark Webber saying he had given up hope of ever winning the world championship. Whilst it hasn't been the best season for the Australian, to see a driver currently in the best car in F1 declare he had no hope of being champion was a surprising one. However on Twitter and during interviews Webber dismissed the reports and said he had been misquoted. As i looked into this i got chatting to Cheryl Tay, the lady who conducted the interview with Webber. So what did he really say? Cheryl confirmed that the question put to Webber was "Have you ever thought of that (2010) as your last chance to be champion?" to which the Red Bull driver replied "yes of course, life goes on" So basically Webber feels that a great opportunity passed him by last season but he hasn't given up on 1 day becoming champion. Shows how easily things get misinterpreted in the media sometimes.
Korea DRS zone location revealed: F1 heads back to Yenogam for a 2nd year and it appears little has been done to the circuit since the 1st race where the track only got FIA approval 2 weeks before the Grand Prix. The pit entry, criticised by many, remains and the many buildings planned around the circuit still haven't come to be. The layout is a good one though with a really mixture of long straights and technical corners. I'm not happy with the DRS zone for this race which is between turns 2 and 3, the longest straight on the track at over 1km. Surely this will provide some action anyway and with DRS added may become too easy. We'll still lots of action, i just fear it will be diluted somewhat. There are shorter straights before and after the DRS zone so expect some battles to continue for a few corners. I like the DRS but there's room for improvement and perhaps the way it is implemented needs adjustment. Hopefully the FIA will assess it closely over the winter.
Lazenby to present F1 on Sky?: The BBC/Sky story has been pretty quiet recently. Mark Thompson said in a BBC radio interview last week that the highlights shows for the races the BBC don't show live will be 75 minutes. No confirmation yet on whether full ace replays will be available on any platform. We know that the BBC will show the British, Monaco and Brazilian races next year. Sky get to pick the next 3 races and then the choosing process alternates 1 pick at a time. The Daily Mail reported this week that Sky are still chasing Martin Brundle for their coverage and that Simon Lazenby could be the presenter. I don't have Sky so don't know much about Lazenby but he seems to be highly rated and worked with Sky's head of F1 on their Rugby coverage. Also interesting to see that the latest follows on his Twitter account are the Ferrari and Red Bull feeds...
What have you made of the 2011 season? Is Vettel now the best driver currently in F1? And who could be the next rising star to join the fight for victories? Let me know in the comments section
Image courtesy of http://www.mclaren.com